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Views & Reviews Review

Our medical heritage has lessons for the future

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 09 February 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e697
  1. Helen Bynum, former lecturer in medical history, University of Liverpool, and freelance editor, writer, and lecturer, Suffolk
  1. bynum2{at}

It’s no longer focused on great men and great movements. Helen Bynum explains why the history of medicine matters and how this book sites our medical past firmly in the context of the present—and the future

The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine is a coming of age compendium. The call for a new approach to medicine’s past was made in the early 1970s. It aimed to release medical history from the grip of its “great men and great movements.” The new social history of medicine, rather than creating an ever more fine grained chronology of progress, sought instead to uncover the social determinants of health in their historical context. So successful has this been that Mark Jackson’s well edited volume has dispensed with the word “social” in its title and cut to the chase. What emerges clearly from this book is the breadth of today’s history of medicine and its integration with the methods and insights of the social sciences.

On top of everything else they have to do, today’s doctors are often exhorted to develop their human side. Learning about …

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