Living and dying in/on the Mediterranean: Medicine, healthcare, and mortality from Late Antiquity to the Late medieval period

Course Description: 

This course offers students the possibility to explore the notions of daily life in the medieval period of history with specific reference to the medical theory and practice in the course of time longer than a millennium. The course offers an overview of the changes in medical theory and practice from ancient Greek knowledge to the medieval encyclopedic tradition, with all the influences brought by the Arabic/Islamic or Persian traditions. A part of the course will focus on the development of medical knowledge in time, while also offering a comparative analysis of the development of more specific activities within the field of medicine on the Mediterranean. Thus, for example, through readings and discussions on hospital development, students will gain better understanding of different circumstances that led to the view of medieval medicine in the West being regarded as basically nonexistent, while the East is seen as being more sophisticated in this respect. Also, the course offers deeper insight into several specific topics, such as cult of saints, or state of medicine after the Middle Ages, by engaging junior or senior researchers to come and offer students insight into their field.

This class is open to students interested in social history, gender, history of science, medieval history, philosophy, or literary studies.

Learning Outcomes: 

During this session students with become familiar with the meaning of:

  • teaching medicine and apprenticeship, for instance,  teaching medicine in hospitals
  • different ways of conceptualizing health and disease in the Mediterranean world
  • medical libraries and the transmission of knowledge
  • translation movement and the effects of
  • pre-modern public health and institutionalization

They should be able to identify the main problems of the scholarship and the main methodological challenges.


Assessment will be based on active participation in class, for which attendance minimum needs to be respected (80% of classes). In case a student misses more than the allowed number of classes, they will have to submit a paper based on the assigned readings for that week’s class, in agreement with the instructor.

The assessment is 30 % based on class discussions: the students will explore the problems tackled in the readings: institutionalization and institutions, conceptualization of public health, transmission of knowledge, apprenticeship, theories of translation. The written assignment will count 70 % towards the final grade

Students can choose between two forms of written assignment

  • Longer written assignment: testing one of the methodologies presented in the readings with regard to their own topics of research or one longer analysis of a case study from their own research, but relevant for the class (one final paper: 3000-3500 words)
  • 3 shorter written assignments: the students should be able to problematize or they should question the assumptions connected with these topics and they should reflect on their own topic (a case study from their own research or a short paper, approx. 1000 words).