Medical Humanities Summer School

14th August 2018


Magdalen College was involved in the UK’s first ever summer school in Medical Humanities last month.

Twenty-three undergraduates and sixth form students from around the UK were invited to Oxford to explore the interface between clinical medicine and the humanities alongside some of the University’s top academics.

Magdalen Fellow Professor Laurie Maguire, who organised the event, explained, “Pedagogically, the aim was to show students how to think in an integrated way. Interdisciplinary subjects cut across programmatic thinking and foster interrogative skills”. One student commented in feedback, “This is the most fun I have had learning”, whilst another described the week as “life-changing”.

Topics covered in the week-long course included observation, illness narratives, communication, medical ethics, ageing, diversity and gender, with each day or half-day devoted to a specific topic on the connection between the art and the science of medicine. Teaching was a mixture of lecture-discussions and interactive workshops.

The event was truly interdisciplinary with academics contributing from Oxford’s Faculties of Medicine, English, Philosophy, Theology, Anthropology and Classics, alongside many eminent visiting lecturers. Magdalen Fellows Professor Simon Horobin, Professor Felix Budelman, and Professor Robert Douglas-Fairhurst gave talks on ‘Metaphor and euphemism’, ‘Pain in Greek tragedy’, and ‘Pain and empathy’, respectively.

Although much of the summer school took place at Green Templeton College, students attended a tour of Magdalen by Ed Dodson, the College’s new Outreach and Communications Officer, had a seminar with Professor Maguire and a talk from College Librarian Daryl Green in the Old Library.

“The College’s early medical books were on show for a hands-on session for the Summer School participants,” explained Daryl. “As Magdalen has always been strong in medical education, and also as the College has had very strong history of science collections the participants were spoiled for choice. We have first editions of Vesalius, Hooke, Cowper, local medics William Harvey and Thomas Willis, and even a modern Gray’s Anatomy, and all were on the tables for students to turn the pages of and understand the development of scientific and medical books, from the 12th century to the 21st.”

The Medical Humanities Summer School, which is set to run in future years, was a wonderful opportunity not only to showcase the remarkable research taking place at Oxford but also to introduce some of the most able and enthusiastic prospective students to the rigours of studying here. This included students from a wide range of backgrounds, with five sixth-formers supported by bursaries.

Magdalen College is committed to its outreach work and sees events like this as an important way to inspire the next generation of students.