Biomedicine: Historical Perspective


This course aims to lead students to reflect on the nature of biomedicine, the assumptions of its origin and its importance for the most current debates in Science, Medicine and Society, which are based on the historical and cognitive matrix of science and medicine.

It also intends to familiarize students with the evolution of historiographical narratives that will give them a more comprehensive approach to the production and circulation of medical knowledge, contributing to their integral formation, and to the awareness of the role of medicine and the physician in the social framework, in each historical moment.

General characterization





Responsible teacher

Prof. Doutora Isabel Amaral


Weekly - Available soon

Total - Available soon

Teaching language





Amaral, A. Carneiro, T. S. Mota, V. M. Borges, J. L. Dória (coord.), Percursos da Saúde Pública nos séculos XIX e XX – a propósito de Ricardo Jorge (Lisboa: Celom, 2011).
Barros Veloso, A.;  Damas Mora, L; Leitão, H. , Médicos, Medicina e Sociedade: para uma história da medicina em Portugal no século XX (Lisboa, By the Book, 2017)
Campos, E., Uma Biografia das Lipoproteínas: entre a Investigação Fundamental e a Clínica Médica (Tese de doutorameto, FCT/UNL, 2010)
Cooter, R.; Stein, C., Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013)
Hannaway, C., Biomedicine in the Twentieth Century: Practices, Policies, and Politics (Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2008)
Hazelwood, L.F., Can't Live Without It: The Story of Hemoglobin in Sickness and in Health (Nova Science Pub. Inc., 2001)
Levy, D.; Brink, S., A Change of Heart: How the People of Framingham, Massachusetts, Helped Unravel the Mysteries of Cardiovascular Disease (New York: Knopf; 2005)
Maddox, B., Rosalind Franklin - The Dark Lady of DNA (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002).
Mukherjee, S., The Emperor of all Maladies: a Biography of Cancer (New York: Scribner, 2011)
Porter, R. (ed.), The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, a Medical History of Humanity (W. W. Norton & Company, 1999)
Rose, W., Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine (New York: Penguim Books, 2018).
Soraya de Chadarevian; Kamminga, Molecularizing Biology and Medicine: new practices and alliances, 1920s to 1970s (Cambridge: Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, 2003).
Tattersall, R., Diabetes: the Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Teaching method

There will be a theoretical-practiacl class of 2 hours per week.

In each of the classes one or two historical articles on the theoretical theme will be analyzed. The first 40 minutes of the lesson will be of theoretical exposition, in which the diferente concepts listed in the syllabus will be discussed, followed by discussion.

The remaining time will be used by the students, to presente individually the theme that was previously assigned to them. A final discussion follows.

The course page, in the moodle platform, several texts will be available on each of the themes. Each student will have to read one of them.

Evaluation method

This course unit will have a continuous evaluation, without recourse to final exam.



I tis necessary to attend in 2/3 of the theoretical-practical classes, and it is not possible to offer substitution classes. I tis important for the student not to be absent in the class where he or she can make his/her presentation.

Subject matter

This UC takes place over 14 weeks, one topic each week, according to the following thematic proposal:  



1. Introduction to biomedicine

2. Paramyloidosis: the contribution of Corino de Andrade

3. The fight against infection: the exemple of tuberculosis

4. Vitamins and the Dynamics of molecularization

5. The Stories of Penicillin

6. Insulin: From Discovery to Therapy

7. Molecular therapeutics: the adventure of Edwin Cohn during World War II and the discovery of the structure of hemoglobin

8. Science and Gender: the discovery of the structure of ‘The double helix’

9. The history of early clinical trials of oral contraceptives, 1950-1959

10. The Social Construction of Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease: Framingham Heart Study 

11. The trajectory of lipoproteins: between the laboratory and the medical clinic

12. Cancer: the perspective of research and clinicians

13. Pharmaceutical industry and biomedical research in the 20th century

14. Brief presentation of final papers by students


From the set of selected topics we intend to approach concepts such as molecularization, tacit knowledge, geography of scientific knowledge (intelectual, social and political migrations), calculus, network, prematurity and Big Science.


Programs where the course is taught: