History of Medicine

History of Medicine is both a social science and a discipline in the medical humanities.  Any thoughtful critique of modern health care must take into account historical explanations of how disease burdens change over time, how clinical medicine is shaped by its social context, and how the quest for medical certainty has evolved over time.  History is also about memory, reminding us to remember our indebtedness to the past without forgetting its more disturbing legacies. And it seeks to explore memories from a variety of perspectives, crossing the lines of race, class, gender, and religion.

Duke School of Medicine’s History of Medicine Program first arose around its remarkable collection of historical medical texts, collected and donated by Duke’s first thoracic surgeon, Dr. Josiah Charles Trent. With the sponsorship of the Josiah Charles Macy Foundation, it developed one of the first MD-PhD clinical-historian training programs in the United States.  Its mission today is directed at health science practitioners as well as others in the University who share an interest in understanding the relevance of history in a global and technological age.


Three book covers: Marrow of Tragedy, Intensely Human, and The Machine in the Nursery

Interest Group

Group of medical students sitting around table facing faculty leader


Faculty and students engaged around table with historical books

Video Mini-Course

Historical medical book with human anatomy drawing on left and text on right


View of Trent Collection room, including large portrait and shelves of books and historical objects

Online Exhibition

Six images from Documenting Durham's Health History online exhibition