What does medical history mean to different people? Who should write it – doctors or historians? Is it purely an academic exercise or can it have practical uses for doctors and patients? Since medical history first emerged as a distinct discipline in the mid-nineteenth century, these questions have been heavily debated. Issues of ownership and authority have permeated discussion on the purpose and function of analysing medicine’s past. In many respects, medical history differs from other types of history. Breaking beyond the confines of humanities research, medical history sits, sometimes uncomfortably, at the intersection between historical research and medical practice. It is actively pursued by historians, doctors and amateurs alike, researchers with different aims, needs, agendas and perspectives. This also raises questions about audiences. Who should medical history be written for? Whose needs should it serve: doctors, patients, policy makers, historians, the public?
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