Chronology of Medicine through time

Medicine Through Time: Chronology

Understanding of chronology is very important in the study of Medicine Through Time.

Chronology, the basics:

In simple terms you need to understand what order things happened in. This allows you to show how things have developed, changed or stayed the same over time. If you have a good grasp of the order in which things happened you will be able to provide examples of continuity and change, be able to add detail to answers that talk about progress or regression by noting timescale, or by offering specific examples that show how things had changed.

Wound Man

More Advanced:

A more advanced understanding of chronology will help you to achieve higher grades. If you have grasped the order in which things happened the next step is to understand the period in which things happened. This allows you to place events in context. Such an awareness allows you to evaluate the reasons why things have changed or stayed the same.

For example, you might be asked to compare and contrast a feature of medicine in the Ancient World with a later period, the Middle Ages for example. Let’s take the role of Religion as an example. On a basic level you know that there were Temples, Cults and use of charms etc in the Ancient World. You can probably also note the names of some of these to add a bit of depth to your descriptions. Likewise you probably know that the church was very important in the Middle Ages and can probably give an example of something the church did in relation to medicine at the time. If you are going to show a developed understanding of the differences though, you need to be thinking about the way in which these civilisations worked. This is a developed sense of period. What this means in practice is that you will demonstrate an awareness not only of the key facts, but also of the reasons why these things occurred. In the Ancient World you could note the Cult of Asclepious and show how ths fits in with a variety of beliefs about the cause of disease at the time.In the Middle Ages you could then look at the way in which society viewed the teachings of the church to demonstrate that whilst there was still religious belief, its impact on society was different – leading to continuity in some ways, and changes in others.

The thematic approach to chronology is catered for by these timelines which are being developed over the course of the year.

For teachers:

The following is an extract from an article written by Ian Dawson. The full article focuses more on Key Stage 3 and can be found in full at

Implications for History at 14-19

a) GCSE.

One obvious area where we might expect students’ chronological understanding to be enhanced is in Schools History Project Development Studies (i.e. medicine and crime and punishment through time). Theoretically, this is the ideal structure for developing chronological understanding because students tackle a broad sweep of time in little more than half a year and so there is less chance of forgetting what order periods and events came in. And yet examiners’ reports regularly point out an inability to sequence periods correctly, a lack of sense of duration, people and events turning up in entirely unexpected periods as if propelled by an erratic Tardis and an inability to correctly identify, for example, the 19th century, all with dire effects on students’ ability to analyse change, continuity and causation.

The villain here appears to be the not unreasonable assumption that teaching a topic in chronological order is sufficient in itself to develop students’ chronological knowledge and understanding. However, as argued above, such knowledge and understanding is far more likely to develop when specific objectives have been identified and activities have been constructed to meet students’ learning problems. One key point is the junction between Years 9 and 10. Assessing students’ sense of chronology as they begin a Development Study should reveal what students have retained from Key Stage 3 and what misconceptions they have. Can they, for example:

– identify 1850 as the 19th century?
– tell a thematic story of major developments in social history?
– place Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution on timeline and where?

Furthermore, have they developed a sense of period sufficient to fill in most of the features of the sense of period diagram for, for example, the Middle Ages or the nineteenth century? Can they use this to predict what each society might know and understand about public health, anaesthetics and surgery?

The results of such diagnosis may suggest that more time may need to be given during the course to developing a stronger sense of period for each of the major eras, to sequencing periods and building up a sense of duration. This all takes time, but it is likely that more time spent on tackling chronology specifically and less time on the details of medicine or crime may help students avoid some of the major pitfalls in examinations.

b) 14-19 reform. Put simply, the big lesson about chronological knowledge and understanding is – use it or lose it! Even higher attaining pupils who develop a sound basis in chronological knowledge by the age of 14 risk losing much of that knowledge if it is not reinforced through further historical studies after 14. We cannot do anything about those misguided souls who choose to drop history but, if we only offer a single, narrow period of history for study after 14, how much of that sense of a framework or sense of periods can be maintained? If we are to take the development of an enduring sense of chronology seriously, then every student who opts for history at 14-16 and then 16-19 should have, as part of their historical studies, an overview course that, amongst other things, reinforces the hard-won understandings developed by the age of 14. Such courses can be interesting, challenging and need not fragment into a series of depth studies masquerading as an overview. Indeed, they should provide that long-term perspective on the present that is one of history’s unique contributions to education.

Implications for 14-19. Ian Dawson.