Law is a creation of society, and works to enforce social and moral rules. In this course we will explore how crime and punishment were defined and carried out in Europe and the United States from Roman times to the present. The course will take students through a series of case studies, beginning with Roman and Germanic law and ending with an examination of the fictive U.S. court case of the Speluncean Explorers. The course will be entirely discussion-based.

Despite our popular understanding of the European middle ages as a dirty, disease-ridden, hopelessly backward period, the sources show us quite a different picture. Although a lack of understanding of the means of genetic change and the cause of viral and bacterial disease caused medieval people to understand the human body very differently than we do, their medical systems were not without logic and efficacy.

This course explores the human body and its diseases in the middle ages through a series of connected readings that introduce the body as a conceptual system and medieval science’s attempts to understand it. We use the growing field of genomic research as a way of understanding and comparing our modern systems of understanding the body to those in the past. By exploring the field of pathogenomics, we also explore how newer scientific technologies are helping historians learn about the past in new ways.


These are the content goals for the course. Students will:

  • become familiar with the major writers of ancient and medieval medicine and their understandings of the human body.
  • understand the systematic approach of ancient science and its connection to philosophy and theology.
  •  explore the effect of Islamic medicine on the medical knowledge of western Europe in the middle ages.
  •  discuss modern methods of identifying past diseases and conditions and the problems associated with such identification.
  •   explore particular treatments and remedies for important medical conditions and their efficacy.
  • explain the place of genomics in the human effort to understand natural phenomena, including its history and social impact, by exploring the connection of genomics to older theories about the body.


These are the skills objectives for the course. Students will:

  • participate in three problem-based learning exercises and produce a synthetic presentation illustrating their findings.
  • practice the skills of critical reading of sources, interpret them via secondary readings, and respond to those readings in written assignments.
  • use the skills and interdisciplinary perspectives of the liberal arts in understanding trends in medicine and genomics and communicating them to academic peers and others.