Making Old Drugs New Again: On the Uses of History in Health Policy and Practice

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Culture and Health is delighted to announce that for the very first event in our Cultural Contexts of Health seminar series we will be hosting Professor Jeremy Greene, who will be giving a talk entitled ‘Making Old Drugs New Again: On the Uses of History in Health Policy and Practice’.

Professor Greene’s talk addresses the problem of translating historical analysis to topics of contemporary health policy and practice, using pharmaceuticals as an example.  Even if it may appear that stakeholders in the fields of healthcare tend to look towards the future, rather than the past, to validate their actions, forms of historical thinking permeate this realm all the same.

The historian seeking to translate her scholarship to wider audiences must contend with a set of thinner historical narratives already present in popular, clinical and policy periodicals, which tend to displace or occlude more critical assessment of the issues at hand. These common-sensical historical narratives tend to prioritize questions of innovation over questions of access, equity or use, and rely on teleologies of the present rather than an understanding of the past on its own terms.   As a result, many present-day debates over the ethics and economics of new technologies regularly, casually, and uncritically invoke history to do political work.

He argues that it is important to map out the risks of uncritical history in the formulation of health policy, but it is also just as important to out the risks of uncritical policy engagements in the formulation of medical history as well.

This talk will survey a series of engagements between pharmaceutical history and pharmaceutical policy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and ask what is gained and what is lost in translation.

This event will be followed by a drinks reception and an opportunity to network. To register your interest please visit our official event page.

We will be live streaming this event on the day.  To find out more about this or any of the event details please contact Kerry Dungay on

The seminar series is organised by the WHO Collaborating Centre for Culture and Health at the University of Exeter.  It is supported by the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health.