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MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society


Professor of History of Science and Medicine

On research leave until September 2024.




A historian of biological and medical sciences, I am interested generally in visual communication and specifically in reproduction, embryology, anatomy and evolution. Having worked most on German-speaking Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, I increasingly study Britain and the United States and range from 1750 to the present.

I am writing Visible Embryos: A History of Human Development, the subject of my Innes Lecture. I am also researching The Many Births of the Test-Tube Baby, a history of claims to IVF that I shall finish as holder of a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship in 2021–4. My recent book, Haeckel's Embryos: Images, Evolution and Fraud, tells the extraordinary story of an alleged forgery that became a textbook classic. Spanning from the 19th to the 21st century, and from the German lands to the United States, it explores how scientific images succeed and fail, become taken for granted and cause trouble. My first book, Embryos in Wax: Models from the Ziegler Studio, is available from the Whipple Museum.

I am a deputy chair of the University's Strategic Research Initiative on Reproduction. From 2004 to 2018 I was principal holder of Wellcome enhancement and strategic awards on the theme 'Generation to Reproduction'. These led, among many other things, to Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day, a large, accessible, illustrated book, and to the continuing Generation to Reproduction Seminar.

I came to history of science and medicine after postdoctoral work in developmental biology. Having lectured in Cambridge HPS and at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, I became a teaching officer here in 1998 and won a Pilkington teaching prize in 2006. I co-direct the Ischia Summer School on the History of the Life Sciences and am history section editor of Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online, an associate editor of the Journal of the History of Biology, an advisory board member for the Haeckel letters edition and a faculty advisor to the Health, Medicine and Agency research network.

I supervise a wide range of topics. Former PhD students have written histories of anatomy, scientific societies, heart transplants in the media, flu as a viral disease, teratology and antenatal care, blood donation, blood group genetics, pregnancy testing, transgenic mice, and the midlife crisis. Current students are historicizing public-health images, primate ethology and commercial television, histories of contraception, new media and science writing, chromotherapy, and bioluminescence.

Nick Hopwood on the HPS Department website

Nick Hopwood


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