Mary E. Fissell, Ph.D., M.A.

  • Professor of History of Medicine

Research Interests

Books and reading in early modern England and the Atlantic world; Popular culture; Gender, sexuality and the history of the body; The patient's perspective in the history of medicine; Early-modern medicine more


Dr. Mary E. Fissell is professor of history of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, with appointments in the History of Science and Technology and History departments. Her scholarly work focuses on how ordinary people in early modern England understood health, healing and the natural world.

She supervises graduate students admitted to the History of Medicine department and offers fields for students in other departments as well; she welcomes inquiries about graduate training.

She is currently working on a book about Aristotle’s Masterpiece, the best-selling early-modern book on sex and reproduction.

Dr. Fissell received her B.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where she wrote her dissertation in the history and sociology department under the direction of Charles Rosenberg. She joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1992.

Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Dr. Fissell was a lecturer and research associate at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at the University of Manchester.

She teaches a range of courses, including undergraduate and graduate surveys in the history of medicine; the history of science, technology, and medicine methods seminar; and a graduate research seminar on popular knowledge. She coedits the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. more


  • Professor of History of Medicine

Departments / Divisions



  • B.A.; University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania) (1981)
  • M.A.; University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania) (1984)
  • Ph.D.; University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania) (1988)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Dr. Fissell's scholarly work focuses on how ordinary people in early modern England understood health, healing and the natural world.

Her first book examined how health care for the poor functioned in an 18th-century British city, arguing that Bristol's working people shaped an urban health-care system through the choices they made—limited though those choices may have been.

More recently, she has focused on how ordinary people understood their bodies, particularly reproduction, by looking at cheap print. Vernacular Bodies (Oxford, 2004) explored how everyday ideas about making babies mediated large-scale social changes, because talking about the reproductive female body was also a way to talk about gender relations and thus all relations of power.

Her current work continues to examine vernacular knowledge—ideas about the natural world that ordinary people used, made, shaped and practiced. She connects the histories of gender, the body and sexuality with those of popular culture and cheap print in the Atlantic world in a project focusing on an extraordinary popular medical book called Aristotle's Masterpiece. First published in 1684, it was still for sale in sleazy London sex shops in the 1920s, having retained its currency for over two centuries.

Selected Publications

  1. Fissell ME. "Introduction: women, health, and healing in early modern Europe." Bull Hist Med. 2008 Spring;82(1):1-17. doi: 10.1353/bhm.2008.0024.
  2. Fissell ME. “The Doctor-Patient Relationship.” The Cambridge History of Medical Ethics Eds. Robert Baker and Lawrence McCullough. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 501-17. Print.
  3. Fissell ME. “Healing Spaces.” The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing. Ed. Laura Lunger Knoppers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.
  4. Fissell ME. “Going Vernacular.” Journal of Women’s History. 2010;22(3):209-213. doi: 10.1353/jowh.2010.0593.
  5. Fissell ME. "A Book of Receipts of All Sorts: Elizabeth Strachey, 1693-1730s." Hidden Treasure. Ed. Michael Sappol. New York: Blast Books, 2012. 204-5. Print.
  6. “Women and Medicine.” Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation. Ed. Margaret King. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.

Academic Affiliations & Courses

Courses and Syllabi

  • History of Medicine: Antiquity to the Scientific Revolution (SOM 150.705)
  • History of Medicine: Antiquity to the Scientific Revolution (HSMT 140.105)
  • An Introduction to Historical Methods (HSMT 140.601)
  • Popular Knowledge (SOM 140.703)
  • What Is the Cultural History of Medicine? (SOM 140.628)

Activities & Honors


  • Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies (declined), 1997
  • Fellowship, Folger Institute, 2000
  • Course Development Grant, Hughes Foundation, 1992 - 1993
  • Honorable Mention for Vernacular Bodies, Katharine Briggs Folklore Award, 2005
  • Grant, National Library of Medicine (NIH 1 G13 LM07054-01), 2001 - 2002
  • Grant, National Library of Medicine (NIH 1G13LM010198-01), 2010 - 2012
  • Fellowship, Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, 1997 - 1998

Professional Activities

  • Acting Director, Johns Hopkins University, 2013
  • Co-Curator, Cambridge University Library, 2011
  • Co-Editor, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 2006
  • Director, Vernacular Health and Healing, 2006 - 2007
  • Section Editor, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 1996 - 1999
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