History of the Department

I. History of Health Sciences

From its beginning, faculty members of the Medical School opened their courses of instruction with historical introductions. A formal course in medical history was first offered in 1929 at the San Francisco campus by Chauncey D. Leake. With support from Dean Langley Porter, and as a result of stimulating visits from Charles Singer, George Sarton, William Henry Welch, and Leroy Crummer, a departmental program was organized in association with library developments. Sanford Larkey was appointed librarian and associate professor of medical history and bibliography in 1930, and the Crummer Room for the History of Medicine was established in the new Clinic Building.

In addition to a formal, one-semester course open to all students at the San Francisco campus, seminars were developed by Herbert M. Evans, John B. deC. M. Saunders, and Chauncey Leake, and graduate students were accepted for advanced study. The Department of Medical History and Bibliography was the first of its kind to be organized in the country.

In 1935, when Larkey went to Johns Hopkins Medical School as librarian of the Welch Memorial Library, Leake became librarian and professor of medical history and bibliography, and continued to promote the program. Frances Tomlinson Gardner became curator of the Medical History Collections, which grew to some 14,000 items by 1941. Special gifts were made by many: general English classics from Hans Lisser; sixteenth-century classics from Leroy Crummer; a comprehensive Osler collection from Esther Rosencrantz; Greek medical classics from Pan S. Codellas; California medical classics from Henry Harris; and a large collection on the history of anesthesia from Leake. Publications from the department were made by Mrs. Gardner, John M. D. Olmsted, Felix Cunha, Saunders, and Leake.

When Leake left for Texas in 1942, Saunders became librarian and chairman of the department. Unfortunately, the speed-up training program of World War II resulted in abandoning the formal course on medical history. Yet the historical collections were fostered and special seminars were offered by Otto Guttentag, Evans, and Saunders. In 1958, a new library facility was provided and the historical collections were housed in appropriate quarters. Important publications on da Vinci, Vesalius, and Egyptian medicine were made by Saunders and his colleagues. The studies on Egyptian medicine by Leake and by Saunders were featured in Logan Clendening Lectures at the University of Kansas.

Leake returned in 1963, when president of the American Association for the History of Medicine, and offered a voluntary summer course in the history and philosophy of medicine. Many special historical exhibits were arranged. The well-known authority on Oriental medicine, Ilza Veith of the University of Chicago, came in 1964 as professor of medical history. A large collection of Oriental medical classics was obtained, and the historical collections grew, under Saunders’ guidance, to over 20,000 items. The department offered special seminars and medical students were encouraged to try historical research. Significant publications were made by staff members, including important items by Evans, Karl F. Meyer, Salvatore P. Lucia, and Veith.

In order to encourage all students at the San Francisco campus to become interested in the historical and humanistic aspects of their studies, the name was changed in 1965 to the Department of the History of the Health Sciences

In 1999, History of Health Sciences merged with Medical Anthropology to form the Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine.

II. Medical Anthropology

The history of the Medical Anthropology program at UCSF owes its existence largely to the dedication and energy of Dr. M. Margaret Clark. Dr. Clark was first hired at UCSF as a “Senior Research Anthropologist” in the Geriatrics Research Program, was then appointed Professor in Residence in the Departments of Psychiatry and International Health before finally becoming Professor of Anthropology within the Department of Epidemiology and International Health (now Epidemiology and Biostatistics).

During her career the field of Anthropology was forming new disciplinary subdivisions, including medical anthropology. The Society for Medical Anthropology was founded in 1970, providing a model for research questions and themes that were quickly thereafter integrated into graduate programs in anthropology across the country, including the only UC campuses that offered a Ph.D. in anthropology: Berkeley, UCLA, and Davis. That same year the first course in medical anthropology—“Anthropology and Mental Health” – was offered at UCSF. In 1971, an interdisciplinary faculty of health care practitioners, human biologists, and both sociocultural and physical anthropologists formed the “Graduate Group in Anthropology” at UCSF, with more elective courses offered through the Institute for Medical Research and Training Program (ICMRT). With the support of Dr. Julius Krevans, then Dean of the School of Medicine, and Dr. Harold Harper, Dean of the Graduate Division, and with the assistance of a grant, Dr. Margaret Clark and other UC faculty, including Frederick L. Dunn, Renaldo Maduro, Joan Ablon, Lucille Newman, and Christie Kiefer, worked to build on this foundation to form a joint Ph.D. program in Medical Anthropology with UC Berkeley. Collaborating closely with Dr George Foster and others at UCB, the first draft proposals for this were penned in 1973.

The following year, 1974, a program announcement from the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration to fund predoctoral and postdoctoral training in specified areas of biomedical and behavioral research provided a welcome opportunity to raise the money needed for this endeavor. In 1975, Dr. Clark obtained a training grant for $655,878 from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to fund a percentage of faculty time at UCSF and UC Berkeley for five years “to provide intensive research training on a range of mental health problems for a total of twelve advanced graduate students, leading to a Ph.D. in medical anthropology.” In April of that same year the Chancellor of UCSF, Dr. Francis Sooy, wrote to congratulate Dr. Clark on the approval of the joint degree program by the Regents of the University of California . While several other universities in the US by now offered graduate study in medical anthropology, the training being launched at UCSF-UCB would provide the first fully specialized program leading to a Ph.D. degree in that field.

The program was built around (a) the development of students with a strong background in graduate level training, accepting only those with a Masters degree in social science or relevant health profession, and (b) five distinct components each representing separate aspects of the student’s methodological, theoretical and professional education. These were:

•  Two years of core course work examining the links among culture, medicine and health
•  Two-years of apprenticeships with faculty involved in ongoing research
•  Three-years of workshop in research design and techniques, analysis and the reporting of research data and dissertation preparation
•  Three-years of internships in a medical setting
•  Supervised field research for the dissertation

Members of the medical anthropology faculty were early-on engaged in a wide variety of research projects, including aging and human development, reproductive health, community mental health, comparative medical systems, ecology of disease and population health, and disability.

Among other large training programs at UCSF that were spearheaded under Dr. Clark’s direction was the Multidisciplinary Program in Applied Gerontology, developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s with support from the federal Administration on Aging. This pioneering program focused on training teams of students from diverse professional backgrounds (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry and social science) to optimally assess, diagnose and treat patients in a variety of long-term geriatric settings, ranging from the community through residential care facilities.

Expansion and diversification of topical interests of faculty, post-docs and graduate students throughout the 1980s and 1990s is well represented by the dissertation titles of graduates from the Program and their supervising faculty – see list. This expansion included examination of the HIV/AIDS crisis and that of other infectious diseases; emerging technologies, especially but not exclusively organ transplantation and other hybrid techniques, and end-of-life issues; the interface of the clinical enterprise with health policy and the organization of professional practice, not just for medicine but for nursing, and ancillary health care disciplines; complementary and alternative medical practices; substance use and misuse; as well as a focus on the interface between health and poverty, migration, and the increasing ethnic diversity within the US population in general and the Californian population specifically. In the 2000s, graduate students and faculty continue to consolidate their involvement in examination of these topics as well increasing the breadth of issues investigated.

While the specific requirements of the PhD degree Program have changed slightly since its inception, in 2005 it is still strongly anchored by an insistence on excellence in (i) theory in both anthropology in general and medical anthropology particularly, (ii) methods, especially research design and data analysis, and (iii) a thorough grounding in substantive topics of relevance to the dissertation. A strength of the Program has been its ability to attract and graduate students from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds – 50% of students enter the Program with a Masters degree from anthropology or other social science, 25% from public health, and the other 25% from various clinical disciplines (e.g., nursing, medicine, occupational therapy, social work).

In 1999, coeval with substantial reorganization of divisions within the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, the Medical Anthropology Program moved to a new home in the School of Medicine , merging with existing Department of the History of Health Sciences to form the present Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine.

UCSF General Catalog for 1972 (vol. 12, no. 8)
UCSF MSS 2000-07 “Training Program in Medical Anthropology”
UCSF MSS 2000-07 carton 5 “Medical Anthropology Degree Program Proposal”

Dr. Brian Dolan would like to thank Valerie Wheat from UCSF’s Special Collections and Archives and Drs. Vincanne Adams, Philippe Bourgois, and Judith Barker for assistance compiling this information.


The Department now has approximately 25 doctoral students and residents in any given year. It also offers an Area of Concentration in Medical Humanities for fourth year medical students. Several electives are offered for medical students and nursing students including “Medicine and the Movies” and “Medical History to Complement the Essential Core”. The Department also contributes to the Cultural and Behavioral Studies syllabus in the Essential Core for first and second year medical students and several faculty lead Small Groups in the “Foundations of Patient Care” course offered to first and second year medical students.

Please follow the links on the left navigation bar for more information about the medical anthropology program and the history of health sciences program. On the right navigation bar you will find more information on current Departmental seminars, faculty publications, and other news and events.

For information on the history of medicine at UCSF, see “A History of the UCSF School of Medicine” written by Dr. Nancy Rockafellar.

For more information on the history of the departments within the UC system, visit the University of California Digital Archives.

Last modified: February 26, 2014