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Dr Barbara Zipser

Dr Barbara Zipser

Dr Barbara Zipser - Senior Lecturer

I teach the history of ancient medicine, science and technology, which also includes the history of innovation. My field of research is the manuscript transmission of ancient Greek and Byzantine medicine.

After a very old fashioned training in Latin, Greek and Education at the University of Heidelberg, which mostly focused on ancient philosophy, drama and epic along with prose composition and some papyrology, I decided to work on a different topic for my PhD. While it was still based at Latin and Greek at Heidelberg, I worked on the manuscript transmission of a Byzantine text on ophthalmology, for which I also had to learn some Arabic. I subsequently won a Wellcome Trust grant for my Postdoc at UCL, where I worked on the first edition of a vernacular Greek medical text, one of the first longer written samples of this idiom that would later on become modern Greek. Next, I moved to RHUL on a couple of Wellcome Trust grants, which included a University Award. My research focused until recently on entangled lines of transmission in ancient and medieval Greek medicine. I also run a collaborative Wiki edition of a Latin-Greek-Arabic medical dictionary that conserves a snapshot of medical book as dictionaries available in the late 12th century AD. My research is quite exciting, as I get to visit special collections across Europe to work on manuscripts that are between 1100 and 400 years old.

My teaching mostly focusses on the history of medicine, science and technology, which includes the history of inventions and the history of geography. The ancients had a more holistic view of medicine. A doctor would take detailed case histories on the diet, life style, housing and profession of a patient and also on their direct contacts. We can see something very similar in the history of science, where natural phenomena were seen in context. Strategic planning was also often more advanced in antiquity.

Last year, I transferred my linguistic  analysis techniques to a different type of source material, two ransom notes from a 1981 cold case. I treated these texts the same as if they were manuscript fragments that had to be profiled, which is something I do all the time. I also worked on the indented writing on one of the letters, which is again something that I commonly do in my usual research.

More information about my research is available via PURE.

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History of medicine

digital humanities

medical humanities

manuscript transmission

textual criticism






Hunting Killers by Mark Williams-Thomas contains an extended interview about my research. 

TV Feature on Stern TV Nach fast 40 Jahren: Wurde für den Tod von Ursula Herrmann der Falsche verurteilt? Broadcast on April 10th, 2019

Guardian long read article The girl in the box: the mysterious crime that shocked Germany 

Article on Abendzeitung online Fall Ursula Herrmann: Rätsel um ein grünes Kabel

Article on Corriere della Sera Storia di Ursula, rapita nel bosco e morta (per errore) in una scatola

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