What are the Subject Headings for Medical Anthropology, Medical Sociology and the Study of Traditional Medicine?

ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee

Question/Answer on cataloging issues – April 2017

Question: What subject headings are commonly applied to anthropological or sociological works about medicine and medical practices?

Submitted By: Tom Durkin, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Anthropology and sociology are boundary-crossing disciplines. Anthropologists and sociologists seek to understand society and culture through various research foci, including an understanding of medical practices and conditions. Medical anthropologists study the “ethnomedicine” or local medical practices from many regions, cultures, and time periods. Researchers may study indigenous medicines and concepts of sickness including connections between culture and mental illness. Medical sociologists study “social medicine” and may focus on how social organization and social roles interact with providing and receiving medical care. Both types of researchers focus on the social and cultural context of medical care, such as power, status, gender, and religion. Similar to social medicine, “applied anthropology” incudes ethnographic study of medical practice, in order to suggest improvements to medical programs.

  • Lambert, Helen. 2009. “Medical anthropology.” In Encyclopedia of social and cultural anthropology. London: Routledge.
  • “Medical Sociology.” In World of Sociology, Gale, edited by Joseph M. Palmisano. Gale, 2001.
  • Pool, Robert, and Wenzel Geissler. 2005. Medical anthropology, understanding public health. New York: Open University Press.

Medical anthropology and medical sociology: The most important and encompassing LCSH terms are listed below. There are also identical MESH terms for both. The LCSH term “Social medicine” is usually paired with other non-sociology-related terms for medical practices or conditions.

  • Medical anthropology
  • Social medicine

Social and anthropological aspects of disease and medical care: the following LCSH headings give some examples for the variety of terms and subdivisions that can be applied to works related to the ways that culture and society interact with the expression and treatment of illnesses. The subdivisions “Social aspects,” “Cross-cultural studies,” “Ethnology,” and “Anthropological aspects” work well to differentiate straightforward medical works from works on the social aspects of medicine.

  • Diseases — Social aspects
  • Ethnic groups — Diseases
  • Folk dentistry
  • Healing — Folklore
  • Health — Cross-cultural studies
  • Health — Sex differences
  • Health behavior — Ethnology
  • Health services accessibility
  • Medical archaeology
  • Medical care — Social aspects
  • Medicine – Practice — Social aspects
  • Medicine — Cross-cultural studies
  • Medicine, Rural–Practice
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Medicine, magic, mystic, and spagiric
  • Neoplasms — ethnology
  • Nursing — Anthropological aspects
  • Public health — Social aspects
  • Traditional medicine
  • World health — Cross-cultural studies

 There are many helpful and relevant MESH terms that can be applied to works. These are a few related examples.

  • Attitude to health
  • Global health
  • Health services, Indigenous
  • Medicine, Traditional (identical to the LCSH term)
  • Socioeconomic factors

Social and cultural facets to psychology: society and culture interact directly with individual psychology as well as the expression and treatment of psychological conditions. These are a few LCSH terms and subdivisions focused directly on this facet.

  • Cultural psychiatry
  • Ethnopsychology
  • Mental illness — Social aspects (or Cross-cultural studies or Anthropological aspects)
  • Psychiatric hospitals — Sociological aspects
  • Psychiatry, Transcultural
  • Social psychiatry

Cultures, ethnicities, and regions: there are a variety of ways that works related to the medical practices of certain cultures or regions can be specified. For example, the LC heading for the name of a cultural group can have a medically-related subdivision added, the LCSH term “Medicine, […]” is completed to include a word representing a people, and full LCSH terms can be subdivided geographically. The terms listed here are just a few examples of the wide variety of terms available.

  • Asmat (Indonesian people) — Medical care
  • Jaunsari (Indic people) — Health and hygiene
  • Limbum (African people) — Diseases
  • Quechua Indians — Medicine 
  • Medicine, Arab
  • Medicine, Chinese
  • Medicine, Mongolian
  • Medicine, Tibetan
  • Medical care — Papua New Guinea
  • Medicine — Practice — Puerto Rico
  • Medicine, Traditional — United States
  • Traditional medicine — Mexico

Religious and spiritual aspects of disease and medical care: religion is frequently embedded deeply in medical practice in many cultures. In LCSH the subdivision “Religious aspects” is useful for separating medical works from those about the way religion interacts with medicine.

  • Buddhist medicine
  • Diseases — Religious aspects
  • Healing — Religious aspects
  • Healing in the Bible
  • Jews — Medicine
  • Medical care — Religious aspects
  • Medicine in the Bible
  • Medicine in the Quran
  • Medicine in rabbinical literature
  • Medicine, Ayurvedic
  • Medicine, Siddha
  • Medicine — Religious aspects – Buddhism [Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.]
  • Mental illness — Religious aspects
  • Psychology and religion
  • Sephardim — Medicine
  • Shinto medicine
  • Spiritual healing

Types of traditional medical practitioners: there are a variety of LCSH terms that are used to identify medical practitioners. The list of terms for contemporary American medical industry personnel is very extensive, and too lengthy to list here. Please view the list of “narrower terms” associated with the LC term “Physicians” here: http://id.loc.gov/authorities/subjects/sh85101610.html

  • Bonesetters
  • Cunning folk (Here are entered works on individuals in English history from medieval times to the 20th century, and in early American history, who were hired to practice  magical skills, such as curing sickness, detecting thieves, forecasting the future, procuring love, and diagnosing witchcraft, in return for payment in money or small gifts.)
  • Healers
  • Indian healers
  • Women healers
  • Herbalists
  • Nurses
  • Physicians
  • Shamanism
  • Shamans
  • Women shamans
  • Tangoma (a traditional South African Healer)

 Traditional treatments: traditional medical treatments might involve a wide variety of practices and substances. The first term “Ethnopharmacology” describes a broad array of treatment types. LCSH provides a few terms related to the use of plants specifically as traditional medical treatments.

  • Ethnopharmacology (Here are entered works on the study of the use made of substances for medical purposes by particular societies or ethnic groups.)
  • Botany, Medical
  • Herbs — Therapeutic use
  • Materia medica, Vegetable
  • Medicinal plants
  • Medicine, Botanic

For more information about “ethnobotany” please see this ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee list of terms: