On 19 April 2018, I attended the Interdisciplinarity Workshop held by the North West Medical Humanities Postgraduate Network at the sunny duck-filled campus that is Lancaster University. The day began with an enthusiastic welcome address from the two workshop organisers: PhD candidates Erin Bramwell and Natalie Mullen. For the keynote address the organisers chose Dr James Stark (Associate Professor of Medical Humanities at Leeds University), who presented his research on historical imagery of hand hygiene. The video clips and posters that Dr Stark exhibited deeply resonated with my research on physician-writer and parasitologist Colonel Sir Ronald Ross (1852-1932). I feel sure Ross would have enjoyed the clips of germs personified as nefarious soldiers with names like Brigadier Blood-Poison!
Panel One was entitled ‘Therapeutic Spaces’. Matilda Blackwell (University of Birmingham) kicked-off the panel with a paper on queer bodies in both the asylum bathroom and the Turkish bath through an examination of the works of Emily Holmes Coleman, Antonia White and Katherine Mansfield. Matilda argued that queer expression and community was enabled by using the therapeutic bathroom as a space in which heteropatriarchal relationships were challenged. Felix Goodbody (University of Liverpool) spoke about the 1942 Hospital Survey and the beginnings of the NHS. Felix’s examination of the survey uncovered the context in which it was written, as well as the agenda of the policy makers and the notions they had for the future of healthcare in Britain. Marie Allitt (University of York) showed the audience wonderful images of buildings repurposed to create a hospital space for First World War patients (spaces included everything from chateaus to churches and from casinos to racecourses), suggesting that the juxtaposing uses of the spaces are potentially uncanny.
‘Personal Stories and Autobiographies’ was the theme of Panel Two. This panel featured Eleni Theodoropoulou (University of Liverpool) on ‘The socio-cultural associations of drug use and recovery: empirical data from Athens’. Eleni’s research focused on how addiction is acted upon in particular places at particular times. More specifically, she focused on social and political struggles due to drug policy while showing striking images taken by recovering addicts in Athens. Next on the panel, I talked about Sir Ronald Ross’s battle to secure scientific priority in his Memoirs: with a full account of the great malaria problem and its solution. Mainly, my presentation concentrated on the consistent use of First World War imagery in Ross’s memoirs. More specifically, I examined how this imagery was used to ensure an emotional resonance with the contemporaneous readership. Christine Stadler (Chemnitz University of Technology) with a paper entitled ‘Je sont des autres – AIDS and the fragmented self in Herve Guibert’s Le Paradis’. For her paper, Christine utilised literary discourse analysis in order to showcase how the narrative voice reflects AIDS discourse, evidencing the potential of Le Paradisas a social commentary.
The final panel of the day was on ‘Power, Medical Authority, and Patient Agency’. Louise Tomkow (University of Manchester) began with a paper on the relationship between health and forced migration. Louise focused on three main themes: ‘nostalgia, powerlessness and health’, ‘governmentality, biopolitics and health’ and ‘liminality, precarity and health’. Louise presented incredibly thought-provoking information from her interviews with forced migrants. Last, but certainly by no means least, Beata Gubacsi (University of Liverpool) presented a paper on ‘Stigmatisation and Posthuman Care in Octavia Butler’s “The Evening and the Morning and the Night”. In her paper Beata examined the institutionalised stigmatisation of mental and genetic disease and the effects of long-term illness and chronic pain in relation to empathy and agency in care.
The aim of the interdisciplinarity workshop was to begin connecting researchers with an interest in Medical Humanities at the start of their careers. I am sure I can speak for all attendees when I say that Erin and Natalie certainly achieved that. It was such a pleasure to listen to every research paper and to contemplate the links between vastly different research topics in the field of Medical Humanities.
I hope to see you all at another event soon!
Charlotte Orr is a second year PhD candidate in Medical Humanities at the University of Glasgow. Her thesis examines the writings and reception of Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932) primarily utilising the Ross Collection archive at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. She is a current Hunterian Associate, working with the museum to create public engagement events on Sir Ronald Ross and his network of celebrity-physician friends. She has recently co-founded the University of Glasgow’s Medical Humanities PG/postdoc Discussion Group.