As you will have seen from our Call for Papers, we are hosting a workshop at Lancaster University for PGRs and ECRs working in the Medical Humanities. This free one-day event is very kindly funded by the ESRC Interdisciplinary Event Fund. Correspondingly, the focus of the workshop will be on interdisciplinarity in this field, what it means to us, how we use it in our research, and how we can do it better. The ‘how we can do it better’ part, for us, is the underlying rationale for organizing this workshop. In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, goal-setting, and reflection, we wanted to write a short post about why we decided to host this workshop, what we hope it will achieve, and what we hope it might lead to in the long term.
First of all, we should start by explaining a little bit about ourselves and our backgrounds. Erin and I share an office in Lancaster University’s History Department. We’re both PhD students working in the Medical Humanities, Erin is in her second year and I’m in my third. Although we both work in areas that are within the field of Medical Humanities, we work on different topics. Erin researches patent medicine culture in twentieth-century Britain, and I research nineteenth- and twentieth-century asylums. Despite this, we often find that there are methodological overlaps between our projects, such as material and spatial approaches. Let us give you an example…
Last year I was writing a chapter on the material culture of the asylum and I was particularly interested in the relationship between the interior of the asylum and the interiors of Victorian middle-class homes. One of my sources is a collection of photographs of the rooms in Lancaster County Asylum, which show how they were decorated (figure 1). Erin was looking at one of these photographs on my laptop screen and remarked on the presence of mahogany in the room. Erin commented that mahogany frequently featured in early twentieth-century chemists that sold a whole host of ornate medicinal products (figure 2). Erin recommended Jennifer Anderson’s Mahogany (2012); this illuminated that mahogany was integral to middle-class aesthetics because of its association with luxury, having a variety of interesting implications for the domestic and commercial branches of our research.
Figure 1: Day Room in Lancaster County Asylum, c. 1890.
Figure 2: Boots store 274 – 7/8 Pride Hill, Shrewsbury (1922), Boots Company Archives, WBA/BT/21/46/1/801/2.
This conversation, and many others like it, made us reflect on how beneficial it is to be aware of the approaches other scholars are using to tackle the questions and problems that we work with in the Medical Humanities. In particular, we discussed how important it is to talk to people in other disciplines about how they might deal with a particular problem or question. What might they do differently? What will they notice that you’ve missed? What approaches are they using that you could adopt? We want our workshop on 19 April to be a platform for these kinds of questions. By focusing on how PGRs and ECRs in North West Universities are using interdisciplinary methods in their own research, we would like to provide an opportunity for people from different disciplines to inspire one another with methodological insights.
We hope that this will be a the first in a series of events run by the North West Interdisciplinary Medical Humanities Postgraduate Network. Each event will focus on a different aspect of Medical Humanities research for a PGR and ECR audience. We also hope that after the initial workshop, this blog can serve as an ongoing, interactive forum for those of us who want to ask for different perspectives and opinions on how we’re approaching our research questions. And of course, possibly above all else, we want to selfishly spend an entire day hearing about Medical Humanities projects!
The first workshop will take place on the 19 April 2018. To apply, send an abstract of 250 words for a 20 minute paper and a short biographical statement to firstname.lastname@example.org by 1 February 2018. A limited number of postgraduate travel bursaries are available; please state if you wish to be considered when you submit your abstract.
We’re also keen to hear from you about ideas for potential blog posts, future workshops, conferences or other projects to promote a North West Medical Humanities PGR Network so do get in touch if you’d like to be involved.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Natalie Mullen and Erin Bramwell