Getting Involved in the North West Medical Humanities Post Graduate Network

We’re looking for a Northern-based PhD researcher to join the organising committee for the North West Medical Humanities Post Graduate Network. The organising committee is responsible for putting together network events, and managing the blog and social media. This voluntary role requires no more than an hour’s work each week, although around events and workshops there is always more to do.

This network was founded by myself and Erin, over a coffee-fueled conversation about the need for more contact between Medical Humanities PGs and ECRs in Northern institutions (see our blog post on establishing the network). The network, its events, and the blog are very much our babies and we want our new colleague to have an equal degree of ownership over the project.


Natalie and Erin
Colour-coordinated outfits are not obligatory (but encouraged). 


We’re looking for someone who will bring ideas for events, blog posts, and thoughts on how to help the project grow and develop. Candidates will preferably be working in the field of Medical Humanities. Some experience of bidding for funding and organising events would be desirable, but by no means essential.

To apply please send a short bio of no more than 150 words and a short summary of a potential Network event that you would be interested in working on to before 1 Aug 2018.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Erin Bramwell and Natalie Mullen.


Material Cultures of Psychiatry, 2-4 May 2018

International Conference at the Department of History and Ethics of Medicine at the University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendof in cooperation with the University Luxembourg and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Ottersberg.

Organised by Monika Ankele, UKE Hamburg, and Benoît Majerus, University Luxembourg.

 A couple of weeks ago, I hopped on a plane on a grim and grizzly Manchester morning and headed for a rather more sunny and pleasant Hamburg. I was bound for the Department of History and Ethics of Medicine at the University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendof for the Material Cultures of Psychiatry conference organised by Monika Ankele and Benoît Majerus. You can review the full programme here. This conference brought together researchers from a range of disciplinary backgrounds who seek to understand the history and practice of psychiatric medicine through its material culture(s). This event was (obviously) firmly anchored in psychiatric medicine, however I think followers of the blog with an interest in material culture, interdisciplinarity, patient experience, and medical heritage will be interested in this event. As such I wanted to write a little about some of the parts of the conference that really stood out for me. I’ve tried to write a fairly brief summary of the conference, so have limited myself by focussing on the key themes that I have been reflecting on since returning to my research after the event. However, if you are interested in a more detailed summary of papers and performances go to my Twitter to view live tweeting of the entire three days.

The two aspects of the event that have really made me reflect on the relationship between psychiatry and materiality since were the venue itself, and the performance art/artistic research pieces that featured over the three days. The conference took place in the Department of History and Ethics of Medicine which also houses a dissection hall dating from 1926, and a Medical History Museum. Over the two days the dissection hall hosted art exhibitions, including a display of sculpture on the first evening, and an interpretive dance performance on the second day. Being surrounded by historic medical objects over the course of the event kept the importance of the material aspects of medicine at the forefront of discussions and of thoughts. Not only was the venue itself brimming with the material elements of medical history, but there was space devoted to artistic research into psychiatric medicine throughout the two days. One of my favourite pieces was a sculpture of a head that was made out of bread. This highlighted how appropriations of materials in psychiatric facilities can often be an important outlet for patients who would otherwise be limited in their ability to express themselves through art. This theme of material appropriations was mirrored in several of the papers which highlighted how patients manipulated the material cultures of psychiatry with which they were presented in institutional spaces in order to express themselves and exercise agency.

The dissection hall itself reminded me of the centrality of space to the experience of medicine. The hall was large and well-lit by bright natural light that filtered through the windows that encircled the room along the upper-most part of the walls. It was designed in this way to allow dissections to take place without the distortions thought to be created by electric lighting. Additional light was provided by large ceiling lights that were suspended like pendulums from the roof, illuminating the ten stone dissection tables dispersed throughout the room. The walls are white-washed and the marble floor is made of marble, creating a clean, clinical aesthetic. The lack of soft materials and the presence of marble and stone in walls, ceiling, and floor created echoes, projecting sound loudly throughout the space. This was highlighted in the performance ‘Thin Sheets’, by Kirstin Burckhardt with Lara Bogataj, Daniela Böttcher, Dinah Büchner, Marie Golüke, Sophia Guttenhöfer, Raha Emami Khansari, and Nicola Riede, during which the performers began their piece by making sounds, almost like chanting or singing, filling the room with soundwaves that seemingly took on a life of their own once released between the hard surfaces of the room. Spending time in this space led me to reflect on the relationship between the material cultures of psychiatric spaces and sensory experiences of them. The soundscapes of medical spaces were undoubtedly just as important to the experiences of patients and practitioners as the material dimensions of medicine, psychiatric or otherwise.

Dissection hall.png

Dissection Hall, UKE Hamburg.  Photo Credit, Linnea Kuglitsch

‘Thin Sheets’ also provoked the audience to consider the relationship between medical objects and embodied experiences of medicine. The group were not allowed to use the dissection tables in their performance for conservation reasons, leading to discussion about the tension in the keeping of medical collections: there is a need to preserve, but also a desire to understand embodied experiences of medicine by using and interacting with objects as originally intended.

Thin sheets.png

‘Thin Sheets’

Throughout the conference, we were prompted by artistic interventions to consider the embodied nature of experiences of the material cultures of psychiatry. The first evening features a performance by Kirsi Heimonen and Sari Kuuva entitled, ‘Corridor that moves. Bringing forth the materiality of objects of mental hospital. Approaches to artistic research and study of visual culture’. In this piece Sari read quotes from a patient which described his experience of space in a psychiatric facility. Alongside these readings, photographs of the spaces discussed were displayed on the projection screen and Kirsi performed using dance and speeches to explore the physicality of the spaces described. Through this performance, Kirsi highlighted the effects of these spaces on the body of the patient, and explored how psychiatric spaces could provide light and access to the outdoors, but they could also be  constraining.

Michelle Williams Gamaker, Violeta Paez Armando, Hazal Kaygusuz gave a performance/lecture entitled ‘Psychogeographic Explorations of the body: The effectiveness of symbols’ in which they explored the significance of symbolism in shaping the relationship between doctors and patients. Beginning with a discussion of Foucault’s analysis of the importance of theatre in the creation of the doctor-patient relationship, the centrality of the material world in creating this theatre was highlighted. The performance began by recounting Foucault’s analysis of an incident in which a mental patient believed himself to be dead, and because he was a ghost, refused to eat. Doctors convinced him to eat by dressing up as ghosts and consuming food as he watched to persuade him that even the dead had to eat. This analysis of the importance of theatre in bringing about a cure was highlighted by the performers’ dress which was entirely white, and their white-painted, ghostly faces. As the tale of this patient was recounted the performers consumed apples, drawing our attention to the theatrical element of the cure described by Foucault. After this, the audience were tied to Michelle with pieces of string, reminding us of the tie and connection of the doctor-patient relationship. I was struck by the degree to which this apparently simple action brought me into a relationship; that by seeing the physical tie provided by the piece of red string a connection was created. This underlined the degree to which symbolism can be integral in creating relationships between a medical practitioner and their patient. Once again, seeing the effects of material cultures through performances which not only discussed and examined objects, but actually utilised their physical elements, demonstrated in a way which words cannot articulate the centrality of material cultures to medical experiences.


‘Psychogeographic Explorations of the Body’

The effects of patients’ embodied experiences of the material cultures of psychiatry were highlighted in a number of papers. Karin Eli discussed the significance of objects and embodiment in experiences of anorexia nervosa, highlighting the physical aspect of a mental illness which is often framed in terms of emptiness and rejection of the physical. Anatole Le Bras discussed the use of the shed as a confinement device used by families in rural France during the nineteenth century to manage insane relatives in the home. He noted the effects of the physical structures of these sheds on the bodies of patients who were depicted as hunched and disfigured by doctors when they were admitted to asylums. Linnea Kuglitsch examined archaeological finds from Eastern State Lunatic Asylum, Virginia, and the Western Lunatic Hospital, Washington, to demonstrate how patients smuggled illicit natural objects into the asylum from outdoor spaces to bring elements of nature inside. Maia Isabelle Woolner demonstrated that in twentieth-century francophone psychiatry, even time was materialized to construct therapeutic spaces, activities and diagnoses. Louise Hide’s excellent paper on the introduction of television sets on psychiatric wards in English mental hospitals revealed how TV changes ward spaces, staff/patient relationships, and daily routines in the institution.

After returning to my work after these fascinating few days, I’ve really been thinking about the inseparability of psychiatric objects from patients’ or doctors’ uses of them. It was surely the physical experience of objects and psychiatric spaces which elicited responses from patients rather than simply the mere presence of such objects. As an historian, this basic observation too often slips my mind. The performances, displays, and papers given at this conference have prompted me to go back to the museum collection I work with and reacquaint myself with the textures, weight, smells, of the objects which I write about in my thesis, and to think carefully about the ways in which the material world of the asylum would have been experienced by the patients who occupied its rooms and interacted with its objects.

Natalie Mullen is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate at Lancaster University. Her research focuses on patient agency and medical authority in the nineteenth-century asylum. She is also a co-founder of the North West Medical Humanities PG Network.


North West Medical Humanities Postgraduate Network Interdisciplinarity Workshop, 19 April 2018

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.

Mind Reading: The Role of Narrative in Physical and Mental Health and The Experience of Illness, 18-19 June 2018, University of Birmingham.

mind reading image



18th-19th June 2018

University of Birmingham

Do clinicians and patients speak the same language? How might we bridge the evident gaps in communication? How can we use narrative to foster clinical relationships? Or to care for the carers? How does illness impact upon our sense of self?

This two-day programme of talks and workshops is a collaboration between the University of BirminghamUCD Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Diseases of Modern Life and Constructing Scientific Communities Projects at St Anne’s College, Oxford. Together we seek to explore productive interactions between narrative and mental health both historically and in the present day. Bringing together psychologists, psychiatrists, philosophers, GPs, service users, and historians of literature and medicine, we will investigate the patient experience through the prism of literature and personal narrative to inform patient-centred care and practice, and focus on ways in which literature might be beneficial in cases of burnout and sympathy fatigue.





If you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with Dr Melissa Dickson at

BSA Regional Postgraduate Event: Empirical Research on Drug and Alcohol Use: Methodological concerns, ethical practices and the question of impact

BSA-PGR event May 11

One of our wonderful speakers from our Interdisciplinary Medical Humanities Workshop last week, Eleni Theodoropoulou, invited you to the BSA regional postgraduate event she is organising. The event is ‘Empirical Research on Drug and Alcohol Use: Methodological Concerns, Ethical Practices and the Question of Impact’. It’s being held on 11 May at the University of Liverpool.
Eleni has stressed that although it is themed around drug/alcohol research, the topics for discussion will cover a wide range of methods. It will therefore be relevant to postgraduate researchers in the social sciences.
To make an enquiry or book please contact Eleni via email:

Programme for the North West Medical Humanities PG Network Interdisciplinary Workshop, 19 April 2018.

The programme for the first workshop to be hosted by the North West Medical Humanities Postgraduate Network is now availble. We have some fantastic papers from a range of disciplinary backgrounds given by individuals working in the Medical Humanities. The event is free to attend so please register here.


North West Medical Humanities Postgraduate Network Interdisciplinarity Workshop

Lancaster University, 19 April 2018


9.30 Registration


10.00 Welcome address


10.10 Keynote speaker:

‘Germs on Film: Historic Imagery and Hand Hygiene’

Dr James Stark, Associate Professor of Medical Humanities at Leeds University


11.15 Coffee break


11.30 Panel One: Therapeutic Spaces

Chaired by Erin Bramwell, Lancaster University


Matilda Blackwell, University of Birmingham, ‘Queering the Water-Cure: Fluid Sexualities in the Therapeutic Bathroom Spaces of Emily Holmes Coleman, Antonia White and Katherine Mansfield’


Felix Goodbody, University of Liverpool, ‘‘Small, noisy, and awkwardly shaped.’ The 1942 Hospital Survey and early hopes for a National Health Service’


Marie Allitt, University of York, ‘Palimpsestic Aesthetics in First World War Medical Spaces’


13.00 Lunch


14.00 Panel Two: Personal Stories and Autobiographies

Chair TBC


Eleni Theodoropoulou, University of Liverpool, ‘The socio-cultural associations of drug use and recovery: empirical data from Athens’


Charlotte Orr, University of Glasgow, ‘‘What Science Has Done to Me’: Sir Ronald Ross’s Battle for Scientific Priority in Memoirs: with a full account of the great malaria problem and its solution’


Christine Stadler, Chemnitz University of Technology, ‘Je sont des autres – AIDS and the fragmented self in Hervé Guibert’s Le Paradis


15.30 Coffee Break


16.00 Panel Three: Power, Medical Authority, and Patient Agency

Chaired by Natalie Mullen, Lancaster University


Louise Tomkow, University of Manchester, ‘How does forced migration affect health in later life?’


Botsa Katara, Durham University, ‘The Prosthetic Body: Abled, Disabled or Posthuman?’


Beata Gubacsi, University of Liverpool, ‘Stigmatisation and Posthuman Care in Octavia Butler’s ‘The Evening and the Morning and the Night’’.


17.30 Closing Address

17.45 Conference Close



Image: Tom Merry, A quack doctor selling remedies from his caravan (1889), CC. Wellcome Collection.

Establishing a North West Interdisciplinary Medical Humanities Postgraduate Network

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 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