The third workshop run by the NNMHR, and funded by the Wellcome Trust, took place on Friday 16th January at Newcastle University. The joint event between the universities of Newcastle and Northumbria was organised by Dr Anne Whitehead, and had a fantastic attendance, with students, academics, artists and archivists alike joining the conversation (see programme here).
The day began with a panel on Medical Humanities and The Voice, with talks from Professor Jennifer Richards, Sue Bradley, Dr Helen Limon and Dr Ruth Graham. The panellists discussed the diverse implications of listening for, and listening to, the voice in a range of historical and medical contexts. We thought about how the voice is critical in our understandings of personal accounts and testimonies, listened to a powerful recording of a former veterinary practitioner reflecting on his life, and heard about the process of gathering the remembered experiences of army veterans and transforming them into radio plays, prompting further reflections on the role the voice can play in the transmission of thought. However, Dr Ruth Graham’s presentation on the voice and reproductive loss reminded us of some of the ethical limitations of listening to and transcribing the voice, and that the narrative shared by the voice may only be a partial account of any story.
After lunch, the second panel saw Professor Jonathan Andrews, Dr James Kennaway, Professor Clark Lawlor and Professor Allan Ingram talk about their current Leverhulme-funded research project, Fashionable Diseases. A joint enterprise between literary scholars and medical historians at the universities of Newcastle and Northumbria, the project is running from 2013-2015 and aims to explore the rise and fall of ‘fashionable diseases’ over the long 18th century to today. Why, the project asks, do certain diseases and medical practices come in and out of fashion over time? What are the spatial dimensions of these diseases in terms of health behaviour and health consumerism, and might there be differences between urban and rural areas? Or between different social groups and classes? How to uncover the complex interplay between the stigma certain diseases carry and the fashionability they can afford? Of particular interest to the team are less commonly studied ‘fashionable diseases’ such as dyspeptic disorders, indigestion, gout, wind, gripes and corpulence. If you’d like to know more about the project, or to find out more about the workshops, conferences and publications the team have planned, take a look at the Fashionable Diseases website and twitter page.
Panel three focused on the theme of Health, Care and Citizenship and included presentations by Dr Shahaduz Zaman, Dr Samiksha Sehrawat, Professor Janice Maclaughlan, and Dr Anne Whitehead. The panel raised many interesting ideas about the relationship between hegemonic ideology and the provision of medical care. Both Dr Zaman and Dr Sehrawat considered the role of the hospital in the colonial context, exploring the complex communal life of the Bangladeshi hospital and investigating the role of the colonial hospital in bringing biomedicine to South Asia. Listening became a key theme for the day, as both Dr Zaman’s and Dr Sehrawat’s research privileged listening to human stories and researching beyond the archive. Professor Maclaughlin then introduced us to her work on disabled youth, adult citizenship and care, a project that uses a visual and creative methodology to explore the transitions young disabled people make as they move towards adulthood. Finally, Dr Whitehead’s paper on forgetting, and the how the humanities can assist the process of remembering, really summed up what I thought was a key theme of the day: What can listening to human stories bring to the way we practice ‘hard science’ such as medicine, and what are the limitations?
To end the day, we heard about more research and work in progress by postgraduates and early career researchers from across the network. This panel, a new addition to the timetable for Newcastle, was very successful and it was fantastic to see the diverse and exciting things being done by postgraduates, artists and archivists in the field of medical humanities. Speakers gave a ten-minute presentation introducing their current work. We heard about Rachael Allen’s artistic studies of the human body in the medical lab, Dr Kate Stobbart’s exploration of non-verbal communication (which we were able to experience first-hand in an interactive demonstration), Rebecca Bitenc’s research into the representation of self in the dementia narrative, and also about archival research conducted by Northumberland Archives at Stannington Sanitorium in Northumbria, the UK’s first, and very successful, children’s tuberculosis hospital.
All in all, it was a fantastic and very stimulating day with fascinating presentations and provocation pieces across the board (and an excellent lunch!). Many thanks to Northumbria and Newcastle universities, especially to Dr Anne Whitehead, for all the hard work in hosting and organising the event, to all those who presented their work, and to everyone else who came as well.
– Harriet Ryder, MA student at the University of York and NNMHR Network Administrator