Category Archives: News & Events


Katrina Longhurst

This paper discusses some of the opportunities and dilemmas inherent in co-produced autobiographical narratives of mental illness. It takes Lauren Slater’s second memoir Welcome to my Country as a case study to explore the ethical complexities of using other people’s stories as means by which to tell your own illness narrative. This text, reminiscent of Oliver Sacks’ The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, is a compilation of tales, each centred on the relationship between Slater, in her role as clinical psychologist, and a patient. Whilst each tale focuses on the experiences of a patient – in some cases a specific person and in others a composite entity – Slater argues that the text is a memoir on the basis that so much of her exploration of self emerges through the connections with another in the therapeutic encounter. This paper will think through the various implications of different versions of collaborative storying by drawing upon the concepts of relationality, encounter, reciprocity, and interdependence.


Rebecca Noble poster revised version

Madness and selfhood: creating ‘docile vassals’ in Bourbon Mexico

Madness in eighteenth-century Mexico was understood as both a medical and a religious or spiritual problem. This paper analyses two widely circulated medical publications to explore how madness became an important term for governing Spanish subjects in Mexico. The publications are Juan de Esteyneffer’s Anthology of all illnesses (Mexico, 1712) and Juan Manuel Venegas’s Compendium of Medicine or Medical Practice (Mexico, 1788). These texts are used to discuss how medical authors theorised madness to establish their profession as the authority on governance of the useful, orderly and moderate Enlightened subject.

The paper engages with scholarship on the history of selfhood to offer a new interpretation of medical perspectives on madness in Bourbon Mexico, the relationship between existing ideas of madness and changing scientific theories, and the importance of madness for regulating individuals and society. A key focus is the medicalisation of moral aspects of madness, such as the ‘passions of the soul’, which were traditionally subject to religious authority.

This paper is based on a wider project that uses the concept of madness to explore what it was to be human in Bourbon Mexico.



Emily Gibbs poster

Nuclear Anxiety in British Life, 1952-1989: Some Anxieties about Nuclear Anxiety

‘Nuclear Anxiety’ has been a problematic term in recent historiography, receiving much academic thought but little theoretical or methodological structure has been generated for its practice.As nuclear historians move away from ‘linear’ political, military and scientific narratives and towards an understanding of the sociological, cultural, psychological and ontological resonance of nuclear weapons, the concept of ‘nuclear anxiety’ has become popular and subsequently disputed, interpreted, defined (and re-defined) a multitudinous amount. Despite this, there is a lack of research bringing together and assessing current debates surrounding the terminology. Subsequently, a universal definition of ‘nuclear anxiety’ is virtually non-existent as the term has come to cover all manner of nuclear ‘terror’, ‘fear’, ‘stress’, and ‘worries’ under its multifaceted umbrella.

This paper intends to explore the methodologies and theories surrounding understanding ‘nuclear anxiety’ in historiography, drawing on my ongoing doctoral research to address the possibilities and pitfalls of defining ‘nuclear anxiety’ . How can we understand ‘nuclear anxiety’ objectively when we still live in the nuclear age? How is ‘nuclear anxiety’ represented and understood by different historians? What methodological problems do we face when using ‘anxiety’ as a historical focus? How can we define and pinpoint what exactly ‘nuclear anxiety’ means and use it practically to better understand our nuclear pasts, present and future?



Samraghni Bonnerjee poster

“Weak, hideous, repellent”: Grotesque Bodies, Grotesque Faces and Filthy Wounds in the Writings of the Nurses of the First World War

Behind closed doors or screens, in operating theatres or field hospitals, the nurses of the First World War carried out healing mainly through containment. When they wrote of their experiences of treating wounded or dying soldiers, they did not write simply of medical containment, but of the whole range of emotions involved and challenges faced on treating a man whose body has been severely mutilated by the war. In this talk I will examine how the nurses wrote about the shattered male bodies in their diaries and memoirs, and what they made of the public and private wounds of the soldiers who were sent to them to be healed.

The atrocities of the First World War provided space for the pioneering reconstructive surgeries on the mutilated bodies of wounded soldiers by surgeons like Harold Gillies, for Francis Derwent Wood’s portrait masks for soldiers inflicted with devastating facial wounds, and for Henry Tonks’s delicate paintings of wounded soldiers. The nurses’ treatment of mutilation, hence, was part of the greater drive to physically contain and heal men to send them back to the front, and their aesthetic representations of the corporeal fitted in with the paintings and portraits of mutilation and reconstruction happening around that time. The firm line between medical representation and aesthetics got blurred around this time with the recognition that being human is as much aesthetic as it is biological. Against this background, I will consider the aesthetic in terms of the grotesque, close reading hospital scenes to see the way the nurses represented the mutilated bodies and faces of the soldiers in their writings. At its core will be the private observations of women—mostly young, some amateur and some veteran in the art of healing—reflecting on mangled bodies of men, and approaching them with their own tremulous bodies. The texts I will be discussing are Ellen N. La Motte’s The Backwash of War and Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone.


Richard Bellis poster blog

Hunter’s preparations, Clift’s illustrations, Baillie’s book: A case study of the coproduction of anatomical illustrations and anatomical knowledge in the eighteenth century

Matthew Baillie’s A series of engravings […] to illustrate The morbid anatomy of some of the most important parts of the human body (1799-1802) was an extension of the content of his earlier work on the changes in morbid structure due to disease, but also saw significant changes in how the anatomical content was presented. From providing general (though specific) descriptions of typical changes in morbid structure, Baillie now provided illustrations of individual morbid anatomy preparations that visually demonstrated specific morbid changes. The change in presentation was due to the new illustrations – the first systematic representations of diseased soft parts – and the expectations attached to scientific illustrations by the epistemic norm of what Daston and Galison have termed ‘truth-to-nature’ in the period. Yet the illustrations were made by William Clift, not Baillie, and were of preparations mostly made by William Hunter. Baillie’s role was as initiator, selector of preparations, and annotator of illustrations.

This paper asks: how were the illustrations made epistemically acceptable to an eighteenth-century audience in a case like Baillie’s? Through exploring this question in a detailed case study, this paper problematises conclusions drawn by historians who emphasise that the content of anatomical illustrations necessarily stemmed from the anatomist, rather than being coproduced. In turn, this brings greater attention to the production of books – which are typically viewed as summative of scientific careers – as a pertinent area of investigation regarding the epistemic content of anatomy and medicine itself.



Tom Webb Poster

Maintaining and Threatening Wartime Communications: Homing Pigeons in Britain, 1939-1945

Homing pigeons were enrolled by the British armed forces during the Second World War as a mode of communication. Famously, they were parachuted in bright orange boxes into occupied Europe for espionage purposes. But they were also used as a form of S.O.S. communications by RAF bomber crews downed in the sea and were mobilised by the army for secret communications – most notably on D-day. However, this mobilisation of homing pigeons by the British state was also underpinned by efforts to regulate and contain the movements of the majority of those owned by civilians – predominantly working class men – on the Home Front. Amid fears of an internal ‘Fifth Column’ of spies, homing pigeons were represented as a potential means of subversive communications. Their ability to transgress borders with minimal detection caused anxiety within the Home Office, leading to state officials not only inspecting pigeon lofts but also destroying those without official permits.

Drawing on recent insights from the ‘mobility turn’, which considers the physical movements, representations and practices that encompass the politics of mobility, this paper will examine how the movements of homing pigeons were simultaneously enrolled and contained. This will not only demonstrate how humans both co-operated, and came into conflict, with homing pigeons, but will also show how efforts to control the mobility of pigeons reveal wider co-operations and contestations between pigeon keepers and the state at a time of war. Subsequently, this paper contributes to the fields of animal history, mobility studies, and the cultural and social histories of wartime Britain.


Esther Poster 2

The History of the Liverpool Medical Students’ Society

The Liverpool Medical Students’ Society (LMSS) plays an active and vibrant part in medical student life, with over 40 student committee members and a history spanning more than 140 years. This includes social, educational and charitable roles, creative outlets, and welfare support for over one thousand medical students. However, the Society has not been without controversy. The legacy of the Society’s long history includes bizarre rituals and archaic traditions which now appear out of place an increasingly politically correct world. The aim of my research is to help put recent events into historical context.

This seminar outlines my undergraduate research on the origins of the Liverpool Medical Students’ Society, which began as a debating society founded in 1874, attached to the Royal Infirmary School of Medicine. The society formed a hub whereby staff and students could debate varied topics such as the role of women in medicine, ‘germ theory’ and Listerian antisepsis. My postgraduate research aims to build on this preliminary work, using the debating society minute books to identify key individuals of influence. I hope to use digital techniques and social network analysis to explore a medical nexus which encapsulates not only the establishment of a university in Liverpool, but also professional networks such as the Liverpool Medical Institution. I hope to determine the relationships between teaching staff and students, to see whether being a member of the debating society afforded any special privileges.

Debates regarding women doctors were finally borne out when female medical students were admitted to the University in 1903. This established new types of social networks and dynamics. I hope to follow these networks through to the end of the First World War, to explore the effect conflict had on the debating society’s members and alumni, including the increased opportunities granted to female doctors during war time.