Jemma Houghton


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Plants in the era of synthetics: a history of medicinal plants and their place in twentieth century pharmacy

My research focuses on medicinal plants in orthodox medicine during the twentieth century and examines how they were used as well as perceived following the rise of synthetic pharmaceutical drugs. This follows somewhat from my Master’s dissertation, which investigated the transformations in materia medica education during the latter half of the nineteenth century. This work examined how specialisation and the introduction of the laboratory shaped teaching of this subject in both medicine and pharmacy. It also considered how materia medica pedagogy differed between London and Manchester.

I am also currently a volunteer at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium, a University of Manchester Heritage Guide, a Widening Participation Fellow at the University of Manchester, the postgraduate representative on the Council of the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) and a co-organiser of the interdisciplinary Constructing Knowledges series.

Constructing Knowledges:

Previous study
I have an MSc in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (thesis: Metropolitan versus Provincial Medicine: Materia Medica, Medical Education and the Rise of Pharmacy between London and Manchester, c. 1858-1900) and a BSc in Biology with Science and Society with Industrial/Professional Experience (dissertation: The Domestic Use of Opiates by Women during the Nineteenth Century), both from the University of Manchester.

As part of my undergraduate degree, I also worked for a year at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium (placement project: Raising the profile of the Manchester Museum’s Materia Medica collection through the use of resources and social media). I originally studied Biochemistry with Industrial/Professional Experience but changed degree in my final year in order to take more history of science modules.

History of pharmacy, history of medicine, history of medicinal plants, pharmaceutical history, education history, material culture, institutional history, nineteenth and twentieth century history.

Presentations given
“Interdisciplinary Public Engagement”, Public Engagement Symposium, part of the Constructing Knowledges series (2018).
“Medicinal Plants in the Era of Synthetics: A Case Study of Belladonna and Parkinsonism”, CHSTM postgraduate seminar series (2018).
“Collections of materia medica as teaching tools”, Knowing Things Workshop, organised by the interdisciplinary research group at the University of Manchester Knowing Things: Materiality and the Production of Knowledge (2018).
“Metropolitan versus provincial medicine: Materia medica pedagogy in London and Manchester, c.1858-1900″, Knowledge Institutions and Civic Identities, part of the Urban Knowledges series at the John Rylands Library (2018).
“Placing scientific research into a historical framework: Biochemistry in the history of pharmacy”, Environment as Context, part of the interdisciplinary Constructing Knowledges series (2018).
“Lectures and Laboratories: Transformations in Nineteenth Century Materia Medica Education”, British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference (2018).
“Quackery vs Modern Medicine: Representations of Alternative Medical Knowledge for HIV Treatment in the Public and Scientific Press, 1980-1999”, British Society for the History of Science Annual Conference (2017).

“Collections research, visitor studies and public engagement: lessons from Manchester”, in collaboration with James Sumner and Francesca Elliott, Universeum 2018.