Current Research

The work we do within the Health Humanities Research Group is focussed around three key themes:

Couple at table Minds, Bodies, Sickness

At the heart of this theme is an interest in what it is like to be unwell. Colleagues approach this question from diverse disciplinary perspectives - History, Art History, English Literature, Philosophy, Modern Languages, Pharmacy, Psychology, and Applied Linguistics - but what they have in common is the belief that experiences of the body and mind are not universal and unchanging, but contingent on time, place, culture, and even individual personality. Key issues addressed by these academics include: perceptions of pain; communicating bodily sensations; definitions of health and illness; the relationship between disease, disability, and disfigurement; the connection between body and mind, and emotional and physical suffering; witnessing others' pain; patients' agency over treatment; experiences of pharmaceutical or surgical intervention; locations of medical care; and compassion and listening. Ultimately, these academics hope that these diverse views on experiences of illness, disability, and treatment will prove helpful to people who are facing these challenges today.

Old woman in paintingLife Transitions

Our research focusses on the human experience and transitional identities that we occupy throughout life. Our common themes include the changing identity of women in the past due to social, cultural and age transitions (e.g. marriage, wealth, pregnancy, old age, physical impairment, or dependant/dependency), as well as concepts of 'adolescence' (puberty, migration, health, social inclusion), bereavement, healing and magic (i.e. religious, cultural and individual reactions to death and disease), and senescence - exploring attitudes to the elderly in the medieval and post-medieval worlds; how these attitudes have coloured our concepts and attitudes of the elderly in modern society. Our approaches are historical (medieval and post-medieval), anthropological (bereavement and care in Senegal), and archaeological (palaeopathology and objects) and draw on broader issues of treatment, magic, meteorology, and biological criminality.

Monsters and the Monstrous

MermaidMonsters matter in medicine: Francis Bacon recommended the study of the strange as a route to reveal the laws of nature; modern geneticists study mutations in order to understand DNA. Monsters have served a similar function in culture, providing the 'other' against which groups and societies define themselves. The original understanding of the word, derived from the Latin monere meaning 'to warn or advise,' framed monsters as portents, signs sent by God; today monsters form a long-established literary trope, stretching from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Stan Lee's X-Men, that uses the 'other' to comment on contemporary society and warn us about the future. The theme will explore the recurrent questions - who makes monsters? and why? - with an especial focus on pregnancy and childbirth, interventions (magical and medical), inheritance, otherness, and the boundaries between human and non-human monsters. In the process, we will cover topics from twelfth century leprosy through to the growth of AI.

Things to do now

Contact us:

Dr Andrew Mangham
a.s.mangham@reading.
ac.uk

Professor David Stack
d.a.stack@reading.ac.uk


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