3rd Annual Summit

Graduate Centre blocks thin

Swansea University, 18-19 April 2012

Swansea University hosted the third annual meeting of The Postgraduate Forum for the History of Medicine this April. Run entirely by postgraduate students, the Forum (http://www.pgfhom.org/) aims to bring together postgraduate students working in the history of medicine, with previous summits held at Warwick and Queen Mary Universities. This year’s event was a two-day summit featuring  papers by postgraduate students from across Britain.

The participants presented ten-minute summaries of their research, followed by questions and lively discussions. The sixteen papers showed the diversity and quality of research being carried out by postgraduate students, with topics spanning a range of historical periods and approaches. Many papers sought to bring to light areas largely neglected by historians, or address gaps in the current scholarship. Anna Jenkin (Oxford University)’s research on insanity cases at the Old Bailey, for example, argued that court records can reveal as much about contemporary attitudes to insanity as the far more widely-studied institutions. Elsewhere, Katherine McAlpine (London Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine) sought to address a gap in the historiography of the electromechanical vibrator, between its use as treatment for the hysteria in women (1880-1920) and as a instrument specifically designed for sexual pleasure (1960 onwards).

A number of papers highlighted the contemporary relevance of studying the history of medicine. Diana Garrisi (Westminster Univeristy) compared Victorian attitudes towards skin disorder – both in advisory literature and as part of ‘freakshows’ –  to the modern media’s pursuit of the ‘perfect skin’. Christopher Sirrs (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), meanwhile, called for an academic understanding of the modern conception of “Health and Safety” by tracing its development in the history of British policy from 1960 to 2000.

There was also an international dimension to the summit. Josh Moulding (Warwick University) introduced the ‘Hungry for Health’ project which will examine the issues surrounding measures towards protein deficiency in mid-20th century Guatemala; whilst Julianne Weis (Oxford Univeristy) explored the political dimensions of childbirth in Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia. Alexandra  Barmpouti (Oxford Brookes University), for example, located the history of eugenics in Greece with her study of the Hellenic Eugenics Society.

The two days provided an opportunity for postgraduate students to meet people working in similar areas and discuss their work. Along with drinks, a meal and a social trip, the summit included a group discussion about future events and where to take the Forum next, with plans being made for future events and, of course, another meeting next year.

The summit was made possible thanks to the support of Swansea University’s Research Institute for Arts & Humanities (http://www.swan.ac.uk/riah/) and travel bursaries were offered to all participants thanks to a grant from the Wellcome Trust (http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/).  It was organised by the committee of Swansea Univeristy Postgraduate History & Classics Forum (http://www.swanseaphf.co.uk).