MHRNS Workshop 1

June 18th 2011

Workshop Research Theme: "Why Historicise?"

The first research workshop in the series organised by the MHRNS took place on Saturday 18 June at the University of Glasgow. The organisers, Dr David Shuttleton, and Dr Gavin Miller, and the Project Assistant, Dr Megan Coyer, thanked all who had managed to attend at what was a difficult time of year, given the competing demands of well-earned leave, and conference attendance. A guest participant also took part in the workshop:  Dr Claire McKechnie, who has recently been involved in teaching English Literature within the medical curriculum at Edinburgh University.

Discussion for the day was on the theme, “Why Historicise?”, and centred on two articles: “Medical records as catalogues of experience”, by Anne Borsay; and “Medicine, history and the present” by Nikolas Rose.

Dr. Cheryl McGeachan reflected upon the discussion and its applicability to her own research in her blog post.

Overview of “Why Historicise?” Theme

Until well into the last century medical history was largely the work of dedicated amateurs, many of them retired doctors who, working with a “progressive” model of historical change, concerned themselves with tracking “scientific breakthroughs”. The last forty years have seen the emergence of the professional medical historian and wider social approaches (including questions of authority, gender, ethnicity and patients’ perspectives). We have also witnessed related debates in historiography, theory and methodology, and much crossing of disciplinary boundaries, particularly amongst those undertaking historical studies of literature, art, philosophy (et al.) who also have interests in medical culture, disease and “the Body”. This research strand will address what relevance such historical work has for an emergent medical humanities: what light if any, can the past cast on current ideas and practice? What claims, if any, have (or should) be made for the contemporary or practical relevance of historical studies? Does current relevance bear any correlation to historical distance or is it more a matter of selectively and judiciously drawing attention to parallel or contrasting models and practices? How do we justify historical work in the medical humanities in the current climate of reduced healthcare resources? Can a deep historical perspective enhance current healthcare education and practice?