Skip to main content

PhD's awarded 2008


Katherine Foxhall - view ePortfolio

Problematising the Progress and Conditions of Disease at Sea: Irish and British Emigrant and Convict Voyages to Australia, c. 1800 – c. 1880

Much of the focus on disease at sea in the nineteenth century has focused on the dual horrors of mortality and filthy conditions. Success in protecting the health of nautical populations has centred, as have studies of land-based populations, on public health policies, increasing understanding of sanitation and the emergence of the germ theory. Current research in emigrant health continues to take this approach although progressive, Whiggist historiographies in the history of medicine have been challenged, notably by scholars such as Christopher Hamlin and Michael Worboys. My work on disease will focus on emigrant and convict voyages to Australia, in the heyday of emigration and transportation, when sailing ships were still dominant, scurvy was often rife, and environmental, predisposing and causative explanations for disease the obvious approach to protecting and dealing with health at the mercy of the elements in tiny ‘wooden worlds’ at sea. Following the approach of scholars such as Latour and Cunningham, I will approach diseases such as tuberculosis, fever, and cholera in their nineteenth-century contexts, removed from twentieth century understandings of microbial disease in order to answer questions such as where did disease come from? What was disease considered to be? Who or what was considered diseased? What meanings were ascribed to either the existence or appearance of disease? My main aim in my thesis is to problematise an ‘aggregate statistical picture’ based on mortality and conditions, and to explore the grey areas between the black and white of life or death. Health and sickness on board ship was a messy, difficult amalgamation of predisposing and causative factors, complicated, as if this was needed, by sea sickness, bleeding gums, unbearable heat, eerie calm and circling sharks of the doldrums followed by the extreme cold and terrifying storms of the southern latitudes. In these situations the study of ‘conditions’ must take in a far wider spectrum than ‘filth’. In the ‘wooden world’ easy breakdowns of single causes of death were largely irrelevant, let alone impossible, and our twenty-first century understandings of disease far from satisfactory in exploring the meanings that were ascribed to illness and health.

NOTES Andrew Cunningham, ‘The laboratory and the Identity of Infectious Disease’, in A. Cunningham and Perry Williams (eds), The Laboratoty Revolution in Medicine (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 209 – 244.Christopher Hamlin, C., Public Health and Social Justice in the Age of Chadwick (Cambridge, 1998).Bruno Latour, ‘On the Partial Existence of Existing and Non-Existing Objects’, in Lorraine Daston (ed.), Biographies of Scientific Objects (Chicago and London, 2000), pp. 247 – 269.Michael Worboys, Spreading Germs: Disease Theories and Medical Practice in Britain, 1865 – 1900 (Cambridge, 2000).

Supervisors: Dr Sarah Hodges and Professor Margot Finn (History)



Judith Lockhart - view ePortfolio

Truly a Hospital for Women: the Birmingham and Midland Hospital for Women, 1871-1948

My research interest lies in women's health, particularly their sexual and reproductive health. The published literature in this field often focuses on the underlying ideology, rather than health care. Much of what has been written is instructive as the social history of women's health is interconnected with the history of gender and social relations. Mindful of this, I will seek to establish why the explanations of women's ailments appear to change from one era to another. Nonetheless, there is evidence of a significant degree of ill health until the advent of the NHS in 1948, particularly among working class women. Therefore, in my thesis the emphasis is reversed; it is primarily to the medical care and treatment of gynaecological disorders that my research is directed. Improvements in the medical care of women were, in part, due to the establishment of hospitals in the later decades of the nineteenth-century, specifically for the treatment of those suffering from 'diseases peculiar to women.' My thesis explores the history of one such hospital, the Birmingham and Midland Hospital for Women. My aim in undertaking an institutional history is twofold: firstly, to explore the development of the speciality, but also to place the hospital in a local context. Preliminary research suggests that the early history of the institution reflected the political, social and cultural environment of the city. Therefore in future research I will seek to establish how far social and economic conditions influenced both the further development of the hospital and the health of Birmingham women. My aim is to produce a history of the medical care and treatment of women that strikes a balance between progressive accounts by historians celebrating the advance of medical science and the feminist notion that it can all be explained by the social construction of gender.

Supervisor: Professor Hilary Marland



Kathryn Miele

Representing Empathy: The Defense of Vulnerable Bodies in Victorian Medical Culture

I argue in my dissertation project that as interest and awareness increased in the concept of human interiority, a loneliness inherent in the resulting (more modern) worldview provoked an outreaching new attitude toward the experience of the ‘other’. This new attitude, which we have come to identify as ‘empathy’, can be traced through the attempt to communicate a sense of feeling the suffering of others through various texts. The struggle to communicate the suffering of the other illuminates the concomitant recognition of the ultimate impossibility of such communication as reality is increasingly located within the interior self. The project of defending vulnerable bodies whose interior experience could only be known through empathy adapted to the challenges of new epistemologies of selfhood and otherness by utilizing new forms of evidence made available by changes in visual theory and shifts in laws of evidence (both of which have lately been increasingly explored as subjects of historical inquiry).

I explore themes of legal and legislative history, the history of fiction (as well as possibly journalism), and the history of science and medicine, and apply these themes by interrogating texts based upon their juxtaposition of the processes of empathy with the representation of testimonial, interpretive, and scientific forces of communication. In this way, I hope to contribute to the history of observation and representation by exploring the history of the attempt to ‘see’ through the eyes of others. I plan to build upon existing work in the field of the history of visual theory by aligning the history of visual theory with the history of ethics. I examine texts written by individuals whose fields of activism attempt to overcome a fairly wide range of barriers to the understanding of the audience they are trying to reach (often middle-class white British women as well as men, since women were considered to be caretakers of a national conscience). Some of the spheres of activism my research traverses are those of child labour and urban sanitary reform, vivisection, charity hospitals, domestic abuse, cases of cruelty to women, children, servants, and animals, and American slavery. I try to analyse the methods of expression by which activists endeavoured to negotiate a ‘sameness’ in suffering against established notions of difference, in order to make known and make ‘real’ the plights of individuals whose bodies were vulnerable to injury, abuse, or exploitation by forces or individuals more powerful than themselves.

Supervisors: Professor Hilary Marland & Professor Carolyn Steedman