Off Sick Seminars 2010-2011

Spring and Summer Events

In addition to our seminar series, we have a number of other events running between April and June 2011. These include workshops, colloquiums, exhibitions and participation in conferences. See our News and Events page for detailed information on these.

Spring 2011 Programme

The Relationship between Patients’ Families and Great Ormond Street before 1914
Dr Andrea Tanner (Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, and Fortnum & Mason)
Wednesday 30th March 2011, 5.30pm
Room 0.36, Cardiff University Humanities Building, Colum Drive

The seminar will look at the relationships between patients’ families and children’s hospitals in the 19th and early 20th century. The period saw the growth of these specialist institutions which, in the beginning, needed the help and cooperation of poor families in such basics as feeding and laundry. As the hospitals trained and employed more and more children’s nurses, and as their fund-raising methods became more sophisticated, parents were increasingly marginalised – and siblings excluded – from the in-patient experience. This might infer powerlessness on the part of the hospitals’ ‘clients’, but families did exercise choice and control in their decisions to present the patients to the hospital, and to accept or reject what the institution had to offer. The paper will concentrate on the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, but will also refer to the Evelina Hospital, the Alexandra Hip Hospital, and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow.

Andrea is a qualified archivist and works at both Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust and at Fortnum & Mason. She is the founder of HHARP (the Historic Hospitals’ Admissions Registers Project), based at the Centre for the Historical Record at Kingston University, which manages linked databases of pre 1914 patient data for the four hospitals mentioned above. At present, the team are working on a digitisation project focussed on the Great Ormond Street case notes of Dr Archibald Garrod, the first medical geneticist.

Click here to view the poster for this seminar


Reporting Dirt and Disease: Child Ill-Health in Eighteenth-Century England
Dr Alysa Levene (Dept. of History, Oxford Brookes University)
Wednesday 2 March 2011, 5.30pm
Room 0.45, Cardiff University Humanities Building, Colum Drive

In this paper Alysa Levene will be examining narratives about the sickness of child paupers in the second half of the eighteenth century. The evidence is drawn from letters and accounts of London pauper children sent out to nurses in the countryside, and give a rare insight both into the sickness of poor children, and also the ways that it was reported. While contagious disease was a frequent visitor to these children, in fact most of the concerns reported were of skin conditions, dirt and chronic complaints; many overlain with ideas about the condition of poverty more generally. However, while the bodies of the poor seem to have been stigmatised and differentiated from those of the richer sorts, child ill-health was divorced from these pejorative overtones. In the absence of narratives of child sickness from the patients themselves this is a remarkable way in to thinking about the twinned associations of childhood and poverty in this period.

Alysa is a Principal Lecturer in Early Modern History at Oxford Brookes University. She works on the history of child health and poverty in the eighteenth century, and has published on the London Foundling Hospital, illegitimacy and pauper apprenticeship, as well as more general works in this area. She has just completed a monograph on the Childhood of the Poor: Child Welfare in Eighteenth-Century London.

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Illness Narratives in Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost
Dr Neil Vickers (Department of English, King’s College London)
Tuesday 8 February 2011, 5.30pm,
Room 0.36, Cardiff University Humanities Building, Colum Drive

In this seminar Neil will offer a reading of Hilary Mantel’s memoir Giving Up the Ghost (2003) in which he describes her very unusual childhood and the impact it had on her experiences as a patient in adult life. Starting in her late teens Mantel began to suffer from mysterious stabbing pains all over her body. Many years later she established that these pains were caused by endometriosis, a notoriously difficult condition to diagnose, but as her doctors could find no physical cause for them at the time, they concluded that they were probably psychosomatic. Her GP put her on tricyclic antidepressants; her pains continued. She was then sent to see a psychiatrist, Dr G. Dr G thought she was a hysteric. He told her her ailments stemmed from the fact that she was a law student. The law, he told her, was too intellectually demanding a subject for a woman, especially one as conscientious as Mantel. He advised her to give up her studies and to get a job in a dress shop, like her mother. He prescribed Valium; but instead of tranquillizing her, Mantel found that the drug made her furious: she wanted to burn down buildings. Dr G thought she was sliding rapidly into psychosis and put her on antipsychotics to which she had an akathisic, psychotic, adverse reaction which resulted in her being admitted as a psychiatric inpatient. It took several weeks for her doctors to see that her symptoms were iatrogenic. She resolved to endure her pains and to steer clear of psychiatrists forever. In the meantime her endometriosis continued unabated. In the seminar Neil will describe the background to her memoir and its extraordinarily rich account of what it was like to be treated as a hysteric in the early 1970s, the resonances with her childhood and her feelings about psychiatry.

Click here to view the poster for this seminar

Autumn 2010 Programme

Disability in the Poetry of the First World War
Professor Anne Borsay (School of Human and Health Sciences, Swansea University)
Wednesday 8 December, 5.30pm, Venue: Cardiff University Humanities Building, Room 4.44

The poetry of the First World War, memorable for its horrific depictions of the trenches, has been the subject of detailed literary scrutiny, but the treatment of physical impairment has attracted much less attention. In this paper, ‘Disabled’ by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) will be examined with reference to Arthur Frank’s three narratives of chaos, restitution, and quest, and the technical devices through which these interpretations are conveyed will be considered e.g. verse structure, rhyme, alliteration, and metaphor. However, the experiences of impairment portrayed in the poem will also be related to their societal context. Particular attention will be paid to the negative cultural images of disability prevalent at the turn of the century, the initial enthusiasm for the conflict born of an ignorance of industrial warfare, the contemporary conception of masculinity, and the indifference to maimed soldiers sent home from the Front. In this way, an interdisciplinary approach to the poetry of the First World War will be developed, which demonstrates how far physical disability was, in the words of C. Wright Mills, a ‘public issue’ and not just a ‘personal trouble’.


Motherhood, Medicine and Oral History
Dr Angela Davis (Centre for History of Medicine, Warwick University)
Wednesday 10 November, 5.30pm, Cardiff University Humanities Building, Room 4.44

Angela Davis is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick. Her research has focused on motherhood in postwar England and her monograph, Modern Motherhood: Women and Family in England, 1945-2000, is forthcoming with Manchester University Press. Based on oral history interviews with Oxfordshire women about their experiences of motherhood, this paper will examine how the interviewees constructed their accounts of maternity care and the narrative models they employed.

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'Narrative Medicine and the 'I’ of Illness Narrative
Dr Angela Woods (Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University)
Wednesday 6 October, 5.30pm, Cardiff University Humanities Building, Room 4.44

Dr Woods is a lecturer in the Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University. A literary and cultural studies scholar by training, her book The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory is forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2011. Expanding her focus from theoretical writing to c/s/x (“consumer/survivor/ex-patient”) narratives, her current project is both an examination of first person accounts of schizophrenia and a critical interrogation of the role(s) of narrative in conceptualising, expressing and regulating subjective experience.