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Centre for Health, Medicine and Society

December 15, 2010

Past and Present, Oxford Brookes University – by Marius Turda

The Centre for Health, Medicine and Society: Past and Present is part of the School of Arts and Humanities at Oxford Brookes University. It has 14 members of academic staff, two research fellows, one visiting professor, two research associates, two research assistants and support staff. The Centre promotes the study of the social history of health and medicine and is regarded as one of the leading research centres of its kind in the UK.

The Centre constitutes a vibrant academic community, recognised both nationally and internationally. Moreover, the Centre regularly attracts overseas scholars, some of whom have been funded by the University’s visiting fellowship scheme. This drive for intellectual interaction is reflected in the Centre’s commitment to cutting-edge research in the history of medicine and our ever-growing international network.

Moreover, we have an excellent record in securing external grant funding, and are currently undertaking an ambitious five-year research programme on ‘Health Care in Public and Private’ funded by a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award that started in October 2007. This also funds administrative support, student bursaries, outreach activities, conferences and a regular programme of seminars open to the wider community in Oxford. The Centre has also been successful in winning grants for individual research projects, especially from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the European Commission.

The Centre’s research interests span from the early modern period to the present day and have global coverage. Some of the Centre’s current historical projects investigate: poverty, health and the welfare of children; anatomy and hospitals; material and visual culture of medicine and science, in particular, the role of collections, museums and models in the circulation of knowledge; crime and the law; colonial/post-colonial medicine and indigenous health practices; eugenics, anthropology, racism and bio-politics; medical refugees; and Nazi human experimentation.

Our research and outreach agendas also reflect the Wellcome Trust’s wider policies and strategies. We thus strive to engage and build dialogues with local communities in Oxford, to diversify our courses in the history of medicine to attract more students, and to reshape collaborative work towards helping our researchers’ own dissemination projects. To this end, we look for innovative ways to meet the ever-changing needs of an ever-changing society.

Connecting with schools in the Oxford region has also given us an insight into the needs of our local community. In 2009, we organised a debating competition to introduce Year 11–13 pupils to the history of medicine, and we are also an active presence in the Science in Schools Programme initiated by the British Council. Several members of staff have worked with the media, making recent contributions to BBC Radio 4’s Making History, as well as to television documentaries made for BBC Four, ITV and the History Channel.

The Centre is also fortunate to hold a significant collection of historical documents and reference sources, which we also make accessible to other scholars. We have, for example, a major collection of archival material relating to medical refugees who came to the UK as a result of Nazism and World War II. Also, the Welfare Collection, generously donated by Charles Webster, former official historian of the NHS, was recently catalogued by a grant from the Nuffield Trust and is available in our library.

Disseminating our research outcomes among the academic community as well as the general public, policy makers and the media is central to our strategy. We have an impressive record of academic publications, including a new book series in the history of medicine with CEU Press. Through collaborative endeavours with arts organisations and museums, we are also exploring more creative approaches to engage lay audiences with the history of medicine. We have, for instance, collaborated with the English Department at Oxford Brookes in staging an immersive theatre production at Hampton Court Palace on the subject of Tudor medicine. Other examples of collaborations with museums include advising on a popular exhibition on the history of anatomical models hosted in 2009 by Wellcome Collection in London, and participating in events organised for the local community by the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. The Centre also has close ties to universities in Europe, such as in Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece, and has successfully convened numerous conferences and workshops at home and abroad.

Academic research dovetails with teaching, and we are currently drawing up a new pathway in the history of medicine as part of the History BA degree at Oxford Brookes. The History Department runs a History of Medicine MA course, which is an important link between our undergraduate and PhD programmes. The Wellcome Trust also contributes to the funding of an MA studentship, and we have been fortunate to see several of our students go on to win bids for doctoral studentships from the Trust and the AHRC. In recent years, we have run a national PhD training programme in the history of medicine in collaboration with University College London. A recent exciting development is our contributing to a history of medicine pathway to the recently validated MA/MSc Cancer Studies course run by the School of Health and Social Care.

As the articles that follow illustrate, we are a thriving and innovative Centre (you can find out more at, determined to break new ground in research, teaching and public outreach in the history of medicine, health and society.

Dr Marius Turda is Deputy Director of the Centre for Health, Medicine and Society: Past and Present, Oxford Brookes University.

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