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History of Nursing Colloquium at GCU

December 12, 2011

Event report – by Susan McGann

On 1 April 2011, the 16th History of Nursing Research Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). This was a collaborative venture, supported by the Wellcome Trust and organised by The Royal College of Nursing Archives, the UK Centre for the History of Nursing and Midwifery (UKCHNM) at the University of Manchester, and the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare at GCU. Susan McGann and Barbara Mortimer from the RCN Archives and Christine Hallett from the UKCHNM organised an interesting programme loosely themed around gender and nursing. Paper topics ranged from nursing in the British Empire to the acquisition of clinical skills by nurses, via gender and mental health nursing.

The first session was titled ‘International Links’, and Rosemary Wall (King’s College London) set a high standard with her paper, ‘A Good Chance of Getting Married: Marriage as motivation, recruitment strategy and retention problem for nursing in the British Empire’. By looking at marriage as a reason for joining the colonial nursing service, Rosemary provided a telling commentary on both the nursing profession and the expectations of women at the time. She was followed by Tashia Scott, a PhD student at Oxford Brookes University, who continued the international theme by speaking on ‘Refugee Nurses in Britain and Their Impact on Medicine, 1933–1948’. The second session, ‘Professional Boundaries’, included three presentations by Sue Hawkins (University of Kingston), David Justam (University of Nottingham), and Claire Chatterton of the Open University, all of whom addressed the perceived limitations of nursing in terms of duties, responsibilities and gender.

After lunch, the third session, ‘Socialisation of Nurses’, brought together two papers by Sarah Keely (University of Bournemouth), ‘Principles and Practice of Nursing: An investigation of how nurses learnt their clinical skills 1930–1965’, and Janet Hargreaves (University of Huddersfield), ‘Alice: Woman and nurse, nurse and woman.’ The fourth and final session of the day was titled ‘Pain and Ordinariness’ and included another PhD student, Jacinta Kelly from the University of Manchester, and an established historian, Carmen Mangion from Birkbeck, University of London. Jacinta focused on the experience of Irish civilian nurses in the Second World War, and Carmen’s presentation, ‘Pain, Gender and Nursing’, referred to a Wellcome Trust-funded project on the experience of pain. The colloquium was well attended and included practitioners as well as historians, thereby continuing the tradition of this series, and produced lively discussion and new ideas for future research agendas.

To complement the workshop, an exhibition provided by the Royal College of Nursing Archives and titled ‘Tuppence for the Doctor, Penny for the Nurse: Memories of public health nursing’ was displayed in the university’s Saltire Centre, a bright, modern building incorporating student facilities and the university library and research collections. The exhibition, which was accompanied by a short publication of the same name, was enjoyed by the students and staff during the week before the colloquium in advance of it being moved on the day of the event for the benefit of the participants. GCU is known for its vibrant nursing community in the Department of Adult Nursing and Health, which forms part of the School of Health. Research activities fall under the umbrella of the university’s Institute of Applied Health Research.

The History of Nursing Colloquium was one of a range of spring events hosted by the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare, which is a research collaboration between GCU and Strathclyde University. In addition to our regular seminar series and a successful dinner for our postgraduate students, the Centre staff were delighted to welcome Dr Glen O’Hara, Reader in the History of Public Policy at Oxford Brookes University, to GCU in March to give a presentation on ‘Insanity, Transnationalism, Bureaucracy: The origins of Britain’s “ombudsman” in the 1950s and 1960s’. The seminar was organised in collaboration with GCU colleagues in Law, Politics, and History and the subject was of particular interest to historians of healthcare, not least because of contemporary issues around patient ‘rights’. It was gratifying to have an audience drawn from a range of academic disciplines, including undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Full details of the colloquium can be found on the Centre’s website, which also contains the Centre’s latest Research Report and Newsletter.

Dr Susan McGann is the archivist at the Royal College of Nursing Archives in Edinburgh.

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