Department of Humanities

Visiting address
111 Howard, Digby Stuart

Biography

I am a cultural historian of medicine, surgery, gender and war, with a special interest in emotions and identities. My research currently focuses on the emotional cultures of surgery in nineteenth-century Britain and in 2015 I received a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award to lead a team investigating the relations between surgery and emotion from 1800 to the present. I joined Roehampton in 2010 having studied at the Universities of York and London and worked at the Universities of Kent and Manchester. When not working I spend a not inconsiderable amount of my time 'enjoying' the bounteous privilege of supporting Leyton Orient Football Club.

Qualifications

BA (Hons) in History - University of York (1998)

MSc and DIC in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine - University of London (1999)

PhD in History - University of York (2004)

Research interests

My work to date has explored themes in the cultural histories of medicine, surgery and war, largely through the interpretive prisms of identity, gender and the emotions. My first book, Performing Medicine: Medical Culture and Identity in Provincial England, c.1760-1850 (Manchester University Press, 2011) analysed the transformation of British medicine from a late eighteenth-century culture of polite sociability, civic inclusivity and intellectual liberality to a nineteenth-century model of disciplinary exclusivity, social utility and collective professional self-identification. In a range of articles I have explored such issues as the changing conception of medical charity in the early nineteenth century, the cultural ideologies of public health and the stylistics of the radical medical press.

I also have a long-standing interest in the cultural history of war, and have written on such topics as the medical profession’s articulation of a militarised gender identity and the anxieties surrounding masculinity and military technology in the late Victorian British empire.  I also recently co-edited and contributed to a book entitled Martial Masculinities: Experiencing and Imagining the Military in the Long Nineteenth-Century (Manchester University Press, 2019).

My most recent research emerges from my Wellcome Trust Investigator Award and explores the emotional cultures of nineteenth-century British surgery.  Among other things, I have written two articles which consider the role of the brothers John Bell and Charles Bell in shaping the cultures of Romantic surgery and I m currently preparing a monograph for Cambridge University Press based upon my resarch as a whole.

 

Research projects

In 2015 I was awarded £569,215 by the Wellcome Trust for an Investigator Award project entitled Surgery & Emotion. This project explores the place of emotion within the practice, politics and representation of surgery from the nineteenth century to the present day. Undergoing surgery can be an extremely emotionally troubling experience for patients. Performing surgery also makes its emotional demands on surgical operators. Despite this, the emotional dynamics of surgery have yet to be fully explored. This project seeks to understand how surgeons conceive of their work and their relationships with patients in terms of feeling. Often, these relationships are thought of as being shaped principally by ‘clinical detachment’, but this project endeavours to push beyond such clichés to explore the emotional complexities of the surgical encounter.

As well as engaging with current surgical practitioners and patients, this project brings a historical perspective to bear on the issue of surgical emotion. Before the advent of anaesthetics in the 1840s, surgical operations were undertaken with little or no pain relief and occasioned great physical suffering and emotional distress. However, rather than producing detachment or dispassion in surgeons, such emotional complexities gave rise to a range of feelings from pity and sympathy to anxiety, regret and anger. Patients, too, experienced a broad spectrum of emotions from fear through to joy.

Encompassing surgery in both peace and war, this project will consider how emotions shaped nineteenth-century surgical practice as well as the identities and reputations of its practitioners. It will explore the patient’s perspective and their emotional relationships with surgeons, as well as how pain and suffering came to function as powerful tools for change. It will also examine what effect such innovations as anaesthesia had on the emotional cultures of surgery and whether changing social ideas concerning the expression of feeling also played a role.

By bringing together historical inquiry and modern experience, this project hopes to stimulate debate about the place of emotion in surgery and to see whether clinical practice and patient care might be improved by taking emotions seriously. Indeed, the project has engaged extensively with surgical practitioners and stakeholders such as the Royal College of Surgeons and Royal College of Nursing.  In 2018, the project was also awarded a further £20,000 by the Wellcome Trust to develop a public engagement programme, including a series of ‘surgical speed-meets’ in which members of the public get to talk to practising surgeons about the unique experience of surgery.

Find out more about the project and its events, see our website: http://www.surgeryandemotion.com/

Links

Research outputs

  1. Introduction

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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