The Medical Humanities Research Network Scotland is an initiative supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The MHRNS aims to enable greater and more sustained collaborative research within Scotland in the medical humanities.

The first research workshop in the series organised by the MHRNS took place on Saturday 18 June at the University of Glasgow. The organisers, Dr David Shuttleton, and Dr Gavin Miller, and the Project Assistant, Dr Megan Coyer, thanked all who had managed to attend at what was a difficult time of year, given the competing demands of well-earned leave, and conference attendance. A guest participant also took part in the workshop:  Dr Claire McKechnie, who has recently been involved in teaching English Literature within the medical curriculum at Edinburgh University.

Discussion for the day was on the theme, “Why Historicise?”, and centred on two articles: “Medical records as catalogues of experience”, by Anne Borsay; and “Medicine, history and the present” by Nikolas Rose.

Future events (workshops, lectures, seminars) will centre on the network’s four themes: “Why Historicise?”, “Theory into Practice”, “Mental Health”, and “Dependency”. Please check the Medical Humanities Research Network Scotland for details.

1 Comment

Cheryl McGeachan · July 2, 2011 at 5:52 pm

The first meeting of the Medical HumanitiesResearch Network Scotland curiously entitled “Why Historicise?”, forced all of the participants involved to take the time to question the place and relevance of ‘history’ in our own work and in the medical humanities more generally. Using two articles, Anne Borsay’s (2001) “Medical records as catalogues of experience” and Nikolas Rose’s “Medicine, History and the Present”, as discussion pieces, it became clear that this session was about forcing us to consider what lies beneath, or beyond, the surface of our own research in order to critically evaluate the implications of taking an historical perspective to the medical humanities.

As an historical and cultural geographer who has previously been concerned with creating a geographical biography of psychiatrist, psychotherapist and psychoanalyst Ronald David Laing (1927-1989), through exploring the spaces, sites and places of his life and work, the discussions during this session led me to think carefully about the intricacies of the archive and archival practices. As the ‘archive’, however it is manifested, is often where the process of historical research begins and initial thoughts about the research are collated and often put to the test. For many researchers of the past the archive holds a dual purpose of source and site. Not only does it act as a depository, “where the written and fragmentary traces of the past are put in boxes and folders, bound up, stored and catalogued”, but to many historical researchers it can also be a “place of dreams” (Steedman, 1998, 67). As a source that helps the geographical life writer, like myself, collate and capture snippets of information about the inner and outer moments of their subject’s lives, the archive can become – despite the inescapable moments of despair and frustration – a treasure trove of wonderments. During the discussions it became clear that archival encounters of a varied nature, from researching medical records to meticulously searching through personal doctor/patient correspondence, stood as crucial challenges to big narratives through revealing the delicacy of the situation that can often be lost or simply overlooked in more sweeping narrative accounts. The process of historical research is intimately bound to the practices of the archive, and in questioning the place of ‘history’ in our own research in the medical humanities, many sought comfort in the archive as not only a source of important and inspirational material but a site where contemporary thoughts on the medical humanities can be unsettled, reasserted, de-familiarised or challenged.

The opportunity this workshop gave to reflect critically upon the relevance of historical research in the medical humanities with a range of inspirational individuals was a testing yet extremely positive experience, and I very much look forward to the second session where we will be putting theory into practice.

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