Five Questions for… Ana Carden-Coyne

For the latest contribution to our series introducing MedHumLab members, Dr Ana Carden-Coyne, Senior Lecturer in War and Conflict and Co-Director of the Centre for the Cultural History of War, talks about her understanding of medical humanities and her experience of curating the exhibitions The Sensory War at Manchester Art Gallery (2014/15) and Visions of the Front 1916-18 at Whitworth Art Gallery (until 20 November 2016).

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders Dawn Halfaker 2006 Digital archival pigment on paper matt cotton rag © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Dawn Halfaker, 2006, digital archival pigment on paper matt cotton rag © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. This work was on view as part of the exhibition The Sensory War, Manchester Art Gallery, 11 October 2014-22 February 2015

How does your research relate to the field of medical humanities?

My recent research has been on experiences of pain among the wounded of the First World War, with a particular focus on patient and practitioner encounters. I am interested in how social relations (class and gender) bear out in those interactions of how treatments (both emergency acute and prolonged or chronic) were delivered and received.

When I give talks, a lot of people end up discussing their experience in the NHS, so this is very telling about how medical humanities can have an impact on understanding and communicating our feelings about the world we live in today. We can talk about emergency procedures and triage (ambulance services or A & E, which were significantly developed in the context of WW1). We can talk about experimental surgeries and drugs, and ethical issues and patient rights. We can discuss nursing and rehab quality and care; both patients’ expectations and practitioners’ expectations, and the pressures both are often under to rapidly cure or rehabilitate the patient. We can think about the impact on families of chronic pain, when the hospitalisation ends and the family takes over. And we can look at the continuities and changes in wider social attitudes to pain and disability, and how they impact on health and wellbeing, and on medical practice itself.

My latest interest is in chronic pain suffered by wounded servicemen and women. And I am working on two projects on occupational therapy in the asylum and in military hospitals, with a major focus on men’s embroidery. I also have a new project on visual art, war and humanitarian disaster, which engages with suffering and medical intervention.

How would you define the term ‘medical humanities’ in a few sentences?

Medical humanities is an umbrella term that brings together many different arts and humanities disciplines with the medical and social sciences. What appeals to me most, is the focus on humanising medicine and enabling the patient experience through dialogue and communication, and especially through engagement with arts practitioners.

What, in your opinion, is the value of interdisciplinary research (and research networks such as MedHumLab)?

There is a great deal of inspiring work being done by creative practitioners, academics and artists who approach medicine and medical science in highly useful ways for society and for human benefit. As a historian, curator and heritage scholar, the people who work in this broad field inspire me every day.

You have curated the exhibition The Sensory War at Manchester Art Gallery (2014/15) and contributed to other exhibitions in the past. Can you tell us a bit more about your work with objects and visual material?

My research fundamentally responds to the cultural phenomena that medicine creates; whether it is diaries and memoirs, surgical technologies and devices such as prosthetics, or infections and rehabilitation treatments. For me, artists’ reactions to war medicine and surgery, and patients’ experiences of military medicine, have been one focus. But I am also interested in humanitarian medicine and its cultural field of representation. And how artists interact with the concerns of patients, cultural imagery, and big questions of human health, crisis and wellbeing.

Otto Dix Der Krieg: Sommeschlact (Fleeing wounded Man, Battle of the Somme, 1916) 1924 Etching 25.7 x 19 The British Museum

Otto Dix, Fliehender Verwundeter, Sommeschlacht, 1916 (Wounded Man Fleeing, Battle of the Somme, 1916), from Der Krieg (The War), 1924, etching, 25.7 x 19 cm © The British Museum

The Sensory War exhibition explored how artists have communicated the impact of modern war on the mind and body, the human sensory experience, and the environment. It considered these themes in relation to each other, or what we might call, synaesthetically. It was a huge show over two floors with 247 artworks, and it took over 3 years and 3 curators to bring it to fruition. One of the sections was called ‘Rupture and Rehabilitation’. We looked at so many inspiring artists, some of whom had acted as theatre orderlies in military casualty hospitals (such as Harold Sandys Williamson’s hauntingly clinical work, The Human Sacrifice of 1918), or were commissioned to document operations during the Second World War, such as a remarkable large scale painting by Alfred Reginald Thomson, Grafting a New Eyelid (1943). Or representations of saline baths used to treat burns patients.

Rosine Cahen, Hospital Rollin (October 1918) 1918 Black charcoal, pastel and white highlights on laid paper © Jean-Yves Martel

Rosine Cahen, Hospital Rollin (October 1918), 1918, black charcoal, pastel and white highlights on laid paper © Jean-Yves Martel

Then there were real discoveries, like the French woman artist Rosine Cahen who went around to the hospitals in France doing very intimate and immediate sketch-portraits of French soldiers recovering from severe wounds, in their beds and some wearing their medals. And we also had the extraordinary opportunity to bring to the UK for the first time The Cripples Portfolio (1919) – a set of lithographs by German artist Heinrich Hoerle – in which the daily experiences, losses and dreams of the war disabled are explored. We could compare this with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ large-scale glossy portraits of Iraq veterans and their prostheses, and discuss this significant twentieth-century symbol of medical modernity and the ideal of restoration from violence, yet the lingering experience of emotional pain.

I have a small exhibition that I co-curated with David Morris at the Whitworth Art Gallery at the moment, Visions of the Front 1916-18, for the Somme centenary. Medical interventions and representations are a major feature of this too, such as Henry Lamb’s painting Advanced Dressing Station on the Struma, 1916 (1921).

Henry Lamb Advanced Dressing Station on the Struma, 1916 Oil on canvas Manchester City Galleries © The estate of Henry Lamb (c) Mrs Henrietta Phipps; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Henry Lamb, Advanced Dressing Station on the Struma, 1916 (1921), oil on canvas, 183.6 x 212.3 cm, Manchester City Galleries © The estate of Henry Lamb

The scene of a dressing station focuses on the relationship between a wounded man and a stretcher-bearer, who attends him with a cup of water, a great relief that many soldiers wrote about as the comfort given between men. Thirst and cold were understood much later in the war as signs of hemorrhage and shock. The bearer’s hand gently touches the wounded man’s head, providing comfort symbolic of the pietà (Christian iconography of Mary cradling Jesus’ corpse). Indeed, the pietà was often used in war-time humanitarian images of nurses caring for wounded men. But Lamb transforms the theme into an effigy of masculine care and the intimate brotherhood of shared suffering. Placed on the ledge of a shallow trench, the stretcher resembles an altar. In the right hand corner is a Thomas splint used for compound fractures, from which soldiers could die. Pathos is also created by the figure on the left, head in hand, perhaps affected by malaria, a common disease of this front, or perhaps a reference to psychological suffering. The central figure stands over the patient, staring pensively into the distance. Made three years after the end of the war, the composition of this painting symbolises the pain and succour of the entire conflict.

Henry Lamb was educated at Manchester Grammar School and studied medicine at the Manchester University Medical School. He left his studies for Paris, to attend the Académie de La Palette, where renowned modernists Jean Metzinger and Henri Le Fauconnier taught. The war compelled Lamb to finish his studies. He received a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was with the Northumbrian Field Ambulance Unit in Salonika from August 1916 to March 1917.

And finally, how do you relax and unwind away from the office or seminar room?

Er… gosh… I have a toddler so it’s go go go…

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Five Questions for… Julie-Marie Strange

Julie-Marie Strange, next in our series introducing MedHumLab members, is Professor of British History and currently Head of History.

Julie-Marie Strange, Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914, Cambridge University Press, 2015

Julie-Marie Strange, Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914, Cambridge University Press, 2015

Your research and teaching interests are wide-ranging, including Victorian cultures of death and bereavement, fatherhood and attachment in late Victorian and Edwardian working-class culture, and historical representations of menstruation, puberty and the menopause. How do they fit into a medical humanities context?

The unifying theme of my research is the history of emotions which bear a close relationship with bodies, wellbeing and mental health, and of inter-personal relationships.

How would you describe the field of medical humanities from your disciplinary perspective as a historian?

As a dynamic field that invites us to historicize core questions about society, culture and individuals.

Julie-Marie Strange, Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870-1914, Cambridge University Press, 2006

Julie-Marie Strange, Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870-1914, Cambridge University Press, 2005

Where do you see the benefits of interdisciplinary research?

The fusion of ideas, methods and practices from different perspectives invites us to view things – often familiar things – through new lenses and to be surprised.

What are your expectations for MedHumLab for the future?

That a cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices will lead to fruitful but focused collaborations on research themes.

And finally, how do you relax and unwind away from the office or seminar room?

Outdoors, preferably with a horse and/or a hound.

Five Questions for… Cordelia Warr

In the second interview for our Meet the MedHumLab Members series, Dr Cordelia Warr, Senior Lecturer in Art History and Visual Studies and currently Head of Subject, tells us about her research on wounds in the Middle Ages and her love of campanology (church bell-ringing).

Cordelia and colleagues ringing the bells of St Oswald's Parish Church in Oswestry, Shropshire

Cordelia and fellow campanologists ringing the bells of St Oswald’s Parish Church in Oswestry, Shropshire

How do your research and teaching interests play into the field of medical humanities?

Cordelia Warr and Anne Kirkham (eds), Wounds in the Middle Ages, Ashgate, 2014

Cordelia Warr and Anne Kirkham (eds), Wounds in the Middle Ages, Ashgate, 2014

For a long time, I’ve been interested in miraculous wounds in the period from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, and particularly in holy men and women who were alleged to have received stigmata, miraculous wounds associated with those Christ received during the passion. If you’re going to think about miraculous wounds then the next thing is to think about what makes them different to non-miraculous wounds and this led me to an exploration of depictions of wounds and intentional wounding, for example during surgical operations. I’m interested in how images are used to convey information related to medical conditions and medical intervention, and what sort of information is considered important or appropriate. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work with Elizabeth Toon and Sarah Collins on the MSc course in Medical Humanities and benefit from the input of students on that course who have previously trained in science-based disciplines. Seeing how students from humanities and science disciplines respond to historical images of wounds and surgery has helped to shape some of the questions I’ve been asking in my research.

How would you describe the term ‘medical humanities’ from your disciplinary perspective as an art historian?

As an art historian, the term ‘medical humanities’ is one which prompts me to look at images relating to medical issues from viewpoints outside those which privilege the acquisition of up-to-date medical knowledge and ask questions about the perceived purpose of images or the way in which knowledge is disseminated through visual material. For example, what do images of so-called monstrous births tell us about how people in the sixteenth century dealt with physical abnormalities? What does the depiction of the patient tell us about the way in which patients and medical professionals interacted in the early modern period? How do text and image interact? Visual images are incredibly complex and fascinating repositories of information – and not always the information you are expecting to find.

Plate 3 from Gaspare Tagliacozzi's De Curtorum Chirurgia, 1597

Plate 3 from Gaspare Tagliacozzi’s De Curtorum Chirurgia, 1597

Where do you see the potential of an interdisciplinary, cross-faculty network such as MedHumLab? And are there any challenges?

MedHumLab gives academics and practitioners from across the University the opportunity to learn from one another in a supportive environment. The great advantage of a network like MedHumLab is that it can spark exciting new research. The launch event in November 2015 in the Whitworth was inspirational because there were participants from so many different backgrounds talking about their work and their interests and coming up with new ideas. The challenge is to maintain that energizing diversity whilst facilitating cross-faculty work.

You have recently been awarded, with Carsten Timmermann, a University of Manchester Research Institute Pump Priming grant to develop the activities of the network and fund a series of events. Where could MedHumLab be headed in the future?

The sky’s the limit! The next event on Bodies, Objects, Technologies will be held at the Whitworth on 6 September and our plenary speaker will be Dr Sam Alberti, Keeper of Science and Technology, National Museums, Scotland. We hope that these events will help bring together people across the University and that, with the support of the University Pump Priming funding, MedHumLab will foster great interdisciplinary research which will have real impact.

And finally, how do you relax and unwind away from the office or seminar room?

Cordelia bell-ringing in Oswestry

Cordelia bell-ringing in Oswestry

I am a keen church bell-ringer (campanologist) and that takes up most of my weekends. I’ve been ringing since I was eleven years old. It’s been a great way to meet new people as I moved around a lot while I was studying and during my first years in academic posts. Bell-ringers are very friendly people and always welcome a fellow enthusiast. There are normally lots of social events. Bell-ringing is good exercise but with added ‘brain work’ built in. You really have to concentrate to make sure that the methods (not tunes!) sound right. In the last couple of years I’ve started to do more conducting and I really enjoy working on that. You can’t think about anything else while you’re conducting a method so you completely forget the stresses of the week.

Five Questions for… Carsten Timmermann

We are kicking off our blog series Meet the MedHumLab Members with co-founder Dr Carsten Timmermann, Senior Lecturer in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and passionate cyclist in his spare time. Questions by Marion Endt-Jones.

Carsten is a member of UMBUG, the University of Manchester's Bicycle Users' Group

Carsten is a member of UMBUG, the University of Manchester’s Bicycle Users’ Group

You co-founded MedHumLab with Dr Elizabeth Toon in 2015. Can you tell us a bit more about your reasons for initiating a medical humanities research network in Manchester?

At the roots of this network was our interdisciplinary MSc course in Medical Humanities, developed and launched by Elizabeth and Sarah Collins in 2012. Sarah had been introduced to us by a colleague in the medical school, and we realized quickly that our interests overlapped. Sarah runs the Consultation Skills Learning Centre at the Manchester Medical School. She has found that medical students are often keen on the arts and would like to see more humanities teaching included in their curriculum, so she organizes a series of successful music, literature and arts events with performances by students.

When we put together the MSc course, we discovered that a number of colleagues across campus were interested in matters of health and medicine: in history, literature, the social sciences, or as explored in the visual arts or music. Many of them now contribute to the MSc, which is truly interdisciplinary and quite unusual. This is not always easy in a University designed around traditional faculties and disciplines. These colleagues were the original members of the network, and we’re hoping to reach out to others – possibly with a view to future joint projects. It’s not easy to launch projects across faculty boundaries, and an important goal of the network is to find ways of facilitating this for our field.

The actual trigger, however, was an email from Tim Harrison, the Creative Director of Sick! Festival. He was planning this spring’s Sick! Lab event, was looking for people to talk to in Manchester, and had come across our course website by chance. There must be more straight-forward ways of creating visibility for this exciting, interdisciplinary field of inquiry, Elizabeth and I thought, and started planning the launch of this network. The pump priming grant we’ve been awarded by the University of Manchester Research Institute helps immensely, of course.

How do your own research interests play into the field of medical humanities?

I’m a historian of medicine, and I feel that history is absolutely fundamental to all work in the medical humanities. I believe, for example, that you cannot say anything meaningful about the ways in which a novel or a painting engages with illness if you don’t understand the historical contexts of its production, or those that informed its reception. On the other hand, paintings and novels can be great sources for historians, and my interest in this network partly derives from a desire to find better ways of incorporating such sources in my historical work. Also, I started my career as a social science and humanities scholar with a Joint MA in History and Social Anthropology of Science, Technology and Medicine (my first degree was in Biochemistry). While my PhD project was very much social history, I find myself more and more attracted to anthropological approaches to health, sickness and medicine. My selfish hope is that the network will make it easier for me to pursue such interests.

Carsten Timmermann, A History of Lung Cancer: The Recalcitrant Disease, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014

Carsten Timmermann, A History of Lung Cancer: The Recalcitrant Disease, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014

How would you explain what medical humanities are to a layperson?

This is tricky. There are good reasons for the vagueness of the definitions in the literature, and medical humanities mean different things to different people. But I guess most of it comes down to engaging with illness experiences through art or studying the institutions dealing with illness through humanities and social science methods. The ideal, to me, are interdisciplinary collaborations between artists and historians, literary scholars and musicians, or anthropologists and museum specialists – and that’s where I hope this network can help. It brings together people who take all sorts of scholarly and artistic approaches to questions of health and medicine.

What’s your vision for MedHumLab for the next few months (and in the long run)?

My personal hope is that we turn this network into a foundation for productive conversations, which ultimately lead to joint projects. I don’t know how others feel about this, but to me working solely with colleagues in my own discipline can occasionally get a bit stale. Interdisciplinarity can be challenging, but much of the time it’s refreshing.

We are planning a couple of showcase events in late summer and early autumn that we hope will bring people together around topics of shared interest: one will be on Bodies, Objects, Technologies (featuring, for example, our Museum of Medicine and Health), and the second will deal with Narratives, Lives, Disruptions. We’re also working on a medical humanities interest directory, which will make networking much easier in the future.

And finally, what do you do to relax and unwind away from the office or seminar room?

I have two young boys, eight and five years old, and most weekends are dedicated to them: on Friday evenings we meet with friends in the pub, on Saturdays we go swimming, and on Sundays we often undertake little family cycling trips (the five-year old rides on the stoker seat of a tandem). Ask me again in a few years: the empty nest syndrome may force me to take up hobbies. But I also quite enjoy the rare moments when I can simply stare out of the window, let my mind wander, and do absolutely nothing.