On Tuesday 20th November four members of the CMH visited the University of Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities. This visit had been conceived as a sharing of ideas and projects between the two Centres and an opportunity to make connections and think about collaboration. As we prepared for it, news seemed to seep out and the agenda expanded to include the consideration of an idea that has been floating around in some of our minds for a while: the creation of a Northern Network for Medical Humanities that would include the North of England and Scotland. Prior to the meeting I was contacted by or in touch with scholars from Liverpool (Gill Howie, a philosopher, who has just been part of the establishment of a new Centre for Health Arts and Sciences) Edinburgh (Gayle Davis, a medical historian at Edinburgh University), Glasgow (Gavin Miller and David Shuttleton and also Claire McKechnie (literary scholar involved in Medical Humanities in Edinburgh). All were keen on establishing a Network, and Gill came to the meeting to express that view in person.
On the day, Sarah Atkinson, Corinne Saunders, Will Viney and I gave a flavour of activities currently at the CMH, including arts, health and wellbeing work, the Hearing the Voice project, the Twins in Medicine and Society project and the developing idea of ‘Breathing Spaces’. This was followed by presentations from Stuart Murray, Clare Barker and Stella Butler on ‘Cultural Narrative and the Everyday Clinical Encounter’, Colonial and Postcolonial Health’ and ‘Developing medical humanities resources in museum and libraries’. It was a thrill that Stella and a colleague (Claire Jones) had brought along some fascinating artefacts from the University’s medical archives (including a 18th century breast pump and a bleeding kit) to whet our appetites for research on medical instrumentation.
It was very clear to us from CMH in Durham that the Leeds Centre’s idea of medical humanities was very much the same as ours – that the field is moving into a new phase of critical engagement between medicine, its practices, knowledge base and research methods, and the ideas and resources of the humanities. We all agreed that the outcomes of this engagement were uncertain but could include radical changes to the practice of medicine, as well as an invigoration of research ideas and agendas in the humanities. Those of us representing different institutions (Durham, Leeds and Liverpool included) agreed that Centres at each institution seemed to be developing distinctive characters within this overarching aims. Durham, with its strong focus on developing the methods of interdisciplinarity within the CMH and the Hearing the Voice Project; Leeds, with disability as a major theme; and Liverpool, having just finished being Capital of Culture, steeped in the performing arts. Clearly these characters are not mutually exclusive nor comprehensive of what each Centre does or might do, but we recognised a sense of distinctiveness.
How did we conclude? There was unanimous agreement that a Network would be a good idea. We already have plans in Durham to host a Workshop next academic year on Critical Medical Humanities (an idea suggested by my colleagues Angela Woods and Felicity Callard) and this might be a good forum to launch the Network. To that end we will host a follow-up meeting in Durham later this academic year to take this idea forward. Very importantly (in an idea led by Will Viney) we also discussed how our postgraduate communities might connect and collaborate, and plans are already afoot to ensure that Leeds and Durham PG groups communicate over the planned Durham Medical Humanities Postgraduate Conference in May 2013. Watch this blog.
Many thanks again to Stuart from all of us in Durham for generously hosting this meeting, and for the good time in the pub afterwards!