Birkbeck Medical Humanities Reading Group

The Birkbeck Medical Humanities Reading Group aims to create a space in which academics, clinicians and students can come together to explore key readings, ideas and materials in the field of medical humanities. Our endeavour is to find ways of talking across the different disciplines of the humanities and medicine, and we welcome participation from colleagues interested and engaged in these areas.

For more information, and to access readings, please contact Sophie Jones at

Unless otherwise stated, all meetings take place in the School of Arts, Birkbeck, 43 Gordon Square WC1H 0PD.

Spring 2019

Phenomenological approaches to the medical humanities – 21st March 2019, 14:00-15:30

Led by Dr Peter Fifield (English and Humanities, Birkbeck) and Dr Mohammed Rashed (Philosophy, Birkbeck). The readings are:

  • Dan Zahavi, Husserl’s Phenomenology (Stanford UP, 2003), pp. 109-125.
  • Havi Carel, Phenomenology of Illness (Oxford UP, 2016), Chapter 1 – “Why Use Phenomenology to Study Illness?”

Click here for further details of this session.

The Politics of Bodily Comportment – 31st January 2019, 14:30-16:00

Led by Harriet Cooper

Iris Marion Young, ‘Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Bodily Comportment, Motility and Spatiality’, Human Studies, 3, 137-156 (1980)

Gayle Salamon, introduction to The Life and Death of Latisha King: A Critical Phenomenology of Transphobia (New York: NYU Press, 2018)

Watch (about 14 minutes): Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor in conversation about the lived experience of impairment and disability – extract from Astra Taylor (dir), Examined Life (2008)

Click here for further details of this session.

Autumn 2018

Schizophrenia – 29th November 2018, 15:00-16:30

Led by Mohammed Rashed

Colin King (2006) They diagnosed me a schizophrenic when I was just a Gemini. In ‘The other side of madness’. Reconceiving Schizophrenia. Edited by Man Cheung Chung, Bill Fulford, and George Graham (Oxford UP)

Angela Woods (2011) Schizophrenia, modernity, postmodernity. In Woods, The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory (Oxford UP)

Contested Conditions – 25th October 2018, 3.00-4.30

Led by Sophie Jones, to mark the launch of the Contested Conditions film screening series, which begins with Todd Haynes’ SAFE at the Birkbeck Cinema on 19th October (book your free ticket here). You are, of course, very welcome to attend either event without committing to both.

Anna Mollow, ‘No Safe Place’, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 1/2, SAFE (Spring/Summer 2011), pp.188-199

Johanna Hedva, ‘Sick Woman Theory’, Mask Magazine (January 2016). Available at:

Click here for further details of this session.

Summer 2018

On Cure – 26th June 2018, 4.00-5.30pm

Led by Sophie Jones

Extracts from Eli Clare, Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling With Cure. Duke UP, 2017, as follows:

Chapter 1: Ideology of Cure, Chapter 2: Violence of Cure, and (optionally) Chapter 3: In Tandem With Cure.

Click here for further details of this session.

Spring 2018

The Birkbeck Medical Humanities Reading Group will meet twice in the Spring Term 2018, on 1st March and 22nd March, to consider Attention and its Medicalization.

1. Reading Attention – 1st March 2018, 2-3.30 pm

Led by Sophie Jones

Katherine Hayles, “On Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes”, Profession (2007): 187-199

Matthew Bevis, “In Search of Distraction”, Poetry Magazine (November 2017)

2. Medicalizing Attention – 22nd March 2018, 2-3.30 pm

Led by Sophie Jones and Bozhena Zoritch

Matthew Smith, “The First Hyperactive Children”, Hyperactive: The Controversial History of ADHD. Reaktion, 2012, pp. 46-74.

Ilina Singh, “A disorder of anger and aggression: Children’s perspectives on attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in the UK”, Social Science and Medicine 73 (2011): 889-896.

Further reading: Simon Bailey, “ADHD Mythology”, in Rethinking Disability Theory and Practice: Challenging Essentialism, ed. Karin Lesnik-Oberstein. Palgrave, 2015, pp. 98-117.

Click here for further details of both of these sessions.

Autumn 2017

 On Non-Conception – 7th December 2017, 3-4.30

Led by Dr Isabel Davis, to coincide with the  Conceiving Histories Exhibition in the Peltz Gallery, 8th November-13th December 2017.

William Harvey, On Conception. This is added on to On Generation. You can read an English translation in The Works of William Harvey, trans. R. Willis (London: Sydenham Society, 1847), pp. 575-86. Link:

Robert Lyall, The medical evidence relative to the duration of human pregnancy, as given in the Gardner peerage cause, before the Committee for Privileges of the House of lords in 1825-26 (London: Burgess and Hill, 1826), footnote plan for the Experimental Conception Hospital. The whole book is interesting, but the footnote in question is on page xvii. Link:

Click here for further details of this session.

Skin I – 19th October 2017. Room 114, Keynes Library. 43 Gordon Square. London.

Mechthild Fend, Fleshing Out Surfaces: Skin in French Art and Medicine, 1650-1850 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016). Introduction.

Roxann Wheeler, The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000). Introduction

Further reading: Jonathan Lamb, Diagrams of Emotion: Hogarth’s Blush and Maori Tattoos. Blog post available here.

Skin II – 23rd November 2017. Room B02, 43 Gordon Square. London.

Roger Willoughby, ‘Between the Basic Fault and Second Skin’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis 85 (2004): 179-96.

Claudia Benthien, Skin: On the Cultural Border between the Self and the World (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002). Chapter 2.

Click here for further details of both these sessions.

Summer 2017

Rethinking Illness Experiences: Visual Representations of Breast Cancer. Led by Christine Douglass. Wednesday 21st June 2017. Click here for more details.

Audre Lorde’s ‘Cancer Journals’, led by Helen Thomas. Wednesday 17th May 2017. Click here for more details.

Spring 2017

Portraiture and illness, led by Tim Wainwright. Thursday 23 March 2017. Please click here for more details.

Surgery: Henry Marsh, Do No Harm (2014), Samer Nashef, The Naked Surgeon (2015). Thursday 23 February 2016. Please click here for more details.

Autumn 2016

Surgeon X: Thursday 16 November. Please click here for more details.

Breathing and breathlessness: Wednesday 16 November. Please click here for more details.

Summer 2016

Medicine and Care: Wednesday 1 June and Friday 24 June. Please click here for more details.

Spring 2016

Wednesday 16 March.
Room 112, 43 Gordon Square, 3.30-5pm.

Cultures of Harm
The reading for this session has been selected by the organisers of the forthcoming conference Cultures of Harm in Institutions of Care: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, which will be held at Birkbeck on 15-16 April 2016.

The readings address undercover reporting to expose institutional abuse. One is by a young woman who got herself admitted to a New York asylum in 1877 to expose the cruelty that was taking place there; another has been written by Joe Plomin who was behind some of the recent Panorama programmes on institutional abuse.

  • Nelly Bly, Ten Days in a Madhouse (1877). We suggest readers concentrate on the first seven or eight chapters, and the final one. Each is very short.
  • Joe Plomin, Hidden Cameras. Everything you need to know about covert recording, undercover cameras and secret filming (Jessica Kingsley, 2016), Introduction and Chapter 4
  • As an additional resource, you may also wish to read Jean Marie Lutes, ‘Into the Madhouse with Nellie Bly: Girl Stunt Reporting in Late Nineteenth-Century America’, American Quarterly, 54.2 (2002), 217-53.


Details of our past events are available here.

Image above: Light and darkness. Engraving by W. Ridgway, after George Smith. Published 1871.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images, V0036151