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The Wellcome Trust

A number of Centre for Medical History research projects are funded by the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive through funding in the areas of biomedical science, humanities and social science.

The Trust was founded in 1880 by Sir Henry Wellcome, a businessman, collector and philanthropist. In his will he specifically mentioned the study of the history of medicine as a topic to be fostered. The Wellcome Trust has since maintained this tradition through its support for research in the history of medicine.

The Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection is a free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health.  Through exhibitions, collections, live programming, digital, broadcast and publishing, the Collection aims to create opportunities for people to think deeply about the connections between science, medicine, life and art.

Please click here to explore thousands of freely licensed digital books, artworks, photos and images of historical library materials and museum obejcts.

Major Wellcome Trust awards

In 2003, research in the Centre was framed by a five year Wellcome Trust Strategic Award entitled 'Health, Heredity and the Environment, 1850–2000'. Research linked to the designated themes of the award focused on:

  • Occupational & environmental health
  • Mental illness and mental disability
  • Gender, sexuality and the family

The Centre for Medical History was subsequently successful in securing Wellcome Trust funding for a five year project: 'Environments, Expertise and Experience: the Transmission and Boundaries of Medical Knowledge and Practice'. The project started in October 2008 and encompasses research under three main headings:

  • Environments, bodies and boundaries
  • Sexual knowledge, sexual experiences and health
  • The transmission and boundaries of medical knowledge and practice

This strategic funding culminated in two prestigious Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Awards.  

In October 2012 Professor Jonathan Barry was awarded an inaugural Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award in the Medical Humanities for his five year project 'The medical world of early modern England, Wales and Ireland, c.1500-1715'.  The project aim was to develop a groundbreaking database with biographies of all medical practitioners active in England, Wales and Ireland between 1500-1715. The database will be used to produce the first all-round study of the nature and impact of medical practice in early modern Britain and will be published as a major monograph by a leading university press.  The project team members included Dr Peter Elmer, Dr Justin Colson, Dr Alun Withey and Dr John Cunningham.

In October 2013 Professor Mark Jackson was award a five-year Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award ‘Lifestyle, health and disease: changing concepts of balance in modern medicine’.  The principal aims of this research are to investigate the ways in which changing notions of balance have shaped scientific and clinical models of healthy lifestyles and to understand the manner in which preoccupations with balance have structured our lives.  Historically grounded but employing a number of disciplinary perspectives, it will analyse clinical and scientific investment in notions of balance and the shifting political and cultural authority of the concept within modern societies.  The central premise is that balance has constituted not merely an object for scientific and clinical enquiry, but also a rhetorical device employed to articulate variable anxieties about well-being, environmental sustainability and political security. In this context, the research will also endeavour to re-assess the value of trying to achieve balanced lives and consider alternative concepts for understanding and explaining patterns of health and disease. Project team members included Dr Ali Haggett, Dr Martin Moore, Dr Ayesha Nathoo, Fred Cooper, Natasha Feiner and Nicos Kefalas.

In September 2015 Professor Kate Fisher and Dr Jana Funke were awarded a Wellcome Trust Joint Investigator Award entitled Rethinking Sexology: The Cross-Disciplinary Invention of Sexuality: Sexual Science Beyond the Medical, 1890-1940.

Part of the Sexual Knowledge Unity, this interdisciplinary project at the University of Exeter seeks to rethink the history of sexual science, the mainly Western attempt to understand sex scientifically that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. It critiques the assumption that 'sexology' existed as a primarily medical field of knowledge. The research reconsiders how modern understandings of sexuality were constructed by scholars from across the human, social and medical sciences who began to work together to understand the biological, psychological and cultural dimensions of sexual behaviour. The core research group working on this project are Professor Kate Fisher, Dr Jana Funke, Dr Jen GroveDr Sarah JonesDr Ina Linge and Kazuki Yamada.