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Past Research Projects

Since its establishment in 1997, The Centre for Medical History has hosted many research projects. Information, reports and findings of these previous projects are archived here for reference. See our Current Research page for a list of all active projects.

The Wellcome Trust has funded a pilot project to explore the 1889 influenza pandemic in depth, in particular attempting to develop a model for correlating global and local environmental conditions with historical patterns of disease spread. The Centre for Medical History is collaborating with colleagues at the Met Office in attempting to reconstruct the possible impact of environmental variables on morbidity and mortality patterns.

For more information about the project, please contact Professor Mark Jackson

The Wellcome Trust Historical Collections Committee funded a project to assess the scope and organisation of a collection of individual patient records retrieved from the Devon Partnership NHS Trust. Dr Nicole Baur was appointed as Associate Research Fellow to work with the Centre for Medical History and the Devon Record Office on this project.

Project summary

Progress report 1 (9th February 2007)

Progress report 2 (2nd March 2007)

Progress report 3 (30th March 2007)

Progress report 4 (21st May 2007)

Summary of major findings

The Centre for Medical History has been 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.

The project will encompass research under three main headings:

  1. Environments, bodies and boundaries
  2. Sexual knowledge, sexual experiences and health
  3. The transmission and boundaries of medical knowledge and practice

In addition, we intend to disseminate and share our work with a variety of audiences, via a range of activities, including:

  • Interdisciplinary seminars
  • Collaborative projects with external organisations, eg Met Office, Devon Record Office
  • Widening Participation activities with schools
  • Public lectures

Dr Ali Haggett is currently working on a three-year Wellcome Trust funded project on masculinity and health since the Second World War. Its broad remit is threefold. Firstly, it aims to uncover the ways in which constructions of masculinity impacted upon patterns of psychological and psychosomatic illness amongst men. Secondly, it will explore the relationship between notions of masculinity and men’s willingness to report symptoms; and thirdly, it examines attitudes of clinicians and their approaches to treating men.

This project builds upon previous work on housewives and neurosis in post-war Britain which was also funded by the Wellcome Trust.  This study has been published as a monograph entitled Desperate Housewives, Neuroses and the Domestic Environment 1945-70 with Pickering and Chatto.

In October 2003 the Centre for Medical History successfully secured Wellcome Trust funding for a five year project: 'Health, Heredity and Environment, 1850–2000', which enabled designated strands of research that have explored the impact of environmental and occupational conditions on respiratory health, the determinants and outcomes of mental health practices and policies, and the role of family and gender in shaping expectations and experiences of health and illness. These strands have not only resulted in discrete research projects but provided the basis for the evolution of new strategic themes and funding. Research on health and environment, for example, generated a successful application for an expansive Wellcome Trust Research Programme Grant on 'The History of Stress: medical research and contested knowledge in the twentieth-century'.

Engagement with professionals beyond the University, notably the MET office, Devon Records Office and the Devon and Exeter Medical Society have resulted in innovative research projects and created opportunities for imaginative outreach activities engaging with school pupils, medical students and the wider public. Centre staff have also been closely involved in developing Medical History nationally and internationally.

The Centre's primary objective is to build on this expertise, and pursue and promote innovative historical research that explores the manner in which medical knowledge and practice have been variably constructed, contested and disseminated in the past.

The project includes features of ancient medicine and psychology such as: 

  • The focus on preventive medicine and life-style management rather than drugs or surgery;
  • Philosophical therapy as a 'preventive medicine' against psychological illness;
  • The idea that people can be expected to take responsibility for their own healthcare and the search for well-being, healthcare conceived in positive terms (and not just as avoiding illness);
  • Healthcare viewed 'holistically', locating human life in the context of nature.

Seminars, workshops and conferences have explored these themes, and established contact with specialists in modern healthcare and psychology.

Healthcare and Wellbeing stems from the research interests of Professor Christopher Gill in ancient psychology and psychotherapy and Professor John Wilkins in ancient food, nutrition and the role of the doctor in antiquity. A shared focus of their work is Galen, the greatest medical writer in antiquity (2nd century AD).

They are currently planning an interdisciplinary project that will examine the possible significance of ancient ideas and methods for contemporary healthcare, in collaboration with specialists in contemporary medicine and psychology.

If you are interested in collaborating in this area, or have an interest in it, then contact the team.

This week-long summer school provides advanced training in history of the life sciences. The biennial event, which has a distinguished tradition of association with the Naples Zoological Station, was revived in 2005 after a break of some two decades and again ran successfully in 2007, 2009, and 2011.

We aim to encourage exchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries, national cultures and historical periods. English is the working language and readings and questions for the seminars will be circulated in advance. We can accommodate up to 26 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and also accept established researchers seeking to enter a new field. The facilities, history, prestige and location of the Station have been crucial to the school’s success. It is held at Villa Dohrn, the former summer house of Anton Dohrn, the founder of the Stazione Zoologica, and the current Laboratory of Benthic Ecology. The house is situated above the port of the beautiful island of Ischia overlooking the Gulf of Naples.

The school has an excellent record. Many of our former students have gone on to faculty positions, confirming that we do indeed attract and select the best. That students unanimously rate the learning and networking experience extremely highly. Some have also come back to teach the course (e.g., Anna Märker and Julia Voss in 2005 and 2007) suggesting that we are significantly enhancing the quality of advanced training in the field. Questionnaire feedback on the 2011 school was outstanding. In the past, the Summer School is supported by funds from the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (Naples), the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin), and the Wellcome Trust. Past funders include the Volkswagen Foundation.

The theme for 2015 is 'Geographies of Life'. For more information, see the Ischia Summer School website.

This project, which ran until September 1996, was funded by the University of Exeter and Exeter Hospitals Heritage Trust. The initial remit was to locate and list medical records (especially those in hospitals) in the Exeter area. The information gathered was entered onto a database. After September 1996 the project was then extended to cover the records of Community Services in the Exeter and East Devon areas of Devon, and GP records. The staff involved with the project were as follows: Professor Joseph Melling (Director), Mr Alasdair Paterson (Director), Professor Jonathan Barry (Director), Dr Paul Weindling (Consultant), Mrs Gillian Falla (Archivist), Mr Robert Turner (Researcher), Marea Bee (Administrator).

All enquiries should be directed to the Devon Record Office, which now houses the records.

The Centre for Medical History, in partnership with the Devon & Exeter Medical Society and Imaginarium (Learning Consultants), successfully secured a People Award from the Wellcome Trust to engage the interest of school students (GCSE & A level) and medical students in the history of medicine and surgery. Working with Devon & Exeter Medical Society's extensive collection of historical medical instruments, the project identified, formally accessioned and digitally photographed a core collection from over 6000 artefacts, archive items and ephemera.

The project encompassed four key phases of work:

1. The development of an education partnership programme with secondary schools in the South West.
2. The identification and establishment of a handling collection.
3. The identification and establishment of a teaching collection.
4. The creation of e-learning resources to complement and extend physical access to the collection.

'Medicine, Health and the Arts in Post-war Britain' was a series of Wellcome Trust-funded interdisciplinary seminars designed to bring together undergraduate and postgraduate students, early career academics, health practitioners and arts therapists to explore the post-war relationship between medicine, health and four art forms: art, music, literature and drama.

Building on the success of the event 'From The Cradle to the Grave: Reciprocity and Exchange in Medicine and the Making of the Modern Arts' held at the University of Exeter in April 2011 and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the main premise of the seminar series is that the relationship between medicine, health and the arts can only be understood by examining the processes of exchange between them.

Each individual seminar comprised of three speakers and began with an introductory overview, followed by a 'case study' of the post-war impact of the art on medicine/health/wellbeing and another paper which was a 'case study' of the reverse.

Seminars were held at St. Nicholas Priory, Exeter (with the exception of 16th March at Bristol University) and took place on the following dates:

  • Friday 3rd February 2012, 6.15pm-8.45pm (Art)
  • Friday 16th March 2012, 2:30pm-6pm (Literature, Bristol)
  • Tuesday 1st May 2012, 6.15pm-8.45pm (Music)
  • Friday 25th May 2012, 6.15pm-8.45pm (Drama)

Seminar posters

A Comparative Study of the Admission and Treatment of Multiple-entry Patients in English Mental Hospitals, c. 1948–1970

The aim of this two-year Wellcome Trust funded project is to assess the character, quality and impact of institutional care provided to NHS mental health patients and the main influences on residential admission and discharge during the period 1948–1970. In partnership with Devon and Gloucester Record Offices, researchers will evaluate the service offered by mental hospitals before 1970 by examining in detail the people admitted to hospital, concentrating on patients who were resident in hospitals more than once. The project will compare two areas of southern-England in an attempt to understand the relative weight of social circumstances (such as family life) and clinical diagnoses by general practitioners and psychiatrists, in decisions to admit, treat and release patients. Researchers will also explore the introduction of drugs to patients and if such medical intervention better enabled the patient to control their symptoms and manage their lives.

Dr Nicole Baur has been appointed as Associate Research Fellow to this project.

Ever since physicians began investigating allergy in the early twentieth century, food allergy has been controversial. Allergists have debated the incidence of food allergy, what symptoms it can cause, why it occurs and even its definition. Consequently, the meaning of food allergy, for patients, physicians and the public, has changed throughout the century. Dr Matthew Smith worked on a 3-year Wellcome Trust-funded project on the history of food allergy, comparing experiences and understandings of food allergy in the United States, Canada and Britain.

Matthew's previous research explored the history of hyperactivity in the United States and, especially, the history of the Feingold diet, a treatment regimen that advocated removing food additives from the diets of hyperactive children. This project was recently awarded the Pressman-Burroughs Wellcome Award by the American Academy for the History of Medicine.

In April 2015, Dr Nicole Baur was awarded a Heritage Lottery grant for a two-year project entitled ‘Remembering the Mental Hospital’. This project aims to produce an audio-visual archive exploring mental illness from a social perspective. Volunteers of all ages are invited to catalogue correspondence between patients / their relatives and the hospital as well as to share their own stories and experiences with the hospital. The information collected in this project will complement an existing database containing information from over 20,000 patient files originating in this institution and a digital collection of reports by various Medical Superintendents and the (unfortunately titled) Commissioners of Lunacy which Dr Baur created in previous projects. This extraordinary combination of surviving artefacts helps us trace changes in societal attitudes towards mental illness, whilst providing a unique window into in-patient mental health care in Devon through a ground-breaking combination of voices of medical experts, patients, and their relatives.

‘Remembering the Mental Hospital’ works in collaboration with the Exeter based arts-for-health charity Magic Carpet and during the duration of the project we will organise 15 arts workshops designed to engage the public with their mental health history in creative ways. In addition to local workshops, ‘Remembering the Mental Hospital’ has also been represented at major national events, such as the ESRC Social Science Festival in November 2015 where we displayed outputs from the workshops in an interactive exhibition and a theatrical performance re-enacted patients’ journeys into and out of the Hospital. Besides Magic Carpet, Dr Baur also works closely with Recovery Devon and the Recovery Learning Community. Overall, Dr Baur aims for the project to engage members of the local community with their mental health heritage and to provide opportunities for interested people to enhance their skills through volunteering on the project (e.g. supporting the cataloguing of the correspondence or assisting with interviewing).

To find out more about work done on the Devon County Mental Hospital by Dr Nicole Baur, visit the project website.

If you are interested in participating / volunteering on the project, please email us or contact us on Facebook ( 

This 18-month project, led by John Draisey, County Archivist, Devon Record Office, was funded by The Wellcome Trust Research Resources scheme. Dr Nicole Baur and Eliza Newton sorted, appraised, conserved and catalogued Exe Vale Hospital files for research purposes.

Preliminary Progress Report

Progress Report, November 2008-February 2009

  • Dr Staffan Müller-Wille (Principal Investigator)
  • Dr Isabelle Charmantier (Associate Research Fellow)

As a consequence of overseas discoveries, early modern scientists were faced with what has been termed the "first bio-information crisis". The sheer amount of exotic, hitherto unknown species that reached the shores of Europe forced scientists to reconsider the ways in which they wrote and thought about the natural world. Paper technologies had to be developed that allowed to process large amounts of new information, and these technologies in turn allowed early modern naturalists and physicians to think in new ways about the "order of nature".

The aim of this four year Wellcome Trust funded research project was to explore these processes through a detailed reconstruction of the ways in which the naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) assembled, filed, and cross-referenced information about plants and their medicinal virtues. Linnaeus has been described as a "pioneer in information retrieval." In particular, Linnaeus was one of the first to suggest that "natural" plant genera and families share similar pharmaceutical virtues, and that herbal drugs might be sought out on that basis. His manuscripts, held at the Linnean Society (London) and in a few Swedish institutions (Uppsala Carolina Rediviva Library, Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm…), provide an excellent opportunity to understand how information processing practices determine such ideas.

Through a detailed study of these manuscripts we were able to reconstruct how Linnaeus experimented with a variety of paper-based information technologies throughout his career – including commonplace books and notebooks, maps, schematic diagrams and drawings, collections of loose paper sheets, sometimes folded up to form slim files, annotations in interleafed copies of Linnaeus's own publications, and paper-slips resembling index cards. His "natural system" emerged not out of direct observation of nature, but out of Linnaeus's day-to-day work of revising and rearranging what he and others had written earlier.

The results of this project enabled the Linnean Society to seek support from the Mellon Foundation for the full cataloguing and digitisation of its Linnaean manuscript collection.

This project was awarded two grants by the Wellcome Trust, £119,746 for 2009-2013 and £28,000 for 2012-2013. 

Past events

11-13 January 2012: the Linnean Society of London hosted a conference funded by the Wellcome Trust and the British Academy, entitled "Worlds of Paper. Writing Natural History from Gessner to Darwin".
17 June 2010: the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science hosted the workshop "Paperwork. Writing (in) Books, 1650-1850".

Research articles in peer-reviewed journals

I. Charmantier. 'Carl Linnaeus and the Visual Representation of Nature', Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 41 (2011), 365-404.
S. Müller-Wille and I. Charmantier. 'Natural History and Information Overload: The Case of Linnaeus', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (2012), 4-15.
S. Müller-Wille and I. Charmantier. ‘Lists as Research Technologies’Isis 103:4 (2012), 743-752.
S. Müller-Wille and K. Böhme. '"In der Jungfernheide hinterm Pulvermagazin frequens": Das Handexemplar des Florae Berolinensis Prodromus (1787) von Karl Ludwig Willdenow', NTM – Journal of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine 20:4 (2012).
S. Müller-Wille. 'Systems and How Linnaeus Looked at Them in Retrospect', Annals of Science 70:3 (2013).

Other publications

S. Müller-Wille and S. Scharf. 'Indexing Nature: Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) and His Fact-Gathering Strategies', Working Papers on The Nature of Evidence: How Well Do 'Facts' Travel? 36 (2009).
S. Müller-Wille. 'Vom Sexualsystem zur Karteikarte. Carl von Linnés Papiertechnologien', in Nicht Fisch – nicht Fleisch. Ordnungssysteme und ihre Störfälle, edited by T. Bäumler, B. Bühler and S. Rieger (Zürich: diaphanes, 2011), 33–50.
S. Müller-Wille and Sara Scharf. 'Indexing Nature: Carl Linnaeus and His Fact Gathering Strategies', Svenska Linnesällskapets Årsskrift (2011), 31–60.
J. Delbourgo and S. Müller-Wille, guest editors. Isis Focus Section ‘Listmania’, Isis 103:4 (2012).

In preparation

I. Charmantier and S. Müller-Wille. 'Inventing the Index Card: Carl Linnaeus’s Botanical Paper Slips', Intellectual History Review (submitted, under review).
S. Müller-Wille and I. Charmantier. 'The Genesis of Carl Linnaeus's Sexual System' (in preparation for British Journal for the History of Science).
I. Charmantier and S. Müller-Wille. 'Linnaeus’s Materia Medica' (in preparation for Bulletin Hist. Med.)


Linnean Society of London (for the Linnean Society Collections online)
Linné Online, Uppsala Universitet
Linnaeus’s titles on the Biodiversity Heritage Library

The Project 

The project, funded in 2015 by the Wellcome Trust, focuses on the Italian physician Santorio Santori (1561-1636) and, by means of his works, on the emergence of quantifying procedures in medicine at the end of the Renaissance.

Santorio has been considered the first to introduce the quantification of specific metabolic processes (namely the so-called perspiratio insensibilis) in his work Ars de statica medicina (Venice 1614) and for many physicians of the seventeenth and eighteenth century his legacy has been as important as the one of William Harvey. He invented also many scientific instruments still used today in clinic (among them was the thermometer) and, long before Descartes, Santorio applied the model of clockwork to the body in order to study its main functions.


Santorio remains still today a quite ignored figure, especially in the English-speaking world. As such, the relevance of the project consists not only in its intrinsic novelty and in its methods, that will involve a wide-range research in many archives of Europe, but also in his approach to the question of quantification. Indeed, such a research has the possibility to reshape an important field of knowledge, that is to say the relevance of statics experiments in the history of physiology and the impetus toward quantification and controlled experimentation that would lead European medicine from the qualitative approach of the Galenic system to the quantitative approach of the Iatromechanicism (Borelli, Descartes, Boerhaave, etc.).


The project is built on three fundamental questions. 

  1. How does the need for quantification and controlled experimentation emerge in Italian medicine of the late sixteenth century?
  2. How did the invention of apparatuses and tools for patients’ care affect the conceptions of Santorio Santori and late-Renaissance physicians?
  3. How did Santorio’s methods influence the development of the later physiology and what was their impact on so-called Iatromechanics?


The project proposes to study Santorio’s links with the Galenic and Hellenistic Medical tradition, exploring underlying elements of continuity and innovation in his work, while considering the invention and fabrication of instruments as one of the turning point of his legacy. Santorio’s manufacturing of scientific devices will be considered in the framework of late-Renaissance technology as well as the theoretical knowledge required in manufacturing them. Accordingly, a reconstruction of their inner mechanism is also foreseen. The research shall consider also if and what kind of precision such instruments were able to guarantee as well as the type of experiments undertaken by Santorio. Finally, the project will focus on a comparative and systematic study of later editions and commentaries of Santorio’s Ars de statica medicina in order to show how his legacy was continued and transformed through seventeenth and eighteenth-century medicine. 

For more information on the project, please contact Dr Fabrizio Bigotti

Project Conference

Humours, Mixtures and Corpuscles

18 - 20 May 2017
Domus Comeliana, Pisa

Medical Research and Contested Knowledge in the Twentieth Century

The aim of this 4-year research programme is to develop a critical history of stress, which traces the emergence and proliferation of stress research from its origins in the early decades of the twentieth century through to the 1980s, by which time stress had become a recognised, albeit still contested, field of research. The research team will examine the history of laboratory and clinical studies of stress and the emergence of stress as an occupational disease, as well as popular understandings and experiences of stress.

The programme concentrates on British, American, and Canadian research, since studies in these countries largely dictated the direction of later work in the field. However, we also aim to examine the international transmission of ideas from both comparative and trans-national perspectives. The research will be directed largely to civilian literature on stress, since the related conditions of battle fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder and shellshock have already received detailed attention. We propose to engage with scholars working in these areas of military and refugee trauma through seminars and conferences already planned at Exeter.

This research project is funded by a Wellcome Trust Programme Grant.

The project includes a series of public lectures on stress-related topics, with papers from a variety of speakers, including academics, clinicians and others. Some of the sessions take place on campus, and others at venues in the city centre.

Project staff

Professor Mark Jackson

Professor Joseph Melling

Dr Edmund Ramsden

Dr Debbie Palmer

Advisory board

Dr Steve Brown, Loughborough University

Professor Cary Cooper, Lancaster University 

Dr Otniel Dror, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Professor Alex Haslam, University of Exeter 

Dr Rhodri Hayward, Queen Mary, University of London

Dr Allan Young, McGill University

Public events

Wednesday 4th November 2009, Dr Joanna Bourke, Birkbeck College
Gendering Fear: A History of the Traumatic Languages of Sexual Violence
5.00 pm, Poldhu Room, Kay Laboratories (no. 24 on Streatham campus map)

Monday 2nd November 2009, Ed Ramsden, Centre for Medical History
The Suicidal Animal: Science and the Nature of Self-destruction
8.30 pm, Cafe Scientifique, Phoenix Arts Centre

17th March 2009, Professor Cary Cooper, Lancaster University (session to be chaired by Professor Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor)
The changing nature of work: the stressor for the 21st Century
5.00 pm, Poldhu Room, Kay Laboratories (no. 24 on campus map)

11th November 2008, Dr Allan Young, McGill University
Who put the stress on post-traumatic stress, and what makes it work?
5.00 pm, Poldhu Room, Kay Laboratories (no. 24 on campus map)

September 2006
The Centre for Medical History hosted speakers from a variety of backgrounds at a workshop on the History of Stress in September 2006. As work on the Stress project progresses, links with other professionals and institutions will be developed as part of our dissemination and outreach strategy.

National Stress Awareness Day

National Stress Awareness Day is on Wednesday 6 November 2013. It is publicised and facilitated by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA).

ISMA defines stress as "an adverse response to what an individual perceives as too much pressure". It is generally agreed that stress is not good for you, and that there are some unhealthy and negative symptoms associated with it.

A Labour Force Survey has estimated that self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for an estimated 13.5 million lost working days in Britain in 2007/08. The Health & Safety Executive reported in the 2007 Psychosocial Working Conditions survey that approximately 13.6% of all working individuals thought their job was very or extremely stressful.

A huge body of self-help advice and information in various forms and of varying quality has grown up around the phenomenon of "stress". Links to a few online resources are included below:

  • (information and advice on workplace stress)
  • Health & Safety Executive (more information and advice on dealing with workplace stress)
  • Netdoctor (advice on spotting and dealing with stress symptoms)

Please email Claire Keyte if you would like to suggest any other useful links and sources of information.