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Dr Chris Sandal-Wilson

Lecturer in Medical History

I am a historian of medicine and psychiatry, British colonialism, and the modern Middle East, with secondary research and teaching interest in interdisciplinary approaches to mental health today and LGBTQ+ history. My first book, Mandatory Madness: Colonial Psychiatry and Mental Illness in British Mandate Palestine, will be published in early 2024 by Cambridge University Press. Research from that project has also been published in the Historical Journal, Contemporary Levant, the Jerusalem Quarterly, Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, and an edited book on the social history of Palestine.

I have also published separately on the history of migration within the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British empire in the western Indian Ocean, for Modern Asian Studies, and on the haunting resonances between the contemporary Covid-19 crisis in UK care homes and the experiences of patients and nursing staff in a nineteenth-century English asylum during the devastating mid-century cholera pandemic, for the Conversation in summer 2020.

I am currently in the early stages of a new research project, supported by the Palestine Exploration Fund and Council for British Research in the Levant, which explores the intersection between histories of migration and displacement and histories of mental illness and treatment in the twentieth century across a wider geogaphy within the Middle East and North Africa.

I joined the University of Exeter in September 2021, having previously been a Lecturer in the History of the Modern Middle East at the University of East Anglia (2019-21) and Birkbeck College, University of London (2018-19). Before that, I was at the University of Cambridge, where I achieved my BA, MPhil, and PhD, all in the Faculty of History. I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Association, and have enjoyed teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses on global health histories, survey modules on the history of the modern Middle East, and advanced modules on the history of Israel/Palestine. In 2022, thanks to nominations from my students, I was delighted to receive a college teaching award in the category of 'Outstanding Teaching'.

 

Research interests

I am primarily interested in the histories of medicine and psychiatry, the modern Middle East and particularly Palestine, and British colonialism. My work to date has focussed on the intersection between all three of these areas, through my research on the history of colonial psychiatry and mental illness in Palestine in the first half of the twentieth century. Within that project, I have been particularly interested in: the emergence of the psy-disciplines in the modern Middle East; the transition between the Ottomans and British in Palestine; histories of migration and connection which embed Palestine within the wider regional context; the relationship between psychiatry and religious 'alternative' understandings and practices around 'mental illness'; the agency of Palestinian families in petitioning on behalf of relatives deemed mentally ill; the use, re-use, and haunting of particular sites within Palestine across the century; the connection between political violence and mental illness; and the nature of the relationship between Palestinian Arabs, European Jews, and the British mandate between 1920 and 1948. For me, the history of psychiatry and mental illness opens up new and exciting social histories of Palestine.

I am additionally engaged in three ongoing research projects:

  • together with my colleagues Dr Helen Birkett and Dr Hannah Young I co-lead a project marking the 20th anniversary of the repeal of Section 28 in November 2023, a core component of which is conducting oral history interviews with people in the Southwest who lived through Section 28
  • developing a research network with my colleagues Dr Semih Çelik and Dr Maziyar Ghiabi on health and environment humanities in the Middle East and North Africa, starting with our Healthscapes workshop at the end of July 2023
  • leading on a GW4-funded interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues from neuroscience, mental health nursing, performance studies, and classics on archiving, mental health, and the Covid-19 pandemic

Research supervision

I welcome inquiries from prospective research students interested in the histories of medicine and psychiatry, the modern Middle East and particularly Palestine, and British colonialism. I would be especially happy to discuss research proposals with prospective students interested in working at the intersections of these areas. Please do reach out to me by email if you have an idea for a research project which you would like to discuss - I would love to hear from you!

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