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Author Archive: Giskin Day

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British Society for Literature and Science Conference 2013 – Call for Papers

This conference would welcome perspectives from Medical Humanities.

The British Society for Literature and Science invites proposals for papers and panels to be delivered at its eighth annual conference to be held in Cardiff, 11-13 April 2013.

The BSLS Conference does not have a theme (as it its usual practise) but especially welcomes proposals on the state of the field of literature and science as well as its relation to other fields. This year we would be particularly interested to receive proposals that reflect upon the interdisciplinary study of literature and science in the context of the debate about the present position of the humanities in academia. However, the Society remains committed to supporting proposals on all aspects of literature and science across all periods.

Proposals for papers of 15-20 minutes should be sent in the body of the email text (no attachments, please), to with the subject line ‘BSLS 2013 abstract’. Submissions should include the title of the paper, an abstract of no more than 300 words, a maximum of 3 keywords (placed at the end of the abstract), and the name and contact details of the speaker.

Closing date for submissions: 7 December 2012.

(Decisions will be made in January 2013)

Contributors interested in organising a panel or other special session, or who have suggestions for alternative forms of conference presentation, are warmly encouraged to contact the conference organisers. The organisers would welcome, for example, workshops on teaching literature and science, or on specific themes in literature and science that cross period boundaries, or on specific published works with considerable influence in the field. Please email the organisers on, using ‘BSLS 2013 Panel’ as the subject line in email correspondence.

Funding: a bursary of £150 will be awarded to a graduate student on the basis on the paper proposals. The student must be registered for a masters or doctoral degree on 9 January 2013. The conference fee will be waived for two further graduate students in exchange for written reports on the conference, to be published in the subsequent issue of the BSLS Newsletter. If you are interested in being selected for one of these places, please mention this when sending in your proposal.
Accommodation: please note that those attending will need to make their own arrangements for accommodation. Information on selected hotels will be available shortly on the conference website. As in previous years, we anticipate that the conference will begin at about 1pm on the first day and conclude at about 2pm on the last.
Membership: in order to attend the conference, you must be a paid-up member of the BSLS for 2013. We anticipate that it will be possible to pay the £10 annual membership fee when paying the conference fee online.


Visit the conference website 

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Medical Humanities 2012-05-17 03:22:00

It's time for the annual Medical Humanities art exhibition at Imperial. There is a really high standard of work this year (as always!), dealing with a range of interesting ideas.

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Retelling tales of Pregnancy and Birth conference update

There is now a full programme for this conference here. Helen King, conference organiser, has also let me know that thanks to generous funding from the Wellcome (love them!), the registration fee is very low, especially for post-graduates.

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Poet Sheila Black considers pain, disability, selfhood and ‘the problem of normal’

Interesting blog posting by Robin Amer about how poet Sheila Black has been inspired by the depictions of pain and selfhood evident in the work of Freida Kahlo.

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Medical Humanities and Engagement Grants

Medical Humanities and Engagement (MH&E) Grants provides funding for high-quality research and activities in the fields of medical humanities and public engagement with biomedical science. They aim to build and maintain research capacity in medical history and biomedical ethics while capitalising on opportunities to support the broader medical humanities.

The team manages the funding committees and associated budgets for the division’s grant programmes, monitors active grant portfolios, reports on outcomes and outputs of grants, evaluates the impact of Trust-funded projects and supports grantholders with their awards.

Details of the internship

You will be involved in capturing and presenting the outcomes of our funded research and activities. You will get a sense of what and how we fund, and you will have the opportunity to meet researchers and science communicators and attend some funded events.

In addition, you will help to plan and deliver public engagement grantholder packs and work with advisors to develop a framework for creative workshops in public engagement, helping to develop our grant-making capacity. You will also help to coordinate the planning and implementation of an event to celebrate five years of the Arts Awards.

Specific requirements

In addition to meeting the general eligibility criteria, you will need to be studying for a degree in life sciences or medical humanities and have good writing and communication skills. Some previous experience of devising and collating content for the web would be useful, and an interest in the work of the MH&E Division (in particular, science communication, public engagement, medical humanities, the history of medicine and/or biomedical ethics) will be an advantage.

More details here

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Retelling familiar tales of pregnancy and birth in European cultures

CALL FOR PAPERS: Retelling familiar tales of pregnancy and birth in European culturesTues 3rd-Weds 4th July 2012, OxfordPurpose of conferenceThis conference aims to bring together leading specialists from a range of the medical humanities with healthca...

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Book surgery

Artist Brian Dettmer turns old reference books into new works of art using surgical tools. Isn't this gorgeous?

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Association for Medical Humanities Annual Conference

University College Cork, July 9-11, 2012
The 2012 conference of the Association for Medical Humanities will take place at University College Cork, Ireland, with the kind support of the Wellcome Trust. Organised in conjunction with the Consortium for Medical Humanities, an inter-University initiative to develop research in Medical Humanities in Ireland, the theme is ‘Medical Identities: patients and professionals’, and we hope that it is one that will allow for a broad interpretation of the development of the profession, and of the people who use and serve it. Themes may include:

• Local, regional and national medical identities related to place and space.

• Medical migrants (movement in search of treatment and training)

• The impact of culture, politics and socialisation on medical practice

• The development of identities – professional hierarchies within and between specialisms

• Alternative therapies

• Rise of advocacy groups – the emergence of a collective patient identity

• Professional organisation – the development of the BMA/IMA

• Changes in identity as a result of medical intervention – amputees, etc.

• Medicine in war

• Patient as consumer: private medical care

• Charitable medicine – Medecins Sans Frontieres versus medical missionaries

Keynote Speakers:

Prof Ivor Browne, author of ‘Music and Madness’, Emeritus Prof of Psychiatry, UCD

Prof Jane Macnaughton, CAHHM, Durham University

Prof Steven King, Centre for Medical Humanities, University of Leicester

Conference Organising Committee:

Dr Oonagh Walsh, University College Cork, Dr Ciara Breathnach, University of Limerick, and Dr Olwen Purdue, Queen’s University Belfast.

Please send a 200 word proposal to the organisers at Suggestions for panels are also welcomed.

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Sublime Body seeks performers

A newly formed Arts Organisation called Parlour Arts is looking for artists and performers for their upcoming exhibition, "The Sublime Body". The exhibition will take place in the Parlour Space in Kentish Town 27th February- 4th March. They have alread...

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Classics for ethics?

I’ve been invited to deliver a masterclass in using classical literature to teach ethics at the Institute of Medical Ethics Conference next month. I’m really looking forward to it, not least because three former students are up for the Mark Brenner prize for creative approaches to ethical issues in clinical attachments. Good luck Matt, Rory and Rebecca.

Classical literature for narrative source material for ethics, as distinct from contemporary literature, has made me think about the characteristics of classics. For a novel or short story to be considered a classic, it has to have withstood the rigours of time and competition. Its themes, characters and/or plot have a value that transcends period and place, making it worthy of our attention – and still relevant -- many years after it was penned. Classics are paradigmatic. They are touchstones for cultural excellence. But does their status mean we come to them with a less open mind about the moral stances they might advocate?

Reading a classic absolves the reader of the judging whether something is ‘good literature’ or not. That decision has already been made collectively for us by cultural consensus, aided and abetted by those who decide school syllabuses, write textbooks or are editors for publishers’ ‘Classics’ series. I find that I approach the reading of a classic with a different mindset to when I read contemporary literature. When a text is taken for granted as ‘good’, I feel an obligation as reader to ‘be improved’ by my reading. I must seek out what has been deemed good about a text and be appropriately appreciative. Happily, this is rarely onerous. With the possible exception of Ulysses, I have enjoyed reading the canonical texts in medical humanities: Middlemarch, Madame Bovary, Magic Mountain… (is there a correlation between titles starting with ‘M’ and classic status?).

Writing in the introduction to the excellent book Stories and their Limits, Nelson says that ethics took a ‘personal turn’ in the 1980s away from the impartialist approach (with its emphasis on universalism) to focus instead on the value of moral significance of individual relationships (love, friendship, community). Might the ‘classic’ status of a text imply a framework of universalism that sets it at odds with the preoccupations of the personal that are intrinsic to narrative ethics? Do classics already have a presupposed strong moral force that is inescapable for the reader? It is well known that we practise ‘confirmation bias’ in that we tend to favour stances that support positions that we are already committed to. If a narrative has attained classic status, it might well be because it tells us a story that conforms to a collective sense of morality. Can we then be sufficiently critically available enough to really open up a text to moral investigation? After all, as John Arras writes in his sardonically entitled chapter ‘Nice story, so what?’ (Stories and their Limits), ‘Ethics without judgment is not ethics.’

A counter-argument would be that classics are often provocative rather than complacent in their moral stances. The moral ambiguity in the writings of Shakespeare, Kafka, Shelley, Tolstoy, Chekhov and many of the other ‘greats’ is what helps to elevate their texts to ‘classic’ status. It contributes to why they are still amenable to seemingly inexhaustible analysis, in spite of all the intervening years of scholarship and debate.

Does a certifiably good story intrinsically have a moral dimension? The French literary critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve certainly thought so. He wrote in 1850: A true classic, as I should like to hear it defined, is an author who has enriched the human mind, increased its treasure, and caused it to advance a step; who has discovered some moral and not equivocal truth” (my emphasis). I think it is almost always possible to find a moral dimension in classic texts that have a medical motif. If ethical issues do not suggest themselves in the plot or character, there may be discussion points around the relationship of the author to matters medical, or about how medicine is represented as a profession. One of the advantages of studying classics is that it demands a consideration of context. It compels us to put aside current legal frameworks and norms, and really think about how morality is narratively shaped.

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