Medicine, Health and Wellbeing

Image showing blue @HealthHumsNorth logo with graphic of a brain in background

The perception of truth is almost as simple a feeling as the perception of beauty; and the genius of Newton, of Shakespeare, of Michael Angelo, and of Handel, are not very remote in character from each other. Imagination, as well as reason, is necessary to perfection in the philosophical mind. A rapidity of combination, a power of perceiving analogies, and of comparing them by facts, is the creative source of discovery. Humphry Davy (1805) 

Northumbria’s Medicine, Health and Wellbeing in the Humanities Research Group reflects the University’s dedication to cross-disciplinary working to engage with some of the most important subjects to our society. With a chronological coverage from the early modern period to the present day, members of this group hold a variety of specialist interests in both physical and mental health, as well as the wider cultural management of the body. Our research has been supported by a range of funders such as the Leverhulme Trust, Wellcome Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), along with the Engineering and Physical Space Research Council (EPSRC), the Northern Bridge Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (AHRC), and the European Commission (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Research Fellowship Programme). 

White Wellcome logo on blue backgroundDark blue Leverhulme Trust logo

Our Research Group collaborates with other regional, national and international institutions and we are keen to test the boundaries and shape the future of medical and health humanities and its surrounding cultures. Examples of this type of work include the Wellcome Trust-funded ‘Thinking Through Things: Object Encounters in the Medical Humanities’ and AHRC-EPSRC-funded ‘Memoryscapes’ projects. Members of the group also work within and lead a range of learned societies including the Northern Network for Medical Humanities (NNMH), British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS), International Laurence Sterne Foundation, North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR), Contemporary Studies Network and the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies.

We enjoy working with the public and making positive contributions to contemporary problem-solving. We have worked with a variety of organisations including The National Trust, New Writing North, and Durham Book Festival. Exhibitions of members’ work have taken place at SNGMA, Edinburgh; Beaux Arts (ENSBA), Paris, Shandy Hall, Yorkshire; the Royal Society of Medicine, London and the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon. Our researchers also engage with UK Parliament and its processes for creating change. New members from across the University are always welcome, as is contact from organisations or prospective research students who might be interested in working with us. For further information follow us on Twitter: @HealthHumsNorth or email to our Research Group Lead, Professor Clark Lawlor


Across our wide array of interests, we have a number of signature themes that highlight just some of our current and developing research, as well as previous activities: 

Caption: Credit: Cambridge University Press, Clark Lawlor and Andrew Mangham, Literature and Medicine: Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century (CUP, 2021)The Language and Literature of Medicine 

At the core of our work is an active interest in literature, language and medicine. We enjoy exploring themes such as narrative medicine and the linguistics of health communication. Medical manuals, novels, poetry, periodicals, remedy books, manuscripts, comics, memoir, and policy make up just some of the types of writing with which our researchers work. Our current major project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, ‘Writing Doctors: Medical Representation and Personality, ca. 1660-1832’. Our researchers have also been working with the National Trust’s Seaton Delaval Hall and North-East families to provide fun-filled learning on medicine of the past through our performance event Georgians’ Marvellous Medicine

Mental and Cognitive Health, Illness, and Wellbeing

Mental and cognitive health and wellbeing has been a longstanding interest of Northumbria’s medical and health humanities team. One of our early collaborative research projects, ‘Before Depression’, established this as an interest which has only since grown. Our team engages not only with conceptualisations of mental health and how it has been culturally managed throughout time, but also the range of lifestyle factors to which mental wellbeing is connected. Community and outreach projects with organisations in the heritage sector bring arts and historical resources to health and social care challenges related to ageing. One of our current projects, ‘Writing the Sleep Crisis’, funded by the Wellcome Trust, explores how sleep, and lack thereof, is represented in contemporary writings across fiction, non-fiction, and digital culture. The project involves collaboration with the Northumbria Centre for Sleep Research. As part of the Being Human, the UK’s national festival of the humanities, the project’s Forty Winks Café brought the public into conversation about sleep patterns and health during a time of global pandemic. Find out more on Twitter: @writing_sleep.

Caption: Credit: Thermal Vision Research, Yoga practice illustrated with thermography, Wellcome CollectionEquality, Diversity and Inclusion for Health and Wellbeing

We engage with themes such as gender, sexuality, professional identity, disability, and education, examining how each affects health culture and experience. In November 2020 we ran our Sex Education Zine Café as part of the Being Human Festival. This event offered an opportunity for our researchers to come together with groups who have been underrepresented in the building and delivery of sex education, notably those who identify as being part of the disabled, queer, trans and women’s communities. Discussions focused on the past, present, and future of learning and how we can keep supporting a more inclusive education. Our team also has specific interests in women’s experience and participation in provision of maternity healthcare, including the hidden histories that influence how we understand and communicate important health messages today. Earlier research has also approached health equalities from a socio-economic perspective, such as our collaborative Leverhulme project ‘Fashionable Diseases: Medicine, Literature and Culture, ca. 1660-1832’. 

Caption: Credit: Richard James Lane, Florence Nightingale. Coloured lithograph (1854), Wellcome Collection

Health Inequalities and Place-Based Healthcare 

In order to think holistically about EDI in healthcare, we also need to be able to problem-solve in areas where we know that inequalities affect the health and wellbeing of particular communities and localities. Research and public engagement are powerful tools in working towards better futures for everyone and our institutional position within the North East means that we can support challenges both within our immediate environment and across the wider UK. Our staff team has experience in exploring these issues through interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches through discussions related to the effects of homelessness and poverty in accessing health and wellbeing services, expertise by experience (EbE), and the role of arts and culture in making underrepresented voices heard.  

Allied Health Humanities 

We take a special interest in allied health humanities and look to push the boundaries of the field to include nursing and midwifery. Work within our Group looks at inter-professional education, the heritage of allied health professions, and mentoring. Our latest Banner Project, funded by Northumbria’s Institute of Humanities, explores the contribution that humanities might have to make current challenges in midwifery and changes in models of care as outlined in the Better Births National Maternity Review and the more recent Ockenden Report. It is our belief that Humanities subjects have a significant role to play in the advancement of effective and sustainable healthcare and communication for the future. 

Caption: Credit: Odra Noel, Map of Health, Wellcome CollectionMembership

Professor Clark Lawlor (English Literature) (AFSS)

Emeritus Professor Allan Ingram (English Literature) (ADSS) 

Professor Christine Borland (Arts) (ADSS) 

Dr Helen Williams (English Literature) (ADSS) 

Laurence Sullivan (Leverhulme Trust PGR English Literature) (ADSS) 

Professor Katy Shaw (English Literature) (ADSS) 

Dr Diletta De Cristofaro (English Literature) (ADSS) 

Dr Alison Steven (Nursing and Midwifery) (HLS)  

Emma Croft (Social Work and Community) (HLS) 

Ann Creaby-Attwood (Law) (BL) 

Dr Katie Aske (English Literature) (ADSS) 

Dr Ashleigh Blackwood (English Literature, external member) 

Dr Mel Gibson (Social Work, Education, and Community Wellbeing) (HLS) 

Grace Denton (Arts PGR) (ADSS) 

Dr Leigh Wetherall Dickson (English Literature) (ADSS) 

Beth Brigham (Northern Bridge PGR, English Literature) (ADSS) 

Dr Mimi Huang (English Language) (ADSS) 

Dr Claire Nally (English Literature) (ADSS) 

Dr Katherine Butler (Music) (ADSS) 

Dr Helena Goodwyn (English Literature) (ADSS) 

Professor Monique Lhussier (Social Work, Education, and Community Wellbeing) (HLS) 

Professor Toby Brandon (Social Work, Education, and Community Wellbeing) (HLS) 

Professor Joanne Gray (Nursing, Midwifery, and Health) (HLS) 

Dr Christina Cooper (Social Work, Education, and Community Wellbeing) (HLS) 

Dr Patrick Randolph Quinney (Applied Sciences) (HLS)