The Medical Histories, Memories and Narratives Research Area has several cognate areas that interconnect in a dynamic way, mapping onto current and newly emerging research both in CMNH, but also across the University of Brighton with colleagues in the social and health sciences and Brighton Sussex Medical School. Drawing on a variety of disciplines in inter/transdisciplinary ways, research here offers innovative perspectives in histories of medicine and health, as well as clinical practice and medical ethics. Practice-based elements also include the creative arts and medical heritage where our community partnerships and funded projects are well established and particularly strong.

Our research contains dimensions that are social, cultural, philosophical, religious, theological, historical and clinical. The tranche of research concerned with Empire, colonial medicine and healthcare is allied with the Centre’s broader critical scholarship on anti and postcolonial studies, reparative histories, decolonising medical knowledge and imperial sites of memory. Research in the histories of medicine historicises disease and medical treatment, resisting medical narratives of progress and modernity, though seeking to adopt a critical methodology for analysing the continuation of such narratives in popular discourses and cultural memory.

As part of the broader field of medical humanities, our research is concerned with the experience or phenomenology of illness, disease, treatment and recovery. Within our area, for example, projects like ‘Everyday Cultures of Grief’ have created a rich terrain in which to investigate a range of discursive contexts between patient and practitioner. Concern with the phenomenology of illness does not preclude an analysis of the ways in which diseases are framed, narrativised and represented at any given time – with the interplay between these modes – and, of course, how they are subject to change over time. A key area of research is critical perspectives on narrative approaches and other methodologies within healthcare settings.

Our international partnerships include the Public Pedagogies Institute at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia, SELMA Centre at the University of Turku and the Mauritius Institute of Education (MIE).

Our local partnerships include, amongst many, Inroads Productions site-responsive theatre, Strike a Light Arts & Heritage CIC, British Polio Fellowship, The Keep, Mass Observation Archive, West Sussex Records Office and Brighton Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH).

Current projects and other activities:

Themes explored by our members include:

  • ‘Exploring Everyday Cultures of Grief’ oral history project with BSUH
  • Collaboration with Inroads Productions site-responsive theatre on National Lottery Heritage Funds oral history and intergenerational memory of the Spanish Flu
  • Historical census data for analysis of patterns in health and disease
  • Critical disability studies
  • Empire, disease, colonial medicine and global health, including decolonising medical knowledge / archive
  • Critical perspectives on the narrative turn in health and medicine
  • Oral histories and life stories in healthcare
  • War, trauma, memory and the somatic
  • Graphic Medicine
  • Histories of asylums
  • Medical heritage
  • Medical biography
  • Social and cultural histories of vaccination
  • Local medical histories and archival methods

Current collaborative research project:

Exploring Everyday Cultures of Anticipatory Grief (phase 1): is a collaborative piece of practitioner-led research in partnership with the Brighton-based theatre company, Inroads Productions. The project draws on a Heritage Lottery funded project that uses medical archival sources about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, as well as oral history interviews with descendants of families affected by that pandemic. Interviews with NHS key workers explore contemporary resonances and different emotional responses to the Covid-19 crisis. Capturing diverse histories, experiences, stories and reflections on the Spanish Flu, the collaboration was able to facilitate an agile and timely response to current pandemic illness and its unequal impacts. Using medical histories and histories of emotion, the project evidenced how traces of the past, invested with feeling, could be reinterpreted to gain fresh perspectives on archival sources that might speak to a shared collective experience, both in 1918 and now. The project used several interdisciplinary methods to gain insights into the processes of inter-generational memory, as well as different forms of history-making – for example, one of the oral history interviews was used by Inroads Productions as a learning tool for creative writing and the basis of a script, which was performed and screened as part of an online theatre production called Breaking the Silence hosted by Damn Cheek in Brighton in November 2020.

Everyday Cultures of Anticipatory Grief (phase 2): working with clinicians and practitioners within palliative care, this project has expanded to include a more capacious analysis of historical, cultural, narrative and ecologies of grief.

Current PhD research and PGR activity:

Martha Beard is currently working as a research assistant and oral historian with Drs Deborah Madden and Sam Carroll on the ‘Exploring Everyday Cultures of Death, Dying and Anticipatory Grief’ project, transcribing interviews from palliative care professionals describing their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. Her role also involves first-stage analysis to extract common themes from the interviews. Martha does this in addition to her PhD, which examines and evaluates the role of oral history as a peacebuilding tool in Northern Ireland – see Martha’s full Pure profile here.

Thomas Khan-White’s (BSMS) research interests include medical sciences, clinical psychology, history of medicine (pandemics, vaccination, and surgery) and local history. Khan-White has two first-name author publications, one on the Chattri Memorial and another on the Medical Officer Duncan Forbes MBE. He has presented at the International Psychological Applications and Trends Conference based in Lisbon and at the 6th Pacific Rim conference based in Melbourne. At both he presented on the ‘Effect of mindfulness meditation and coping strategies on affect and depression symptomatology among medical students during national lockdown – a prospective, non-randomised controlled trial’. He has also presented a paper at the 2nd Biennial Congress of the British Society for the History of Medicine in September 2021.

Rebecca Roberson’s PhD explores whether the production of women’s textile artefacts in asylums during the nineteenth century can be described as performing the functions of protest and subversion.

Staff researchers, postdoctoral researchers and research fellows:

Area convenor: Dr Deborah Madden. Dr Madden is a cultural and intellectual historian with research interests and publications that explore the cultural interface between religion, medicine, education, politics and culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Research specialisms include British Empire and feminist perspectives on nineteenth-century medical life-writings in colonial contexts, as well the formation of colonial medical knowledge and decolonising the medical archive and global health. She also has an expertise in the different narrative approaches within healthcare settings and their critical perspectives. She is currently leading the ‘Everyday Cultures of Grief’ project and has a developing research interest in the historical, cultural and mutable aspects of grief, which is informed by therapeutic practice.

Dr Sam Carroll is a life and community historian with research interests in medical humanities, oral history in healthcare settings in addition to British Postwar protest, memory and life stories. Sam represented CMNH on the Steering Group of the Royal Sussex County Hospital’s 3Ts HLF-funded project ‘Royal Sussex County Hospital, A People’s History from 1828’. She co-organised the University’s interdisciplinary network “Health, Heritage and Memory Hub” and most recently worked as consultant and oral historian for the ‘Everyday Cultures of Grief’ project.

Dr Max Cooper’s (BSMS) historical research examines the biography of clinicians in the context of medical education and clinical practice, especially in Sussex.  His current work explores the lives of 17th and 18th century doctors in Brighton and their efforts towards establishing early public medical services. This includes early smallpox vaccination centres, dispensaries and hospitals and the role of these early institutions in training doctors. He has recently compiled a teaching resource (with Dr Mike Okorie) on the life and scientific advances of Frederick Akbar Mahomed (1849-1884). Max is interested in the history of military and colonial medicine and is currently researching the lives of Brighton surgeons who fought in the Napoleonic wars.

Dr Laura Hughes (BSMS) is a research fellow in the Centre for Dementia Studies (BSMS) with an interest in dementia care and quality of life research. Laura’s research interests are in dementia and older adult social care. Her work focusses on quality of life in older adult care homes and how we can implement routine measurement of quality of life to improve outcomes for residents and staff in the care sector. She developed a quality of life measure that can be completed by care staff without the need for externally trained professionals, providing care homes with an independent means of understanding resident quality of life. She has an interest in working closely and collaboratively with care home staff during research to enhance pragmatic use of research findings. More broadly Laura is interested in many aspects of older adult health and social care such as care staff experiences of caring and public attitudes toward dementia and dementia care.

Dr Nichola Khan conducts interdisciplinary research into mental disorder, treatment, and recovery. Her work explores anthropology’s engagements with cultural psychiatry, medicine, law, humanitarianism, psychoanalysis, and global mental health. It also involves historical debates about culture and biology, through to ways mental disorder is shaped by institutional power and globalization, the increasing medicalization of psychiatry, colonialism and postcolonialism, and biological explanations subsequently centred around genetics, neuroscience, and ideas of heredity. She is the author of ‘Mental Disorder: Anthropological Insights’ (2017, University of Toronto Press), and has twice been nominated (2018, 2019) for the Boyer Prize of the American Anthropological Association’s Society for Psychoanalytic Anthropology. She recently conducted ANRS-funded research on irregular Pakistani migrants with HIV and Hepatitis in Paris; her latest book Arc of the Journeyman: Afghan Migrants in England (University of Minnesota Press) was nominated for the AAA Society for Humanistic Anthropology Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing 2021. Her current research investigates COVID-19 experiences and associated mental health impacts across three former British colonial sites with majority Chinese populations on the South China Sea: Hong Kong and the former Straits Settlements of Singapore and Penang. She has a book manuscript in preparation entitled ‘The Breath of Empire: Respiratory Legacies and Transgenerational Trauma in Anglo-Chinese Relations’.

Dr Hilary Morris’s research interests include military medicine and the development of medical education. She works in collaboration with Dr Seema Goburdun from the Mauritius Institute of Education (MIE) on archival material related to the cholera epidemics in the nineteenth century in Mauritius. Work here was presented by Dr Hilary Morris at the Oxford working party on “How epidemics end” in January 2021, with a book in the pipeline. Her work here also encompasses the ethics involved with decolonising the colonial archive and she is involved in initiatives to decolonise the curriculum at the University, but also more widely in primary and secondary education.

Dr Tania Staras has published extensively on the history of midwifery and maternity in the twentieth century, including The social history of maternity care published by Routledge in 2012. She has published on aspects of midwifery identity and professionalism from the late nineteenth century and made use of oral history to explore the working lives of both district and hospital midwives in the post-war period. Her current work is on the development of policy and practice in maternity between 1960-2000, particularly narratives of risk and normality; the development and impact of technology; and development of media in reflecting and ‘selling’ narratives of pregnancy and birth.

Dr Ian Williams (BSMS) is a comics artist and physician, as well as founder of

For full details of individual research interests, look at our Pure profiles.

To take part in our activities or to become a member of our research area please contact: Dr Deborah Madden: