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Opening the door to arts-and-science collaborations

Medical Humanities Strand image - Ecosystem

EcosystemEleanor Weaver, Whole Person Care, Year One, 2017

Five people, each exercising one of the five senses. Coloured lithograph after L.-L. Boilly. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

Five people, each exercising one of the five senses. Coloured lithograph after L.-L. Boilly.Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

Emotional baggage - Sense Cluster, Medical Humanities Strand

Ellie Harrison's Grief Series exhibition.Abby Ashley

14 September 2021

Our Medical Humanities research strand developed arts and humanities research by opening the door to arts-and-science collaborations. As the work of this strand comes to a close we look at at how it created and supported new arts-science collaborations by connecting researchers from all faculties together with clinicians and external partners.

In 2018, the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute awarded £50,000 of its Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support funding to a Medical Humanities research strand, led by Dr Victoria Bates (History), Professor Havi Carel (Philosophy), Dr John Lee and Professor Ulrika Maude (both English). The strand’s aim was to develop arts and humanities research at the University of Bristol by promoting intra- and inter-faculty interdisciplinarity, opening the door to arts-and-science collaborations, translational work and applied work. The strand promoted projects focussing on world-class inter- and multidisciplinary research on health, illness, and medicine.

Havi Carel says, "The strand enabled us to integrate existing work into a coherent and inclusive strand, as well as encourage new research. This funding was used to develop connections and collaborative research, multidisciplinarity, and external funding bids which will support further work in the future."

In its first year, the strand initiated a call for research clusters, four of which were successful: Chronic Conditions and their Narratives, Grief, Health and Illness in Colonial Film, and The Senses.  


Led by Dr Jimmy Hay (Film) and Dr Lesel Dawson (English), this cluster explored grief from a variety of perspectives, in keeping with the diverse research backgrounds of cluster members. During its first year the cluster examined the relationship between grief and artistic production in the form of a creative-practice-research-project, critically considering the creative process itself as a research methodology. In the second year, cluster members Dr Lucy Selman, Lesel Dawson and Jimmy Hay were awarded a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Award (£98,549) for the 2020 Good Grief Festival.  


Led by Dr Cleo Hanaway-Oakley (English), the senses cluster examined historical and contemporary understanding of the senses, and how they interact with he environment in the context of health. Over the year, the cluster held three events: an initial workshop entitled ‘Sensing a new era in mind-body research’, a seminar run in conjunction with the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science with invited speakers from the science Museum, London, and, finally, a workshop entitled ‘Sensing the Body-Machine Interface’.   

Dr Victoria Bates was also awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship for her project, ‘Sensing Spaces of Healthcare: Rethinking the NHS Hospital’ (£952,799). The project explores how people have experienced hospitals through time, and the legacy of their perceptions in current hospital design.   

Health and Illness in Colonial Film Archives 

Led by Dr Jacqueline Maingard (Film), this cluster focussed on representations of illness in colonial-era films held in archives such as the British Film Institute, the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection in Bristol, and the Wellcome Trust Moving Image Collection. This footage contained details of the prevalence of leprosy and malnutrition as well as sleeping sickness and other disabilities, and wider aspects of healthcare in the colonial period. 

Chronic Conditions and their Narratives 

Led by Dr Maria Vaccarella (English) and Professor Genevieve Liveley (Classics), the cluster studied specific narrative challenges faced by patients and clinicians in managing chronic diseases. Its aim was to understand how narrative competence – the ability to identify, acknowledge, interpret, and act on the plight of others can help to break down the divide between patient and health professional communications. 

In its second year the Medical Humanities strand funded a further six projects, in order to support the development of individual research ideas into mature proposals suitable for large external bids. 

  1. Dr Barbara Caddick (NHS) secured funding to explore how the historical management of common infections informs and explains current practice. Her ambition is to grow the research into a substantial programme of work which will eventually contribute to wider debates about antimicrobial use and resistance, leading to the development of patient and practitioner resources.

  2. Dr Lesel Dawson’s (English) project, with co-leads Dr Lucy Selman (Bristol Medical School) and Dr Cleo Hanaway-Oakley (English), examined grief and baby loss. The team created a film about stillbirth which was shown at the first Good Grief Festival.

  3. Professor Martin Hurcombe (French) led a project entitled ‘Physical Cultures’. The team sought to understand the benefits of physical activity, exercise and sport for a twenty-first-century population and the factors that inhibit the adoption of physically active lifestyles. I n close partnership with practitioners, the cluster developed practical measures for promoting positive behaviour change.

  4. Dr Catherine Lamont-Robinson (Arts and Health) and Professor Trevor Thompson (Bristol Medical School) secured funding for their project, ‘To See Ourselves’. They interrogated how students’ creative reflections may positively enhance the practices of clinicians, and patients’ experiences of consultations. This led to the development of new resources hosted on the outofourheads website. 

  5. Dr John Lee (English) and Dr Louise Younie (GP and medical educator) examined human flourishing through creative enquiry in medical education. Lee and Younie undertook two-site pilot research of participatory design, inviting medical educators, clinical and arts-based practitioners, and students to experience, create and think together.

  6. Professor Mary Luckhurst (Theatre) was awarded funding for research to develop a playscript, staged reading, and creative methodology about the life of Bristol-born Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in the USA. The piece will be performed in training hospitals and schools, with the long-term aim of reaching mainstream stages to promote women in science. 

Since its inception 2018, the Medical Humanities research strand has strived to create and support new arts-science collaborations by connecting researchers from all faculties together with clinicians and external partners for medical humanities research, enabling capacity building in Medical Humanities for collaborative work and bidding.

Further information

Connect with our current research communities.

Stillbirth, Neonatal Death and the Grief Journey (PDF, 5,791kB) leaflet

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