Medicine and Modernity Conference Report

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On 10th and 11th September, the Diseases of Modern Life team held its main conference, ‘Medicine and Modernity in the Long Nineteenth Century’ at St Anne’s College, Oxford. Over the weekend, we explored phenomena of stress, overload, overpressure, and other disorders associated with the problems of modernity in the nineteenth century. Discussion, both online and offline, was extremely rich and we had over three hundred conference tweets throughout the two days. A storify summary of the event is available here.

Our first keynote speaker, Professor Christopher Hamlin, delivered a lecture entitled ‘What is your Complaint? Health as Moral Economy in the Long Nineteenth Century’, in which he spoke persuasively about the different states, perspectives, and currencies of health which operate outside of, or at times even in conflict with, those medical histories and diseases that are largely defined by doctors. Professor Hamlin’s address is available here:

Our second keynote was delivered by Professor Laura Otis and entitled ‘What’s at Stake in Judging the Health and Pathology of Emotions?’ In her presentation, Professor Otis asked under what circumstances emotions – or lack of emotions – might be considered pathological, and she offered a reading of Dickens’s Miss Havisham as a woman paralysed by anger, who demonstrates the widespread damage that one angry person can do. Professor Otis’s address is available here:

One delegate remarked during a coffee break that he had at first been uncertain about the parameters of our conference, as in many ways our call for papers might apply equally to the nineteenth century and to the twenty-first.  And this was certainly a frequent refrain in many of our panels. As parallels were continually drawn to  present day stresses and strains, questions were raised about how much has in fact changed and what we might learn from our studies of the past. Many of our speakers responded to this challenge by tracing productive discussions across the fields of literature, science, and medicine, or by providing rich comparative perspectives from international viewpoints, drawing on sources from Finland to France, Germany, America, Japan, India, South Africa, and the South Pacific to reveal connections between physiological, psychological and social health, or disease. What emerged through this work was a far more integrative and holistic approach to notions of disease, one that disrupted the frequent compartmentalization of psychiatric, environmental, emotional, and literary histories in present practice in order to offer new ways of contextualising the problems of modernity.

Over the coming weeks, we will be featuring a selection of our speakers’ papers in the form of blog posts on the website, in order to continue the rich discussions started at the conference. We hope you enjoy them.

The Diseases of Modern Life Team

Medicine and Modernity in the Long Nineteenth Century

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‘Picturesque London – or, sky-signs of the times’, Punch, 6 Sept 1890.

Medicine and Modernity in the Long Nineteenth Century
St Anne’s College, University of Oxford
Saturday 10 – Sunday 11 September 2016

In this two day interdisciplinary conference, hosted by the ERC project Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth Century Perspectives, we will explore the phenomena of stress and overload, and other disorders associated with the problems of modernity in the long nineteenth century, as expressed in the literature, science, and medicine of the period. By tracing the connections drawn between physiological, psychological and social health, or disease in the era, we aim to offer new ways of contextualising the problems of modernity facing us in the twenty-first century. We are particularly interested in comparative perspectives on these issues from international viewpoints.

Keynote Speakers: Professor Laura Otis (Emory College of Arts and Sciences) and Professor Christopher Hamlin (University of Notre Dame)

Registration: Conference registration is now open and online bookings can be made here. If you are presenting at the conference, please ensure that you use the Speaker Registration link.

The standard registration fee is £35. The student/concession registration fee is £20. The fee includes lunch and refreshments on both days, and a drinks reception and dinner on Saturday evening.

Registration closes on Friday 19th August 2016.

Conference Programme: The full programme is available here.

Contact: For all enquiries, please contact

Venue: Ruth Deech Building, St Anne’s College, Woodstock Road, OX2 6HS. Information on travel to Oxford and St Anne’s College is available here.

Accommodation: A limited number of single en-suite rooms are available at St Anne’s College for the nights of Friday 9th and Saturday 10th September. If you wish to stay at St Anne’s for one or both nights, please book as soon as possible. Bookings can be made via the conference registration link above. The rate is £75.00 per night for bed and breakfast.


If you wish to book hotel accommodation, we can suggest the following:

Cotswold Lodge Hotel, 66a Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6JP (7 minute walk from St Anne’s) + 44 (0)1865 512 121

Bath Place Hotel, 4-5 Bath Place, Holywell Street, Oxford OX1 3SU (15 minute walk from St Anne’s)  + 44 (0)1865 791 812

St Margaret’s Hotel, 41 St Margaret’s Road, Oxford OX2 6LD (10 minute walk from St Anne’s)  + 44 (0)1865 433 864

Best Western Linton Lodge Hotel, Linton Road, Oxford OX2 6UJ (15 minute walk from St Anne’s)  + 44 (0)1865 553461

Parklands Bed and Breakfast, 100 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6JU (15 minute walk from St Anne’s)  + 44 (0)1865 554 374

The Galaxie Hotel, 180 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7BT (25 minute walk from St Anne’s) + 44 (0)1865 515688

University Rooms, Accommodation in University of Oxford Colleges.

Oxford Attractions

Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and although it has expanded over the years to accommodate growing numbers of readers, its central and oldest buildings remain intact. The Library runs a number of tours, including glimpses inside the 15th-century Divinity School and the medieval Duke Humfrey’s Library. The recently renovated Weston Library (across the road from the Old Bodleian) also hosts regular exhibitions of rare materials from the University’s collections.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History, founded in 1860, houses the University’s collection of zoological and geological specimens within a stunning neo-Gothic building. Don’t miss the Pitt Rivers Museum, accessed through the back of the Natural History Museum, which contains three impressive floors of ethnographic and archaeological objects, including musical instruments, masks, and amulets.

University of Oxford Botanic Garden
The University’s Botanic Garden is the oldest in Britain, and is still used as a teaching resource in the biological sciences. The Garden includes both scientific and ornamental collections – the former including a Medicinal Collection – and several glasshouses.

Museum of the History of Science
The Museum of the History of Science houses an extensive collection of scientific instruments, from astrolabes to photographic equipment. The Museum also runs regular volunteer-led tours for visitors.

University Parks
The University Parks are an oasis in the heart of the city, bordered by the River Cherwell. As well as offering a vast space to relax in the Parks include the ‘Genetic Garden’ dedicated to Oxford Professor of Botany Cyril Dean Darlington, which highlights the diversity and evolution of the plant kingdom.

Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean is the University’s museum of art and archaeology, containing a huge variety of objects from Egyptian ceramics to the famous Anglo-Saxon Alfred Jewel. Special exhibitions during September include ‘Monkey Tales’ to celebrate the Year of the Monkey in 2016 and ‘Storms, War and Shipwrecks’, investigating underwater archaeology.