Two weeks ago the IHR held its 80th Anglo-American conference.  This topic was Health in History which presented the opportunity for historians to discuss a variety of health related histories and in some cases relate that research to current medical demands and political issues over the NHS and other medical authorities.  We have already uploaded a small selection of podcasts from this conference with more to follow shortly (click here for the Anglo-American 2011 conference podcasts.  In a future week I will discuss these in more depth.

In the meantime this special edition of the SPOT Newsletter selects three recent papers from our seminar groups on the topic of health.  These papers offer a varied approach to the topic beginning with Chris Hamlin asking why it is important for us to attempt a diagnosis of past illnesses.  Indeed, Hamlin argues that it is not so important which raises up some interesting questions in the subsequent discussion.  We then move onto voluntary organisations, first in the nineteenth century when there was a movement toward providing green spaces in urban centres for medicinal purposes.  Clare Hickman looks at the difficulties (especially financial limitations) involved for the voluntary organisations.  Then George Campbell Gosling shows us how these nineteenth century voluntary organisations coped with the changes of the twentieth century, particularly as they were consumed within the NHS.  The issue of payment and affordability are the crucial focus for this paper as it grapples with the voluntary and public hospitals just before they were consumed into the NHS in 1948. 


Global History seminar
21 March 2011
Chris Hamlin
Diseases long ago and far away: Does doctors’ knowledge answer historians’ questions?

Chris Hamlin takes a rather contentious position in this session of the Global History seminar which produced a good and interesting debate amongst those present.  Hamlin asks the question ‘why should we care?’ in regards to historians attempts to diagnose old diseases and illnesses through knowledge of modern medicine.  The problem with such diagnoses is that historians are rarely in a position to be able to say for certain and at any rate are imposing modern understandings of medicine onto medieval and early modern knowledge.  Does it matter what disease actually caused the Black Death and how useful, really, is statistics that suggest high percentages of deaths connected specifically to that one disease?  Hamlin argues that the understanding of the time is more important and that other illnesses and infections caused by (amongst other factors) malnutrition are often ignored in such simplistic categorisations.    Hamlin’s paper is about the practice of historians and asks the question whether changes should be made to the way we approach such subjects.  Debate throughout the presentation suggests that not everyone agrees with Hamlin’s position, but nevertheless does force them to find reasons why they think that way. 


Voluntary Action History
23 May 2011
Dr Clare Hickman (University of Bristol)
Nineteenth-Century Voluntary Organisations and Urban Green Spaces

The preservation of green spaces as parks, gardens and playgrounds first occurred on a large scale in the nineteenth century.  Medical authorities and voluntary organisations promoted them as therapeutic resources; a necessary escape from urban life.  Clare Hickman talks about the various voluntary organisations set up to safeguard green spaces for city dwellers.  The Commons preservation Society, Kyrle Society, Metropolitan Garden Society, and National Health Society amongst others took varied approaches towards this issue and took it upon themselves to promote green spaces.  The problem for local and medical authorities in regards to green spaces was not finding space – many green spaces were donated during the nineteenth century.  The problem was one of financing their upkeep – not until the 1870s-80s would councils feel confident asking their Constituents for rates that could go towards park upkeep.  This is where the voluntary organisations stepped in – providing finances to purchase and maintain parks and gardens for the public good. 

Related Resources: Carole O’Reilly and Matti Hannikainen, Urban Geen Spaces (14 March 2011)

Voluntary Action History
20 June 2011
George Campbell Gosling (Oxford Brookes University)
For the Sick Poor?  Payment and Philanthropy and the per-NHS Voluntary Hospital System, c. 1900-1948

‘Universal access to health care’ and ‘free at the point of use’ is branded about on a regular basis when government and media talk about the NHS particularly at times, like now, when government are pushing through major changes that reaches to the heart of the national health service .  However, in the debates we rarely consider what came before the NHS and, upon its foundation, what was decided and why.  George Campbell Gosling makes an excellent point.  Why have histories of British health care rarely focused on the issue of payments especially before the inception of the NHS?  It is because British historians working within the culture of the NHS are the people studying it.  In America, for instance, payment is a key focus of such studies in regard to their health systems as payment is still a key part of their system.  Campbell discussion of payment in pre-NHS hospitals is therefore not only interesting but highly relevant to current dilemmas affecting the NHS.