School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

Literature, Health and Medicine

Literature, Health and Medicine

The intersection between literature, health and medicine is a dynamic area of research interest and activity in the School which extends across the Literature and Creative Writing subject areas.

Literature colleagues are particularly interested in asking how reading might relate to health and medicine, while colleagues in Creative Writing are engaged with questions of writing, creativity, and health.

Expertise ranges from the Renaissance to the contemporary periods, and this historical breadth is one of the distinctive strengths of the research cluster. Below is a list of staff research interests in this area:

  • Sue Bradley, Oral Historian and Research Associate. Oral history; veterinary life stories.
  • William Fiennes, Lecturer in Creative Writing. The intersections between creativity and illness.
  • Jennifer Richards, Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture. History of reading aloud in Renaissance England, including in birthing rooms, sick rooms, and anatomy theatres; reading aloud and health.
  • Andrew Shail, Senior Lecturer. Neurology and modernity; history of the 'discovery' of the purpose of menstruation during the long nineteenth century.
  • Anne Whitehead, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature. The representation of medicine/health in contemporary fiction; imagining health, care and citizenship.

Medical humanities is an interdisciplinary field of study and we work closely with:


Staff working in this area have a range of works published and in preparation:

  • William Fiennes' The Snow Geese (2002) and Music Room (2009) both reflect on illness and creativity
  • Jennifer Richards has published on the reading of Renaissance medical books
  • Andrew Shail has co-edited with Laura Salisbury Neurology and Modernity: A Cultural History of Nervous Systems, 1800-1950 (Palgrave 2010)
  • Anne Whitehead has published extensively on trauma and literature, and is currently writing a monograph for Edinburgh University Press titled Medicine and Empathy in Contemporary British Fiction

Anne Whitehead and Jennifer Richards are also editing the Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities (Edinburgh University Press) in collaboration with Sarah Atkinson, Jane Macnaughton, and Angela Woods of the Centre for Medical Humanities at the University of Durham.

Research projects

Staff have received and are involved in several major grants and awards. Jennifer Richards has been awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship for 'Useful Books: Reading and Talking in the English Renaissance'; and Sue Bradley runs 'Capturing Life in Practice', a collaboration between the Royal College Veterinary Surgeons, the Centre for Rural Economy (Newcastle) and the British Library to create a national archive of veterinary life-story recordings.

Anne Whitehead received funding from the Catherine Cookson Foundation to run a project on shared reading in the context of the First World War centenary. Linked to the art exhibition Screaming Steel: Art, War and Trauma, 1914-1918 (Hatton Gallery, September-December 2014), the project is titled Beyond Shell Shock: Care, Trauma and the First World War in British Fiction.


Research interests in this area also feed directly into teaching in the School. Anne Whitehead runs a very successful stage 3 undergraduate module Madness, Medicine and Modern Literature.

Jennifer Richards and Anne Whitehead have offered SSCs to stage 4 undergraduates in Medicine on Literature and Medicine.


The Medical Humanities Reading Group meets approximately every four to six weeks in the School of English. For further information email Anne Whitehead.

The Pseudo-Sciences of the Long Nineteenth Century reading group meets six times per year at the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne.