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Humboldt Professorship for medical historian

Professor Philip van der Eijk, Director of the Northern Centre for the History of Medicine and recipient of a series of major Wellcome Trust grants in the History of Medicine, has been awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship worth €3.5 million (around £3m). The Humboldt Professorship is awarded to scientists and scholars outside Germany, enabling them to carry out a large scale research project at a German university. It is one of the most prestigious European academic prizes and is awarded to up to ten researchers each year, usually in the fields of Natural Sciences, Medicine and Mathematics.

A Classicist and medical historian, Professor van der Eijk is the first ever successful candidate from the Humanities. Currently based at Newcastle University, Professor van der Eijk’s research focuses on Ancient and Classical Medicine, and he is Director of the Northern Centre for the History of Medicine – a partnership with Durham University funded by Wellcome Trust. Among his ongoing work supported by the Trust is an ambitious project to translate into English the complete works of Galen, the most significant medical figure of the Roman period. 

The Humboldt award will support a new programme of research based at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Focusing on Classical Medicine and its reception in the Western medical tradition, Professor van der Eijk will address major questions about the dialogue between medicine and philosophy, medicine's engagement with the mind-body interface, the transfer of medical knowledge, and the relationship between medicine, moral values and religion. 

The programme will be carried out in collaboration with colleagues in Classics and Philosophy at the Humboldt University and the Free University Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science at Berlin, the Corpus Medicorum Graecorum project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, and the Medical History Department of Berlin's Medical School ‘Charité’. 

Professor van der Eijk will continue to be involved in research and related activities at the Northern Centre for the History Medicine, and he says the award will support the Centre’s international collaborations: “This is great news for our History of Medicine programme as the resources I will be able to draw on from Berlin will strengthen research projects funded by the Wellcome Trust. “More generally, the Humboldt award will enable further collaboration between UK and overseas medical historians and so strengthen the international dimension of the programme.” 

Dr Tony Woods, Head of Medicine, Society and History Grants at the Wellcome Trust, says: “Medical history is a fascinating subject – not only do we learn how previous cultures regarded health and sickness, but we can clearly see how their views have underpinned the development of medicine in our own society. The Wellcome Trust is delighted for Professor van der Eijk, and I believe his research in Berlin will complement his Trust-funded projects in Newcastle.  History of Medicine is one component of a growing trend in academia to study what we call medical humanities – social, cultural and artistic perceptions of good and ill health. It’s a sign of the recent intellectual surge in this field that the Humboldt Foundation have chosen a medical historian as the first ever Humanities researcher to receive this highly-esteemed award.”

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.

The Northern Centre for the History of Medicine promotes research in the History of Medicine of the highest international quality. It aims at consolidating and expanding the critical mass and further promotes research synergies in the subject (locally, nationally and internationally). The Centre provides undergraduate teaching and postgraduate training programmes (at Masters and PhD level) comprehensively covering medical history from antiquity until the 20th century and thus nurturing a new generation of History of Medicine scholars.

Members of the Northern Centre strengthen the History of Medicine component in the medical curriculum and enhance historical awareness among members of the medical profession.The Northern Centre supports effective outreach and public engagement across the region.

published on: 7th April 2009