Accounts of Illness in Historical and Modern Texts

illness pic

Dr Katherine Southwood (Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford) is hosting a conference on 'Accounts of Illness in Historical and Modern Texts: Exploring Methods in Medical Humanities Research Across Discplines'. This conference is supporting by the TORCH Medical Humanities programme

How can historical and modern accounts of illness experience which are textual be analysed in a methodologically rigorous way?

It is vitally important to establish rigorous methodologies when examining illness experiences in texts. Methods used for evaluation are the cornerstone upon which any arguments hinge. Without methodological strength, any analysis of modern illness experiences or of experiences in texts could be understood as uncritical and unhelpful.

Examples of the sorts of questions which this conference explores are how then can we access and understand representations of illness in texts? How should we attempt to classify such texts in terms of their genre; are poetic texts potentially fertile ground for this area of research? What is the significance of language and metaphor in texts? How should we contextualize illness experiences in texts? Are illness stories helpful for modern patients? How can modern patient stories be compared with historical texts? How can historical texts be understood in light of modern patient stories? Why is it important to examine illness experiences?

This day conference brings together academics who work with illness experiences and texts from a variety of disciplines in order to compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of approaches. Through this cross-fertilization of discussion, new methods could be introduced into existing disciplines and the opportunity for collaborative research presented.

Click here to read the call for papers.

Click here to register for your free ticket.



9:15 Introduction: Professor Katherine Southwood. Theology, University of Oxford.

9:30-10:15 ‘"Autopathography: the Patient's Tale". Dr Jeff Aronson. Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health, University of Oxford.

10:15-11 Title Medical case records in China's first dynastic history (2nd c. BCE): what readings might they afford? Professor Elizabeth Hsu. Anthropology, University of Oxford.


11:15-12:00 ‘'O, How Sweet is Ease!': Feeling Better from Illness in Early Modern England, c.1580-1720’ Dr Hannah Newton. History, University of Reading.

12:00-12:45 Title Reading Alzheimer’s disease in Sylvia Molloy’s Desarticulaciones (Disarticulations, 2010). Professor Olivia Vázquez-Medina. Spanish, University of Oxford.

Lunch 12:45-1:45

1:45-2:30 Title Science Fiction and the Illness Experience. Dr Anna McFarlane. Medical Research Centre, Glasgow University.

2:30-3:15 Why is it important to examine illness experiences? Catherine Kelsey. Nurse lecturer, University of Bradford.

Coffee 3:15-3:30

3:30-4:15 Title Medical Humanities: The Need to Define Concepts. Dr Therese Feiler. Theology, University of Oxford.

4:15-5 ‘A kind of grow-your-own narrative’?: Unwriting the cancer memoir in Jenny Diski’s In Gratitude Dr Lisa Mullen. English, University of Oxford.

Reception 5ff.


Medical Humanities

Contact name: Katherine Southwood
Contact email:
Audience: Open to all