CPF: A Picture of Health

  • Laura Neff (Invited speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


While postgraduate medical historians have often had the opportunity to converse with each other through various forums, the wider field of medical humanities has been neglected. This student-led conference seeks papers from a wide variety of disciplines to show the divergent as well as similar themes running through the work of postgraduate medical humanities students. Sue Crossley from the Wellcome Trust will speak about funding opportunities for early-career researchers in the medical humanities.

Organised by an historian, a curator and a creative practitioner, this two-day conference will include workshops on methodological issues and give students the opportunity to present their research findings in a supportive and dynamic environment. We welcome papers from history, history of art, philosophy, anthropology, literature, film, or indeed any form of research into the relationship between medicine and wider culture.

I presented The Abdominal Abyss: The Surgical Exploration of Maternal Medicine in the Nineteenth Century The history of surgery and its entanglement with Empire has long been underexplored in the History of Medicine. Initially, abdominal surgery was considered unmanageable in the mid-nineteenth century; male abdominal surgery was only performed in cases of extreme trauma, violence or injury. It was not until the early twentieth century that abdominal surgeries were executed routinely, in men and women, for particular morbid conditions such as cancer, intestinal obstruction or extensive damage. However, the bodies of women in Britain in the long nineteenth century, in cases of difficult deliveries, complicated pregnancies or reproductive tumours presented an urgent and necessary entry into the abdominal cavity. Foetal life, as a medical priority, permeated the obstetric discourse of many surgeons, although this exploration of the female body was fraught with risk, and many practitioners, physicians or surgeons, refused to perform an abdominal operation even when there was no alternative method for delivery. From these womanly bodies’ surgeons created a female form that was increasingly abnormal, in a state of constant flux, requiring surgical intervention to avoid danger—yet ironically, many of these procedures exposed women and their unborn children to infection, disease and ultimately death. Thus, an examination of the social and cultural questions surrounding obstetric and surgical procedures reveals a truly compelling dialogue of medical ethics during an age of Empire.
Period4 Apr 20135 Apr 2013
Event typeOther


  • History of Medicine
  • History of Surgery
  • Nineteenth Century
  • Wellcome
  • Royal College of Art