The Public Health Humanities network advocates for the importance of humanities research within public health; works to overcome barriers that prevent its inclusion; and facilitates connections amongst and between humanities researchers and the wider public health community.
The network is planning a range of seminars, workshops, and other events for 2023-24.
The Public Health Humanities network responds to calls for the integration of a wider range of disciplinary perspectives within public health, including long-standing work to incorporate history into public health education. Such initiatives have made a powerful case for the value of the humanities as a field of enquiry that develops understanding, provides evidence, enables evaluation, and generates better public health policy and practice. Public health declares itself to be highly multidisciplinary, but it still remains rare to see concepts, methods, and insights from the humanities integrated into public health research, publications, curricula, and practice.
The network therefore aims to:
- advocate for the importance of humanities research within public health,
- identify and work to overcome the barriers that prevent humanities approaches, methods, concepts, and findings from being integrated into public health research and practice;
- facilitate stronger connections between humanities researchers working on public health, and between humanities researchers and the wider public health community.
We adopt a broad understanding of the humanities which includes (but is not limited to) area studies, history, human geography, languages and linguistics, law, literary studies, philosophy, theology, and scholarship on the visual and performing arts. We also understand public health in broad terms, to include any collective organised efforts to prevent illness and promote health at population level. Anyone interested in the intersection of humanities and public health is welcome to join the network, irrespective of professional or disciplinary background.
The network is funded by the Wellcome Trust, as part of the University Award ‘Ethics and British public health law 1920-2020’.
Hayley Brown (LSHTM) is a historian of gender, reproduction, and the family.
Hannah Elizabeth (LSHTM) is a cultural historian of sexuality, emotions, and childhood.
Gareth Millward (University of Southern Denmark) is a historian of health policy, disability, and welfare states.
Janet Weston (LSHTM) is a historian of health – particularly mental health – and law
Seminar series: Historical perspectives on ethics, morals, and values in public health
Running from April 2023 to April 2024, these seminars feature scholars from around the world tackling everything from the quarantining of slave ships to the moral economy of the NHS.
Health professionals and anti-vaccination: a New Zealand case study
Wednesday 18 October, 13.00-14.00 (UK)
Manson Lecture Theatre, LSHTM, Keppel Street, London, and online.
Professor Linda Bryder (University of Auckland) will discuss recent controversies over Covid-19 vaccine mandates for midwives in New Zealand in relation to a longer history of attitudes towards immunization - and particularly the entrenchment of what some call an ‘anti-science’ philosophy within midwifery.
Humans, animals, and health
Tuesday 14 November 2023, 16.00-17.15
Susan Iseyen and Jane Davidson introduce two historical case studies, in which the interaction of human and animal medicine sheds new light on past public health and its values: the role of farm animals in colonial leprosy settlements, and urban milk production in nineteenth century Britain.
Disability history and policy
Tuesday 21 November, 16.00-17.15
Join us to mark Disability History Month! This seminar will invite us to think about two different aspects of the history of disability: global disability policy since the 1970s, and how to provide redress for past injustices experienced by people with disabilities.
Power and public health in colonial Nigeria
Monday 27 November, 16.00-17.15
Our two speakers in this seminar take a fresh look at the motivations and effects of colonial public health campaigns surrounding sanitation and nutrition in Nigeria, in the first half of the twentieth century.
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View details of our past seminars here, and click through to find links to recordings (where applicable).
The need for historical fluency in public health law and ethics, with Daniel Goldberg (9 June 2022)
Reproductive injustice in mid-20th century Britain and America, with Ariel Hart and Michael Lambert (26 April 2023)
Masks and myopia: politics and protection in public health campaigns, with Yixue Yang and Sharrona Pearl (11 May 2023)
Inequality and expendability in early public health, with Elise Mitchell and Mathieu Corteel (30 May 2023)
Moral frameworks for public health, with Nathalie Egalité and Allan Arturo González Estrada (7 June 2023)
Vaccine mandates and exemptions, with Maria Teresa Marangoni and Jonathan Kuo (27 June 2023)
West African views of ethics and fairness in healthcare, with David Bannister and Ayodeji Adegbite (4 July 2023)
Networking for humanities scholars
We are hosting workshops and other meetings during 2023 to bring together humanities scholars with shared interests in public health. Find out more on our Get involved page.
Join our mailing list to find out about other events and activities as soon as they are announced.
Here you can find further reading on the humanities and health, and links to our partners and other groups with similar interests.
- 'A recipe for action: using wider evidence for a healthier UK'. Health Foundation; 2018
- ‘Improving the health of the public by 2040’. Academy of Medical Sciences; 2016
- Berridge, Virginia, ‘Infiltrating history into the public health curriculum’, Journal of Public Health, 40:4 (2018), pp. 886–890
- Berridge, Virginia, ‘History does have something to say’, History Workshop online (2020)
- Moran, Joe, ‘To the Anxious Humanities Scholar’, Critical Quarterly, 63:2 (2021), pp. 4– 23
- Saffran, Lise, ‘’Only connect:’ the case for public health humanities’, Medical Humanities, 40:2 (2014), pp.105-110.
- Weed, Douglas, ‘Epidemiology, the humanities, and public health’, American Journal of Public Health, 85:7 (1995), pp. 903-1022
Partners, friends of the network, and other groups and societies
- Behavioural and Cultural Insights Unit, World Health Organisation Europe.
- Centre for History in Public Health: LSHTM’s centre for the historical understanding of public health policy and practice.
- Faculty of Public Health: the membership organisation for public health professionals in the UK.
- Applied Medical History working group: part of the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine.
- Ends of Knowledge and the Medical Humanities: a research network bridging the medical humanities and critical university studies.
- Translational Humanities for Public Health: A digital humanities archive in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Public health humanities reading group
Are you interested in joining an online reading group, to discuss new or key texts and to meet other folks interested in public health and the humanities? If so, please get in touch: our semi-regular reading group will be starting in late 2023. To find out more, contact Hannah Elizabeth.
Teaching the humanities in public health: working group
We're putting together a working group to develop a toolkit or resource for teaching humanities topics to students and practitioners of public health. The group’s first meeting was in September 2023: if you’re interested in this, please email Janet Weston.
Humanities research with(in) public health
We’re planning a conference focusing on humanities research that engages with current public health research and practice. This is likely to take place in Europe in spring 2024: watch this space!
Humanities and public health - an exploratory workshop
Online, Monday 22 May 2023
The network held its inaugural workshop online on Monday 22 May 2023.This workshop brought together humanities researchers whose work engages with the issues, problems, or methods of public health, to discuss two main themes: the integration of humanities disciplines into public health research and practice, and the role of the humanities in public and community engagement and involvement.
If you’d like to stay up to date with news of future activities and events, please join our mailing list!
Here you can find some examples of public health projects that include (and sometimes centre) humanities methods and approaches.
- Re-authoring meat consumption narratives: combining historical, cultural and public health perspectives
This project is a collaboration between researchers from the Humanities, Social and Behavioural, and Medical faculties at the University of Amsterdam. It harnesses the diverging areas of expertise to understand the predominant role of meat in past and contemporary diets.
Find out more about this project (see under ‘Midsize projects)
- Distorted transmission: AIDS, minority stress and understanding Dutch male homosexual minorities’ collective past
This project examines how the self-appreciation of (male) homosexual minorities in the Netherlands has been shaped by the HIV/AIDS-crisis of the 1980s. Recent literature on ‘minority stress’ demonstrates high (and rising) levels of mental health issues and suicide attempts among LGBTQ+ people despite improving social conditions. Through archival research and interviews with long-time HIV/AIDS survivors, this project brings together researchers from history and sociology to investigate how the collective experience of HIV/AIDS has affected homosexual men’s self-appreciation from the 1980s to present.
Read more information on the Distorted transmission project.
- Questioning Vaccination Discourse
This project applies corpus-based discourse analysis to discussions about vaccinations in the UK national press, parliamentary debates, and social media, to gain a better understanding of how the public sees and understands vaccination. It brings together a range of experts in linguistics in partnership with Public Health England, the UK Department of Health and Social Care, and Department of Digital Culture Media & Sport, to inform future public health campaigns.
Read more information on the Questioning Vaccination Discourse project.