Placing the Emotion in Public Health

Dr Hannah Elizabeth Kershaw, Research Assistant on Placing the Public in Public Health at the Centre for History in Public Health.

On the 27th of March I officially joined Alex Mold’s Placing the Public in Public Health team in the Centre for History in Public Health to work as a research assistant highlighting the place of emotion in public health. Emotion has always figured in public health, the 20th Century is no exception. In the 20th Century the public (or should I say publics) have faced persistent and emerging threats to their health with a variety of emotions from apathy and stoicism to panic and shame. Health authorities, in turn, have tried to predict and manipulate the publics’ emotions to persuade them to act for their own health and the health of others. It is this history at the junction between the history of emotion and 20th Century public health, which I will examine.

My time on the Placing the Public in Public Health project will be split across four projects. My work on the project began with a review of the history of emotion literature, but once that’s complete I’ll commence working with Gareth Millward on vaccination and the public, specifically investigating the place of emotions and young people in the poliomyelitis vaccination campaigns, 1956-1960. Following this collaboration, I’ll join Peder Clark’s arm of the project to investigate the convergent history of heart disease and stress using Whitehall 1 and 2 as case studies. From stressed-out civil servants at Westminster, I’ll move my focus to survey makers and takers, joining Daisy Payling’s project to investigate the emotional labour involved in health survey participation. My final contribution will be to Alex Mold’s arm of the project, assessing the use of emotion in public health posters (like the one shown here), producing an online exhibition which tracks the history of emotion’s place in this particular public health output.  These facets of the project completed, my time on Placing the Public in Public Health project will be rounded off with a conference themed around public health and emotion, past and present.

Before joining LSHTM, I completed my PhD in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester. Based in both Manchester’s History Department and the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine, my interdisciplinary thesis was titled ‘[Re]inventing Childhood in the Age of AIDS: The Representation of HIV Positive Identities to Children and Adolescents in Britain, 1983-1997’ and examined by LSHTM’s own Virginia Berridge. My thesis focused on adult anxiety and how adults imagined the educational and emotional needs of children and adolescents around sex education and specifically HIV education, drawing on oral histories and a variety of children’s media for my case studies, from the BBC’s Grange Hill to board and video games produced by the British Medical Association. (Anyone interested in my PhD research, and specifically AIDS learning games, can have a read of my short article on these games in Viewpoint, 105 (October 2014) pp. 8-9, tweet me @sexhistorian or send me an email at