Our research spans both public health and health services and their twentieth and twenty first century history.  We are interested in public health and health services in the UK and further afield.  We have particular expertise in the changing make up of health services and health systems, in public health in post-war Britain, and the history of substance use.  For a full list of our current research projects, see below or use the search function.


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Border crossings: charity and voluntarism in Britain's mixed economy of health care since 1948

Funder: Wellcome Trust

Dates:  1st October  2020  – 30th September  2025

Principal Investigator: Martin Gorsky

Staff:  Hannah Blythe


The programme will explore the empirical challenges to perceptions of the NHS as a unified state monolith, and analyse possibilities for effective, ethical and sustainable voluntary contributions to health systems.  The Centre for History in Public Health, LSHTM is responsible for the following section.

The development of endowed hospital charities since 1948-2012 (LSHTM)

This strand investigates the changing uses of the substantial charitable endowments retained by the teaching hospitals and administered first by hospital boards of governors and then under distinct trustee arrangements.  Three case studies (Cambridge, London, Scotland) are used to explore the changing policies and politics of charitable expenditure and its moving frontier with the state.

Ethics and British public health law, 1920-2020

Funder: Wellcome Trust
Date: 2nd September 2021 – 1st September 2026
Principal Investigator:  Janet Weston


Public health, encompassing collective organised efforts to prevent disease, prolong life, and promote health, employs distinctive and often controversial methods of surveillance, compulsion, coercion, and wide-ranging state intervention. Debate about these in terms of morality, justice, or fairness, and the decisions reached, contribute to the ethical frameworks through which public health operates. How have the ethics of public health changed, over time and in relation to different publics, problems, and politics? 

This project places public health ethics in historical context. It focuses on public health law to ask how and why the implicit and explicit ethical frameworks of public health in Britain have changed, from interwar ‘social medicine’ to the era of Covid-19. Working collaboratively with public health practitioners and scientists, it also explores the potential of much closer interactions between the humanities and public health, for the benefit of both fields. 

What's love got to do with it? Building and maintaining HIV-affected families through love, care and activism in Edinburgh 1981-2016

Funder: Wellcome Trust
Date: 25th January 2021 – 24th January 2024
Principal Investigator:  Hannah Elizabeth


This research explores how HIV-affected people built and maintained families in Edinburgh, influencing national and international policy and practice through daily acts of love, care, and activism between 1981–2016. Through oral history and archival research, it investigates people's experiences of HIV-affected family life, focusing especially on how relationships between individuals, loved ones and care workers shaped the resources available to those living in Edinburgh. It uses ‘family’ broadly, to mean communities of friends, lovers and relatives. It asks to what extent were meanings of ‘family’ and ‘activism’ changed by HIV-related care work and the changing landscape of health and social care, and to what extent did reproductive politics and childcare change as HIV+ individuals had, or sought to have, children.

Research enrichment: Measuring mental capacity

Funder: Wellcome Trust
Date:  6th January 2020 - 30th November 2021
Principal Investigator:  Janet Weston


This project will develop two short films, based on archival case studies, and will deliver two interactive film screenings as part of the Being Human Festival of the humanities. These events will share the stories of two women who were found incapable of managing their own affairs in the 1930s, due to ‘mental infirmity.’ Participants will learn about the cases and contribute their own verdicts, sharing their views and interacting with each other and an expert panel. Giving insight into the Court of Protection, past and present, this explores topical issues of power and protection surrounding vulnerable adults.  



COVID and Society

Funder: British Academy

Date: 2nd November 2020 – 1st December 2020

Principal Investigator: Alex Mold and Virginia Berridge

Staff:  Suzanne Taylor


This rapid review analyses the history of public health crises in order to contribute to a wider report on the societal impact of Covid-19.   We consider the twin issues of governance and trust and explore how these were impacted by different public health crises in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.  We analyse a series of case-studies, drawing out the challenges, opportunities and long-term implications presented by each.  We present an analysis of governance in relation to public health crises.  Here, we consider two key examples: HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, and Swine Flu in 2009-10.  In relation to trust and public health crises,  we look at three broad areas – health surveys, vaccination, and health education. We examine two different examples for each.  Our research aims to demonstrate that whilst public health crises undoubtedly present significant difficulties for government, the wider public, and the relationship between these, these are also moments which offer potential for beneficial change. 

The LSHTM and Colonial Histories

Funder: LSHTM

Dates: November 2019 - May 2021

Principal Investigator: Martin Gorsky

Staff: Lioba Hirsch


This project aims to understand the extent of LSHTM’s engagement with the British Empire and the influence of empire on the School’s governance, funding, education, and research programmes. It will begin to scope out the consequences of such engagement for the development of the School and its interaction with different constituencies, including those of the colonised nations.  The project will attempt to understand how engagement with the British Empire has shaped the development of LSHTM as an institution; it will reflect on the extent to which the current governance, financing, functioning, teaching and partnerships of the School still reflect patterns of engagement with the colonial administration; and it will make recommendations on any actions required to address issues identified.

Colonial Histories Project

The Health Foundation Project

Funder:  The Health Foundation
Dates: May – September 2019
Principal Investigator: Alex Mold 

Staff:  Peder Clark


The aim of this work is to perform a literature review of research (contemporary and historical) on health shocks and improvement interventions that could form the basis for subsequent study of the economic and social outcomes in a given place. The report produced will summarise examples of instances in which there has been such a change in health in a local area in the UK.  It will also examine existing studies which take a historical perspective describing how past health shocks or place level health promoting interventions have resulted in changes in the health status of a population. Evidence of how these events have shaped social and economic outcomes will be gathered.

Measuring mental capacity: A history

Funder: Wellcome Trust
Date: 1st March 2018 – 1st September 2021
Principal Investigator: Professor Virginia Berridge
Staff:  Dr Janet Weston


Formal assessments of mental capacity determine whether adults should make decisions regarding their own personal and financial lives, and are usually prompted by the presence of impairments such as mental illness, learning disabilities, and dementia. The courts of Britain and Ireland have been involved in assessing mental capacity for centuries, whether to appoint guardians or to overrule specific decisions made when capacity was absent.

This research project uses these legal proceedings alongside medical, legal, and advocacy material to consider how mental capacity has been assessed, defined, and understood over the twentieth century. It examines the impact of changing medical knowledge and changing attitudes towards disability and old age over the 1900s, and considers how ideas about vulnerability, autonomy, and rights have affected decisions about how and when an individual’s mental capacity should be measured.

Electronic cigarettes: history, evidence and policy

Funder: Wellcome Trust
Date: 1 January 2018 – 30th December 2019
Principal Investigator: Professor Virginia Berridge
Collaborators: Professor Wayne Hall, University of Queensland; Professor Amy Fairchild, Texas A and M University; Professor Ronald Bayer, Columbia University New York.


Electronic cigarettes are controversial. This new technology in the smoking field has been welcomed by some, severely criticised by others. Do e-cigarettes potentially reduce the harm from smoking by diverting smokers down a safer route – or do they amplify harm and also recruit new smokers? Evidence on these points has been produced but has been treated differently in different national contexts. Some have opted for regulation as a medical product, some as a consumer product and in some cases for a complete ban. The hypothesis behind our research is that these divergent national responses relate to the history of smoking policy and in particular responses to nicotine. This is a ‘pilot study’ involving the UK, US and Australia which will test our theories and plan a wider cross national programme of research to look at the relationship between evidence and policy.

AMR Historical Foresight

Funder: AHRC
Date: December 2017 – February 2020
Principal Investigator: Dr Emma Pitchforth  (University of Exeter); Co-I Dr Elta Smith (Rand Europe); Co-I Dr Tim Rayner (University of East Anglia)
Consultants: Professor Virginia Berridge (LSHTM); Professor Christoph Gradmann (University of Oslo)


In this project we are interested in taking historical and comparative perspectives to understanding how AMR has developed as a policy issue. We will look at the historical development of climate change and tobacco control as comparator issues, and seek to:

  1. Understand how AMR has evolved as a policy issue and develop scenarios for AMR policymaking responses that are informed by historical analysis
  2. Test these scenarios to inform potential policy responses
  3. Provide evidence for effective and efficient AMR policymaking and methodological development through the use of historical perspectives to inform policy

The project will draw on reviews of existing evidence, interviews and futures methods including horizon scanning and scenario planning. An important part of our project will be interactive policy events that bring together historians and policymakers.



Temperance: History, current and future alcohol policy

This is a bibliographical database, developed for the literature review section of the project.
The aim was to cover key interpretive writing on temperance in its heyday of the nineteenth century, but also to analyse how temperance concerns and ideologies changed over time; how temperance networks were reconstituted and how the practical politics of temperance changed. The literature review also encompassed the twentieth century and the period after the Second World War, a period when temperance concerns took new forms.

The search for relevant sources encompassed the British Library, the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, Senate House Library, (University of London), the Institute of Alcohol Studies, and the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Washington, USA. Other bibliographic sources utilised included, the Pubmed database, Alcohol and Temperance History e-mail network, the journal the Social History of Alcohol Review, as well as contacts with leading historians of alcohol who provided suggestions for ‘key readings’.

The search unearthed a total of 1170 sources, including primary material. Of these 214 are secondary sources related specifically to the project for which each entry includes full biographical details, as well as abstracts and location of the source. The database can be searched by keywords for example, women, religion or science.

For further information or to arrange an appointment to view any of these databases please contact:
Ingrid James or Virginia Berridge

The British Voluntary Hospitals Database

This  database encompasses surviving statistics of British and Irish voluntary hospitals up to 1948.

Before the NHS began in 1948 many of hospitals in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales were within the voluntary sector. These included the major centres of general acute medicine, notably hospitals with medical schools, along with special hospitals providing care for particular groups of diseases, and the cottage hospitals which flourished in small towns and rural areas. Voluntary hospitals were characterised by their independent status and their reliance on philanthropy and other private sources of funding. They were administered by committees of lay governors serving in a volunteer capacity and were staffed largely by physicians and surgeons working in honorary and unpaid posts.


Oral history of community pharmacy

This database encompasses 50 life story interviews of mainly retired community pharmacists undertaken by Stuart Anderson between 1996 and 1998. They were deposited as part of the National Life Stories collection at the National Sound Archive of the British Library, Series C816.

Oral history of hospital pharmacy

This database encompasses 50 life story interviews of mainly retired hospital pharmacists undertaken by Stuart Anderson between 1999 and 2001. They were deposited as part of the National Life Stories collection at the National Sound Archive of the British Library, Series C917.