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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The LSHTM and Colonial Histories

Funder: LSHTM

Dates: November 2019- October 2020

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 – 28th February 2021
Principal Investigator: Professor Virginia Berridge
Staff:  Dr Janet Weston

Description: 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.

Description: 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)

Description:  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.

Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850-2000: Provision for Public Engagement

Funder: Wellcome Trust via University of Warwick
Date: 16/06/2017 – 15/06/2019
Principal Investigator:  Virginia Berridge
Staff:  Janet Weston

Description: This grant was part of a larger ‘Provision for Public Engagement within Research Grants’ award from the Wellcome Trust. Working with media company Digital Drama, we developed oral histories around HIV/AIDS and prison in the Republic of Ireland into an audio docudrama, which was launched at public events in London and Dublin to coincide with World AIDS Day, 1 December 2017. The docudrama is now available on the project website.

HIV/AIDS and prisons in England and Ireland

Funder:  Wellcome Trust
Dates: March 2016 – February 2018
Principal Investigators:  Professor Virginia Berridge, LSHTM;  Hilary Marland, University of Warwick and Dr Catherine Cox, University College, Dublin.
Staff:  Janet Weston

Description: This study explores how prisons and the prison medical service responded to HIV/AIDS from the 1980s in England and Ireland. The crisis of HIV highlighted the pre- existing tensions concerning health in prisons. Initially the restrictive Viral Infectivity Regulations (VIR) were used, isolating people with AIDS in some prisons. This approach contrasted with the more liberal responses being adopted outside prisons. The debates about harm reduction strategies for gay men and drug users in prison brought human rights issues to a head and highlighted the contested boundary between health and criminal justice. The power of the Prisons Officers Association (POA) in England underlined the local variations in prison policy and the relative weakness of the prison health system. Research was difficult to undertake in prisons but acted as a spur to change. The study will investigate whether AIDS and associated sexual health and drug issues became catalysts for a dawning recognition of the rights of prisoner patients and for more health focussed approaches.

This research is part of the Investigator Award, Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland,1850-2000 held by Professor Hilary Marland University of Warwick and Dr Catherine Cox University College, Dublin and funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Health Systems in History: ideas, comparisons, policies

Funder: Wellcome Trust
Date: 1st September 2015 – 28th February 2021
Principal Investigator: Dr Martin Gorsky
Staff:  John Manton, Chris Sirrs, Hayley Brown and Erica Nelson

Description: The overarching purpose of this award is to provide an intellectual and policy history of ‘health systems’ thinking. The term implies a holistic conception of the organisational structures within which medicine is financed, provided and regulated in modern states. It depicts these as an interlinked set of relationships, which, once identified and measured, may be modified in the ongoing quest for greater efficiency, effectiveness and equity. But how did this idea arise? What work has it done? And how can we apply it historically? This award aims to find out, and it will do so through four inter-linked projects.

Placing the Public in Public Health: Public Health in Britain 1948-2010

Funder: Wellcome Trust
Date: 2nd September 2013 – 29th February 2020
Principal Investigator: Dr Alex Mold
Staff:  Gareth Millward, Daisy Payling, Hannah Elizabeth Kershaw and Peder Clark, and Suzanne Taylor

Description: The place of the public within public health is a critical issue for contemporary public health in Britain.  Whether it involves appealing to individuals to stop smoking, or asking patients what they think of health services, the ‘public’ is constantly constructed and reconstructed within public health policy and practice.  This project seeks to historicise these concerns, aiming to explore and explain the changing place of the public within public health in post-war Britain.



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.