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TCD Medical Humanities Initiative




Work to Date

Plans TCD Researchers Working in Medical Humanities


We use the term Medical Humanities to cover an evolving interdisciplinary field that draws on history, literature, cultural studies, drama, philosophy, pedagogy, bioethics and religion, and is concerned with the history and culture of human health, disease and medicine, and with how research into these areas can influence policy and practice.


To consolidate work on Medical Humanities in Trinity College and to develop a programme of research of international consequence linked to the introduction of a suite of new undergraduate and postgraduate courses incorporating best practices.


Despite the development of the history of medicine over the last half century as a major field of scholarly enquiry (especially in the United States, Britain and France), there have been only very modest signs of such a development in Ireland until recently. This is surprising given the importance (and high status) of the medical profession in Irish history and the disproportionate contribution of Irish-trained doctors and medical scientists to wider advances in human health. Trinity College has a major contribution to make to the development of Medical Humanities in Ireland. The College Library, the Trinity School of Medicine and its formerly affiliated hospitals (Dr Steevens’ Hospital, the Adelaide Hospital, the Meath Hospital and Sir Patrick Dun’s) have generated vast medical collections dating from the Middle Ages ( The College also plays a role in the oversight of the HSE Worth Library in what was Dr Steevens’ Hospital, a completely intact eighteenth-century private medical library. Trinity has a considerable number of senior researchers whose interests include Medical Humanities and who have cross-disciplinary interests. The TCD School of Medicine is among the oldest medical schools in Europe and will celebrate its tercentenary in 2011 ( The upcoming tercentenary offers the ideal opportunity to launch this initiative.

Work to Date

In preparation for the upcoming tercentenary of the Trinity School of Medicine a cross-disciplinary medical humanities steering committee was created: • Prof. Jurgen Barkhoff, College Registrar and Germanic Studies • Mr. Robin Adams, College Librarian • Prof. Davis Coakley, Medical Gerontology • Prof. David Dickson, Irish-Scottish Studies (chair) • Dr. David Ditchburn, Medieval History • Dr. Jennifer Edmond, Trinity Long Room Hub • Prof. Dermot Kelleher, Clinical Medicine • Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer, Modern History As the first activity the committee, in conjunction with the Dean of Research, undertook an audit of interests in the area of Medical Humanities. It transpired that over 40 academics across disciplines were working in Medical Humanities. Follow-up workshops were held in 2008 and 2009 with presentations from at least 25 staff on various research projects. In parallel the steering committee has been seeking to identify potential sources of funding to enable TCD to put in place an infrastructure to make full use of its collections, and to make them available to researchers worldwide and to the public at large.

Plans Short Term (1-3 years)

The Trinity College Dublin School of Medicine Archives: Enabling Access through Cataloguing The primary objectives of the project are to organise and catalogue the School of Medicine archives, which cover the period from later eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, and to provide access to the collections. Exhibition for the Tercentenary of the School of Medicine in the TCD Long Room The goal is to showcase treasures from the TCD Library collections and to tell the story of Irish medical history in a strikingly innovative way, and in so doing to bring new research findings to the general public. Lectureship in History and Culture of Medicine The goal is to develop a programme of research of international consequence within the field of the History and Culture of Medicine, linking this to the introduction of a suite of new undergraduate and postgraduate courses tailored to the needs of students in both the Health Sciences and the Humanities.

Long Term (5-7 years)

Research Centre in Medical Humanities The remit of the Centre will be to examine and reflect on the scientific history of modern medicine, the rise of the medical professions and the social history of twentieth-century healthcare, but its terms of reference will extend far beyond those concerns and it is expected will embrace • Issues relating to the history of human biological welfare in the very long-term (touching on height, pathology, life expectancy, and drawing on environmental science, population genetics and archaeology) • Issues relating to long-term trends in nutrition, diet and food security • Issues touching on the anthropologies of ‘traditional’ medical/pharmaceutical knowledge and on intersections between science-medicine and older medical-knowledge systems, both in Ireland and comparatively • Cross-cultural comparisons of medical charity and hospital provision in past time • The treatment of illness and disability in imaginative literature, the arts and world religions • The experience of childhood in cross-temporal and cross-cultural settings.

TCD Researchers Working in Medical Humanities

Prof Juergen Barkhoff [Germanic Studies] Enlightenment medical theory and diffusion

Prof Dan Bradley [Genetics] Population genetics

Dr Lydia Carroll [Statistics] Origins of Irish public health

Dr Peter Cherry [History of Art] Plague and European paintingProf Davis Coakley [Medical Gerontology] The Irish medical profession

Prof David Dickson [History] Irish historical demography

Dr David Ditchburn [History] Medieval disability

Dr Martin Henman [Pharmacy] Ethics in Pharmacy

Dr Darryl Jones [English] Fictions of fear, mass death and catastrophe

Prof Maureen Junker-Kenny [Philosophy] Medline Ethics

Dr William Kingston [Business Studies] Medical invention and intellectual property

Dr Sean Lucey [History] Poverty and medical provision in the Irish Free State

Dr Jason McElligott [History] The Archives of the Richmond Lunatic Asylum

Prof Shaun McCann [Medicine] Open Window: A novel art intervention in hospital

Dr Christine Morris [Classics] Hellenic archeology especially healing objects

Dr Graeme Murdock [History] Early modern sexuality and deviance

Prof Thomas O’Dowd [General Practice] Doctors working in different environments

Prof Jane Ohlmeyer [History] Seventeenth-century Irish social history

Prof Desmond O’Neill [Medicine] Artists in healthcare

Dr Amanda Piesse [English] Past literatures of childhood

Prof Ian Campbell Ross [English] History of Rotunda Hospital; Enlightenment literature

Dr Clemens Ruthner [Germanic Studies] Cultural narratives of otherness (monstrosity, ethnicity, gender)

Dr Christopher Shepard [History] The patterns and global impact of Irish medical migration

Katherine Simms [History] Medieval Irish family structures

Dr Ross Dunne [Psychiatry]

Adam Kavanagh [Psychiatry]

Declan McLoughlin [Psychiatry & Neuroscience] Attitudes to ECT

Dr Gillian Martin [Germanic Studies]

Prof John Nolan [Medicine]

Dr Hood Thabit [Medicine] Communication in multidisciplinary and multicultural healthcare teams (diabetes)

Dr Bridget Kane [Computer Science]

Dr Saturnino Luz [Computer Science] Use of communication technology in medical team meetings

Funding Bodies

Ireland EU Structural Funds Programmes 2007 – 2013, European Regional Development Fund, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, HEA, Trinity College Dublin, and

Last updated 8 March 2016 by Trinity Long Room Hub (Email) .