Spotlight on: Best doctoral or early career research nominations

The arts and humanities can be a route towards better health - as these remarkable projects show.

Each has been shortlisted for the best doctoral or early career research category as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council & Wellcome Health Humanities Medal 2018.

This new national award has been set up to celebrate the contribution of the arts and humanities to improving healthcare, health and wellbeing.

The shortlisted projects below represent the rich, creative work now being done in this area across the UK.

Music and psychoneuroimmunology

Daisy Fancourt
Dr Daisy Fancourt, University College London

Dr Daisy Fancourt is Wellcome Research Fellow in the Department of Behavioural Science and Health at UCL and is also an AHRC/BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker, through which she presents radio and TV programmes on arts and science. Throughout her PhD Daisy explored the impact of music on the endocrine and immune systems and her first paper in Brain, Behaviour and Immunity was the first systematic review in this area.

She has used her research to demonstrate that some previous theories on music and biology were incorrect: instead of certain genres of music leading to specific biological changes; the same music could in fact lead to different changes and other factors were also important. She used this discovery to create a new model of music and biological responses.

Her research has now been published in 30 + papers, five book chapters and her first book, Arts in Health, has been published by Oxford University Press. She has presented at over 20 international conferences, given a dozen keynote talks and secured £2.5 million in research funding as co- and principal investigator.

Her work has also featured in many media outlets.


The cultural politics and history of madness and mental health

Maddness Art Society cover
Dr Anna Harpin, University of Warwick

Dr Anna Harpin is Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Warwick. Her primary research area is the cultural history of madness and trauma. Anna Harpin’s work has focused on cultural politics and history of madness and mental health; specifically the intersections between arts and healthcare and what clinical lessons might be gleaned from artistic practices.

Throughout her career she has sought a better understanding of how artists have intervened in our cultural attitudes and responses to non-normative psychological experiences. Her work argues that artistic practice forms a counter-discourse to theories and beliefs of psychiatry in particular, and healthcare more broadly.

Anna has published a number of journal articles and chapters in scholarly books, as well as teaching undergraduate and postgraduate modules on mental health and the arts.

Alongside her academic work Anna is a theatre maker with her company, Idiot Child which toured two critically-acclaimed, ACE-funded plays exploring issues around loneliness and anxiety respectively.

Anna says: “I am absolutely delighted and flattered to be shortlisted for this innovative and important award. It is fantastic to be amongst such a diverse and rich array of other scholars who are all working to develop the field and have a direct impact on improving health and care for all. In terms of my own research, it is really exciting that the work is getting wider exposure given the historic marginalisation of discourses around madness, mental health, and non-normative psychological experiences.”


The impact of age-related disease on medieval writers

Deborah Thorpe
Dr Deborah Thorpe, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Deborah Thorpe is a Long Room Hub Marie Skłodowska-Curie Cofund Fellow at Trinity College Dublin, where she is analysing the handwriting of ageing and elderly scribes in medieval and early modern manuscript books and documents. Deborah is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of York, where from 2014-17 she worked on an interdisciplinary project investigating medieval and modern handwriting in the context of neurological disorders.

Deborah has been involved in interdisciplinary health humanities research since 2014 when she was awarded a ‘Discipline hopping internship’ by the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2).

This enabled her to pursue novel research looking at the impact of age-related diseases and disorders on the experiences of medieval writers, and build on research conducted for her PhD looking into the handwriting and writing careers of medieval scholars.

Further funding allowed her to expand her interdisciplinary work, collaborating with an electronic engineer, a medieval palaeographer and a consultant neurologist.

She has also conducted work on child psychology by looking at drawings by children in medieval manuscripts which was picked up by various national publications.

She has published a series of open access research articles and she was awarded a grant by C2D2 / Wellcome Trust to produce a documentary film, Tremulous Hands.

Deborah says: “My work is hugely collaborative, and this shortlisting is testament of what can be achieved through teamwork that explores handwriting and health through a variety of disciplinary lenses. It is important to me that I can go back to my collaborators and show them that our work is being noticed and acknowledged. This will be greatly stimulating as I move beyond this research and start new projects in the health humanities.”


Historically-driven enquiry into the medical humanities

James Stark
Dr James Stark, University of Leeds

Dr James Stark is a historian of modern medicine. His current research explores the development of everyday anti-ageing therapies in twentieth century Britain. He has collaborated with researchers in design, regenerative medicine, sociology, nursing, literature and philosophy, and has a particular interest in connecting historical research with present-day challenges, including anti-microbial resistance and ageing.

His Wellcome Seed Award Pasts, Presents and Futures of Medical Regeneration led on to an AHRC leadership fellow award that enabled him to develop the first academic history of rejuvenation in the 20th century and supervise a postdoctoral Engagement Fellow dedicated to the programme.

Through a decade-long collaboration with the Thackery Medical Museum and the Boots Company Archive, his research has shed new light on their collections and opened up objects for public display.

As well as giving many public lectures and organising panel debates – including for the British Science Festival and Being Human Festival – he has published widely in many journals and periodicals, including The Lancet.

James says: “I am delighted to be shortlisted for the inaugural Health Humanities Medal. Many of the major contemporary health challenges such as anti-microbial resistance and ageing societies demand a multi-disciplinary approach. Recognising the value of arts and humanities research for health and wellbeing helps to support this increasingly important field.”


The history of health and medicine and its interactions with the criminal justice system

Rachel Bennet
Dr Rachel Bennet, University of Warwick

Dr Rachel Bennet has established an enviable publishing record in the history of health and medicine and its interactions with the criminal justice system. Within three years of completing her PhD she had published an open access book, Harnessing the Power of the Criminal Corpse, and wrote two chapters for interdisciplinary edited volumes.

She has established her scholarship in this new area of health humanities research, recently focusing on prisoners, medical care and entitlement to health in Britain and Ireland 1850-2000, thanks to a Wellcome Investigator Award. This has led her to focus on how the specific medical and health needs of pregnant and perinatal women have been identified and advocated for and how this has shifted over time.

Rachel is committed to embedding public engagement activities into her research, and exploring how the arts and humanities can contribute to the wellbeing of people in prison today – including collaborating with Geese Theatre Company and a group of women from HMP Peterborough.

She organised an interdisciplinary workshop in June 2018 exploring a century of maternal experiences of incarceration.

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