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This theme explores the relationships between individuals, communities and health.

Medical Humanities

The term medical humanities covers a range of perspectives and approaches that explore scientific knowledge, clinical practice and health-care policies, as well as experiences, narratives and representations of health and disease.

Often conceived primarily in terms of humanising medical students and doctors, the medical humanities also possess the potential to offer critical insights into health and disease that are complementary, rather than antagonistic, to those provided by research in the medical sciences.

Research in this area unites staff from a number of disciplines including:

REF case studies

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

Exeter came 16th in the REF 2014. A number of case studies are submitted on which the University is assessed: below are those we submitted related to the Medical Humanities theme.

Case studyDescription
Applied theatre as an intervention in wellbeing The University of Exeter Drama department’s research in Applied Theatre has had impact in the improvement of community understandings of mental health. It provides professional development for medics and teachers, informing training in applied and community theatre.
Encouraging discussions about sex using historical objects The research of Professors Kate Fisher and Rebecca Langlands into sexual behaviour, sexual ethics and personal identity has informed a pioneering approach to improving young people’s wellbeing and sexual health. Working with schools, museums and charities, this methodology, which involves showing young people ‘erotic’ objects from museum holdings, has had a positive impact on young people’s mental and physical wellbeing, personal identity, social skills, personal resilience, confidence, sexual health and life chances.
Enhancing understanding of allergic diseases Professor Mark Jackson’s research on the history of allergy and asthma, carried out in the Centre for Medical History, University of Exeter, has been successful in enhancing clinical, commercial and policy understandings of the social, political and cultural, as well as biological, determinants of allergic diseases in the modern world.
Promoting health and wellbeing using ancient ideas This case study describes the impact of the unit’s research on ancient medicine and philosophical approaches to psychological therapy. The main impact achieved has been on informing contemporary public and professional debate about how to promote health and personal wellbeing by highlighting the significance of ancient ideas and practices.

Our impact

  • Theme Leader Prof Mark Jackson is a Senior Academic Adviser (Medical Humanities) at the Wellcome Trust. Prof Jackson provides intellectual and strategic advice to Trust staff, and develops specific collaborative projects. His remit also includes strengthening links with other humanities funders, particularly the Arts and Humanities Research Council and their theme of Science in Culture.
  • Prof Kate Fisher, Dr Rebecca Langlands and Dr Jana Funke worked closely with museums, schools and youngsters in the South West to empower people to talk more openly about sex. The Sex and History project used research into sexual knowledge and the history of sex to encourage people of all ages, especially young people, to talk more openly about sex and discuss the issues that matter to them. The project was nominated for the 2012 EngageU awards, the European competition for best innovations in university outreach and public engagement and won an Exeter Impact Award for outstanding social and cultural impact.
  • Research from Prof Mark Jackson into how changing ideas of balance have shaped scientific and clinical models of healthy lifestyles has received a five year Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award.

    The project will analyse clinical and scientific investment in notions of balance and the shifting political and cultural authority of the concept within modern societies. The research seeks to re-assess the value of trying to achieve balanced lives and consider alternative concepts for understanding and explaining patterns of health and disease. Project team members include Dr Ali Haggett, Martin Moore and Fred Cooper.

Sub themes