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Spaces of Sickness and Wellbeing: histories of art, architecture and experience

This international seminar series considers past spaces of health and illness in new and interdisciplinary ways, embracing histories of emotions, material culture, art and architecture.

Online-via Zoom.
Mondays 18:00 GMT
Ann-Marie Akehurst (Society Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB), Victoria Bates (University of Bristol), Caitlin DeClercq (Columbia University), Alistair Fair (University of Edinburgh), Ross MacFarlane (Wellcome Collection), Eoin O’Cearnaigh (Wellcome Collection), Harriet Richardson Blakeman (University of Edinburgh) and Rebecca Wynter (University of Birmingham).

This seminar welcomes national and international scholars from a range of backgrounds to explore the history of spaces for healthcare in new, interdisciplinary ways. During 2020, a fresh appetite emerged to learn from history about the development, management, and eradication of disease, and the relationship of wellbeing to architecture. The present emergency foregrounds complicated intersections and tensions between economics and health, private liberties and public responsibilities. It manifests the complex relation between physical and psychological health, and between social inequalities and access to care, cure, and safety, encouraging the reframing spaces in terms of health and its antonyms.
These developments coincide with the holistic turn in scholarship of health and wellbeing, extending the history of the construction of medical buildings and medico-scientific knowledge to diverse salutogenic locales. Historians of emotions, art and architecture, public health, and cultural geography, are crossing epistemic boundaries, repositioning the history of sickness and health in broad chronological and international contexts, and nuancing the Enlightenment model which framed hospitals as secular machines for cure.  

The series will look beyond narrow questions of hospital architecture to understand its subject in broad ways. Sessions will be themed around a particular type of healthcare space, providing a forum for interdisciplinary and international discussion. These conversations, extending stand-alone histories of art, architecture and emotion, will comprise roundtables of 3-4 participants per session, who will each pre-record a short (5-min) provocation, posted online before the seminar. The ‘live’ seminar, lasting c. 45-60 minutes, will then offer a chance for considered discussion among speakers and audiences. One seminar annually will be curated by a team of ECRs who want to deepen conversations on race/ethnicity/sexuality/gender/disability and diversity. 

The seminar is supported by the IHR, the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, the Wellcome Collections at the Wellcome Trust, and Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Columbia, and Edinburgh.

For further information please contact Harriet Richardson or Ann-Marie Akehurst.

Image Credit: "Physical Education class in body mechanics required for all freshmen. (This is not a dancing class.)" ca. 1941 (class of 1943).  Source: Archives and Special Collections, Vassar College Library, Photo File: VC Departments, Physical Education.