I graduated initially in Immunology (BSc, 1982) and then in medicine (MB BS, 1985) from St. Thomas’ Hospital, University of London.
Following a brief period in clinical practice, I completed doctoral studies, funded by the British Academy, at the University of Leeds on the history of infanticide in eighteenth-century England.
Having taught undergraduate history and philosophy of science at Leeds, I moved to the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at Manchester, where I lectured on the history of science and medicine before being awarded a Wellcome Trust Fellowship for research on the history of ‘mental deficiency’.
In 1998, I relocated to the University of Exeter, where a Wellcome Trust University Award enabled me to pursue research into the global history of allergy. I have spent the rest of my career at Exeter, helping to establish the Centre for Medical History as an international centre of excellence, attracting major strategic institutional and personal grants to pursue research on the history of stress, notions of balance within modern medicine, health in midlife, and the cultural contexts of health, and leading the Exeter bid to establish the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health.
In addition to my role as Director of the Wellcome Centre, I am co-director (with Dr Felicity Thomas) of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Culture and Health, which contributes to the aims of WHO Europe to embed cultural approaches into its health policies. I have served as Chair of the Wellcome Trust History of Medicine and Research Resources funding committees, as Senior Academic Advisor (Medical Humanities) to the Wellcome Trust, and as a member of the History sub-panel for REF 2014. In addition, I chair the WHO Expert Advisory Group on Cultural Contexts of Health and am a member of the WHO European Advisory Group on Health Research. I am currently Chair of the History sub-panel for REF 2021.
A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, my major books include: The Chain of Immunology (1983); Newborn Child Murder (1996); The Borderland of Imbecility (2000); Allergy: The History of a Modern Malady (2006); Asthma: The Biography (2009); The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine (2011); The Age of Stress: Science and the Search for Stability (2012); Stress in Post-War Britain, 1945-85 (ed., 2015); The Routledge History of Disease (ed., 2016); and A Global History of Medicine (ed., 2017). Broken Dreams: An Intimate History of the Midlife Crisis is due to be published by Reaktion in 2020. In 2018, I was awarded the Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Medal by the Royal Society for significant contributions to popularising medical history and the medical humanities.
The major highlights of my career involve contributing to the growth of the history of medicine and the medical humanities nationally and internationally and helping to identify the trans-disciplinary potential of rigorous historical research.
My commitment to these ventures extends beyond my own academic contributions to the social and cultural history of modern medicine and science. It has also involved supporting careers for doctoral students, post-doctoral fellows and early career researchers, as well as promoting career development opportunities in engaged research and public engagement.
Enabling careers in these ways has been facilitated by external funding from the Wellcome Trust, not only for the Wellcome Centre but also for significant collaborative programmes of research throughout my career. It has also been aided by significant investment from the University of Exeter in the form of an interdisciplinary Humanities and Social Sciences Strategy.
This support has made it possible to work collaboratively with creative partners across and beyond the University, a process that has been critical in establishing the Wellcome Centre.
In addition to supporting and facilitating our collective vision to create and sustain cultures and environments of health, my work aims to interrogate the historical and cultural determinants of ageing and the ways in which different narratives of midlife in particular employ different techniques and carry different psychological, emotional, and political meanings.
Through historical analysis of the conditions that made concepts such as the midlife crisis popular, I hope to explore how health experiences and practices are shaped not only by present social and cultural contexts, but also by those in the past. A key challenge will be to demonstrate the ways in which historical studies of crises and transitions across the life course can help to inform future health policies.
I have been a fervent, and too often disenchanted, supporter of Queens Park Rangers football club since the early 1960s. But, contrary to my wife’s opinion, expressed on most Saturday afternoons during the football season, I do not love QPR more than I love her and our three children, without whom I would not survive.