Marketplace and Open Space: ‘A Box of Tricks’ at the Inaugural Congress of the NNMHR (Blog post by Ute Oswald, University of Warwick)

Ute Oswald is doing a PhD in the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick, having already completed an MA at Hamburg University in Classical Archaeology and Italian and an MSt at Oxford University in Literature and Arts.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Inaugural Congress of the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research at Durham University from 14-15 September 2017, which brought together scholars from a wide range of disciplines such as History, Philosophy and Science as well as current Medical Practitioners. This facilitated valuable exchanges of diverse ideas and methodologies and opened many avenues for interesting discussions and potential collaborations.

Feather-balancing at the Marketplace

There were some new and exciting conceptual elements to this Congress which I had not encountered during any previous conference participation. After the excellent opening Keynote address and a number of thought-provoking parallel sessions, Day One concluded with a so-called ‘Marketplace’ in which academics, performers and other professionals offered an insight into their projects. I really appreciated the interactive approach of this feature (especially the peacock-feather balancing!), and how many of the initiatives were attempting to bridge the gap between academia and public engagement, making our research relevant to healthcare and policies today.

Notes from an Open Space session

This was picked up again – albeit following a different structure – on Day Two, with the extremely engaging and stimulating ‘Open Space’ session. I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive at the beginning, not knowing what to expect. However, I found myself enthralled by the whole process and it was really difficult to choose which debate to join. In the end, I decided to take part in the discussion around social and biological models of health and illness as it fitted in with my own research on the relationship between body, mind and brain, but I could easily have chosen the group which interrogated the role of the past in Medical Humanities, and whether it should always be relevant to the present; in my case, I very much hope that the historical research I’m undertaking will inform public health policy-making of the future. This, in turn, was echoed in another Open Space session on ‘Bridging the Gap between Medical Humanities and Medicine’, again demonstrating the desire and necessity for collaboration among different disciplines with a view to improving patient care.

Apart from these innovative components of the Congress, I very much enjoyed the many inspirational presentations (again, it was very hard to choose between panels!), making it hard to single out any, such was the quality of all. My own presentation was part of the ‘Spaces in Madness’ panel, which not only introduced me to fellow researchers in the history of psychiatry, but also sparked interesting discussions on shared themes of agency and contemporary relevance.

I would like to thank the organisers and hosts for giving me the opportunity to share my research in such a stimulating and interdisciplinary environment, and the team at Van Mildert College for looking after us with such fabulous food, providing a convivial setting for social and academic interaction. I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to the Steering Committee of the Congress for their generous travel and accommodation bursary. Being a first-year PhD candidate, I was struck by the inclusivity of the whole event, and the willingness of much more senior academics to engage with and encourage me. I left feeling professionally invigorated and am very much looking forward to the next NNMHR event.


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