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Prof Keir Waddington 


Public Health in Rural Wales, c. 1850 to 1914: Although historians have become increasingly sensitive to the contested nature of public health theories and practices, and the limitations of the public health movement, studies have concentrated on the problems facing towns and the urban public health movement. This project extend debates by raising questions about public health when the focus is shifted to the rural environment. Taking Wales between the 1850s and the First World War as its focus, the project examines what an examination of the ‘rural’ can tell historians about the public health problems encountered in non-urban environments and how this shaped rural sanitary policies. Welsh sources reveal that the rural idyll masked serious health problems that were slow to be addressed. By the 1890s, a number of rural epidemics had focused attention on the inadequacies of rural sanitary improvements, as well as pointing to tensions between rural and urban authorities as it was feared that rural areas acted as reservoirs of disease. An examination of rural public health in Wales hence not only allows an investigation of urban-rural differentials but also about how the rural landscape, sanitary environment and the problems encountered shaped rural public health reform. 

An examination of public health in rural Wales between the 1848 Public Health Act and 1914 allows an examination of urban-rural differentials missing from the existing historiography. A number of (provisional) questions will structure this research:

  • How should the rural be defined in relation to public health?
  • What was the nature of sanitary problems facing rural Wales?
  • To what extent were rural sanitary problems rendered ‘invisible’ because fresh air was believed to cover a ‘multitude of sanitary sins’?
  • What were the boundaries between rural and urban in Wales, and how did this affect rural sanitation and the structure of rural public health?
  • To what extent were rural sanitary reforms shaped (or determined by) cultural, linguistic and religious tensions, and how far did these impact on public health?
  • How did the context of landownership, landscape and power influence rural public health?
  • How effective were rural sanitary authorities in Wales, and did patterns of rural authority create obstacles to reform?

Project length three years.

Project activities:

  • 2012: ‘”a long tale of filth, neglect, carelessness and disease”: The local and the rural in public health’, Workshop of Local Health, University of Worcester
  • 2012: ‘‘in a country every way by nature favourable to health’: Landscape and Public Health in Rural Wales’,  History of Medicine Unit, University of Birmingham
  • 2012: ‘Small places, big problems: the micro and the macro in public health in rural Wales’. History of Health and Medicine Workshop, University of Bergen
  • 2011: ‘”it might not be a nuisance in a country cottage”: Rural sanitary conditions and images of health in Rural Wales, c. 1870-1900’, EAHHM International Conference, Utrecht
  • 2010: ‘‘The sanitary condition of the place is very bad’: Public Health in the Rural Landscape’, British Association for Victorian Studies, Glasgow:

Hospital narratives and Gothic fiction: Project examines encounters with institutional medicine – the asylum, the hospital, etc – to explore different types of hospital narrative and the hospital and asylum as places of Gothic horror. These narratives have attracted little attention from historians, while scholarship on Victorian hospitals has only recently engaged with the inner life of the hospital as a social institution. The project examines how these narratives imagined and represented patients’ lives inside the hospital. It looks at how Gothic conventions were used to voice wider fears about experimentation, and how these fictions countered an image of the hospital presented in their fundraising.

Project aims: 

  • How were encounters with institutional medicine represented in Gothic fiction?
  • How did Gothic fiction represent medical science and experimental medicine?
  • How did Gothic fiction present an alternative image to hospital fundraising?

Project length one year.

Project activities:

  • 2012: ‘The Gothic Laboratory’, Hendrick’s Gin lecture, Last Tuesday Society, London []
  • 2012: ‘Dying Scientifically: Gothic romance and London's Teaching Hospitals’, Annual Conference, British Society for Literature and Science, Oxford
  • 2012: ‘‘In danger of being the subject of some ghastly medical freak’: Medical Romance, the Gothic and rewriting the Antivivisection Narrative’, Nineteenth Century Studies Group, University of Reading
  • 2011: Cardiff Book Talk – Frankenstein []
  • 2011: Bart’s Pathology Museum Seminar Series, London