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      Heritage and Stigma. Co-producing and communicating the histories of mental health and learning disability

      Medical Humanities

      BMJ Publishing Group

      History, Mental health care

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          University engagement with mental health services has traditionally been informed by the vocational and pedagogical links between the two sectors. However, a growth in the interest in public history and in the history of mental healthcare has offered new opportunities for those in the humanities to engage new audiences and to challenge perceptions about care in the past. The introduction of the ‘impact agenda’ and related funding streams has further encouraged academics to contribute to historical debates, and to those concerning current services. One such example of this is the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded Heritage and Stigma project at the University of Huddersfield, which was conceived to support mental health and learning disability charities in the exploration and dissemination of their own histories. Using this project as a case study, this paper will draw on primary source material to reflect on the opportunities and challenges of working in partnership with such groups. In particular, it will consider the need to address issues of stigma and exclusion in tandem with a critical understanding of the moves to ‘community care’ instigated by landmark legislation in the form of the 1959 Mental Health Act. Overall, it provides evidence of an inclusive, coproductive model of design and highlights the positive contribution to communicating mental health made by those based in the humanities.

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          Most cited references 35

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          Critical medical humanities: embracing entanglement, taking risks

          What can the medical humanities achieve? This paper does not seek to define what is meant by the medical humanities, nor to adjudicate the exact disciplinary or interdisciplinary knowledges it should offer, but rather to consider what it might be capable of doing. Exploring the many valences of the word ‘critical’, we argue here for a critical medical humanities characterised by: (i) a widening of the sites and scales of ‘the medical’ beyond the primal scene of the clinical encounter; (ii) greater attention not simply to the context and experience of health and illness, but to their constitution at multiple levels; (iii) closer engagement with critical theory, queer and disability studies, activist politics and other allied fields; (iv) recognition that the arts, humanities and social sciences are best viewed not as in service or in opposition to the clinical and life sciences, but as productively entangled with a ‘biomedical culture’; and, following on from this, (v) robust commitment to new forms of interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration. We go on to introduce the five other articles published in this special issue of the journal, reflecting on the ways in which collaboration and critique are articulated in their analyses of immunology, critical neuroscience, toxicity, global clinical labour, and psychological coercion and workfare. As these articles demonstrate, embracing the complex role of critical collaborator—one based on notions of entanglement, rather than servility or antagonism—will, we suggest, develop the imaginative and creative heterodox qualities and practices which have long been recognised as core strengths of the medical humanities.
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            The patient's view: doing medical history from below.

             R Porter (1985)
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              Engaging People in Making History: Impact, Public Engagement and the World Beyond the Campus

              By examining the longer history of engagement between academics and those outside the academy and reflecting on recent experiences of collaboration, this paper provides a critical perspective on understandings of engagement and the ‘impact’ of historical research today. Considering in particular the UK higher education landscape and the recent Research Excellence Framework measurement exercise, we argue that the current approach of universities, and understandings of the relationship between them and those outside higher education, promotes a model of one-way dissemination, entails a potentially paternalistic approach to an apparently passive public, and favours easily measurable change. We suggest that by revisiting the intellectual origins of the public-history movement we can better understand where the value in the relationship between academics and the public lies. Our conclusion is that refocusing on the process of engagement – rather than specific and easily evaluated outcomes – better reflects and values the most successful, productive and democratic collaborations between researchers and non-academic partners.

                Author and article information

                Med Humanit
                Med Humanit
                Medical Humanities
                BMJ Publishing Group (BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JR )
                June 2017
                30 May 2017
                : 43
                : 2
                : 92-98
                Author notes
                [Correspondence to ] Dr Rob Ellis, School of Music, Humanities and Media, University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield, HD1 3DH, UK; r.ellis@
                Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to

                This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

                Funded by: Arts and Humanities Research Council,;
                Award ID: AH/K007548/1
                Original Article
                Custom metadata

                mental health care, history


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