I developed an interest in the ethical questions raised by medicine and the biological sciences during my undergraduate degree at the University of Liverpool. I came to Manchester in 2000, to take an MA in the History and Social Anthropology of Science, Technology and Medicine. My MA dissertation, on informed consent and large-scale 'biobanks', prompted my interest in the longer history of public attitudes to research on human tissues. After successfully applying to the Wellcome Trust, and now based fully at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), I began my PhD in 2002. I completed the PhD in 2005 and it has resulted in several articles and my 2011 book Tissue Culture in Science and Society: The Public Life of Biological Technique in Twentieth Century Britain.
During my PhD research, I noticed that philosophers and lawyers entered debates from the 1970s onwards and decided to make this outside involvement, or 'bioethics', the subject of my next research project. After a couple of years spent teaching at CHSTM and writing a book on Reconfiguring Biological Sciences, I started my Wellcome fellowship on the history of bioethics in 2007. This work was written up in several articles and my 2014 book on The Making of British Bioethics. Between 2011 and December 2015 I was a research associate on Professor Mick Worboys' programme grant on 'Before Translational Medicine: Bench-Bedside Relations Since c.1950'.
In January 2016 I will begin a Wellcome Trust University Award project on 'Species Loss and the Ecology of Human-Animal Health', investigating how growing awareness of links between rapid species extinction and human health fostered new ways of viewing, valuing and intervening in the natural world, with profound consequences for ethical debates about why some endangered species matter more than others.
I am a modern historian, whose work investigates changing notions of health, disease and morality in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My research interests include: -
Species Loss and the Ecology of Human-Animal Health.
In January 2016 I will begin a Wellcome Trust University Award project on 'Species Loss and the Ecology of Human-Animal Health: Understanding and Preventing Extinction in the Twentieth Century and Beyond'. Drawing on the archives of conservation organisations, scientific institutions and zoos, as well as interviews with conservation biologists and policymakers, the project will explore and historicise the scientific interest in connections between species loss and human health, and will focus on how awareness of these connections underpinned new ways of viewing, valuing and intervening in the natural world.
The project aims to bridge important approaches in medical humanities and environmental history and will enable me to engage with contemporary issues. Given the dire warnings about the rates and consequences of species loss today, which scientists label the 'sixth mass extinction', we urgently need histories that help us to reflect on who, or rather what, counts in our societies and why.
Histories of Bioethics, Tissue Culture and Animal 'Suicide'.
In several articles and a 2014 book on The Making of British Bioethics, I investigated why recent decades witnessed a profound change in the politics of medicine and the biological sciences, both in Britain and worldwide, with members of several professions, collectively known as 'bioethicists', discussing and helping to regulate issues that were once the preserve of doctors and scientists. I detailed how bioethics became influential in Britain because it mapped onto the neo-liberal belief that professions should be externally monitored to increase their public accountability. I also showed how bioethicists consolidated their authority by acting as crucial intermediaries: echoing criticism of self-regulation while claiming that bioethics was vital to maintaining public trust in science and medicine.
I have also published a 2011 book on popular attitudes to tissue culture, showing how its 'public life' arose thanks to engagement between scientific practices and socio-cultural concerns in twentieth century Britain. And in work with Ed Ramsden, I have shown that there was considerable popular and scientific interest in the possibility of animal suicide during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: reflecting shifting ideas about the relations between human and animal minds and our duties toward the natural world.
I am currently the tutor for second year students taking Biology with Science and Society, and teach on undergraduate and postgraduate courses that cover the history of medicine and the life sciences.
I supervise final and second year projects on a range of subjects, and welcome proposals from students interested in history of medicine, bioethics, biology and the environmental sciences.