Upcoming panel on “Convalescence and Recovery in British History and Culture”

Line engraving by C. Cousen, 1877, after M.B. Foster. Credit: Wellcome Collection (CC BY)

For anyone who may be in the Liverpool area in mid-July, I’ve organized a panel for the upcoming Society History of Medicine conference: “‘Neither Sick nor Sound’: Convalescence and Recovery in British History and Culture.” I’m excited to be joining contributors Dr. Hannah Newton and Dr. Hosanna Krienke to be discussing the largely overlooked histories of convalescence and recovery from the early modern period through the nineteenth century in British history and literature. Here’s the panel abstract:

In contrast to illness and disease, convalescence and recovery have received scant attention from historians of medicine. To address this lacuna, this panel considers understandings and experiences of convalescence in Britain since the early modern period. We call attention to the persistent importance of convalescence as a liminal category, situated uneasily between illness and health. Drawing on a range of medical, religious, and literary sources, we demonstrate that both the care of convalescents and representations of convalescence have been shaped by distinct therapeutic regimes, spiritual responses, ethical paradigms, and philanthropic ideals.

I’ll be talking about Victorian convalescent homes’ continual struggle to define who was “truly” convalescent. Using administrative documents, admissions records, and philanthropic reports, I show that various stakeholders—including hospitals, home administrators, and philanthropies—emphasized different and sometimes conflicting characteristics of convalescence. These tensions helped shape a ‘convalescent role’ in late Victorian culture. Unlike the figure of the invalid, which epitomized withdrawal and stasis, the convalescent implied progress, movement, and resolution, suggesting the possibility of reconciliation between economic progress and social dislocation; between industrialization and health; and between urban disruption and family stability. This research sheds new light on our understanding of convalescence as a distinct category of patient experience and therapeutic concern, and on how the meaning of convalescence was shaped by larger concerns about medicine and political economy.

Here’s the conference program.