Shame and Medicine Exeter
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Shame and Medical History Seminar Series

Event date: February 2022 onwards

Venue: Hybrid

The Shame and Medicine Project in collaboration with the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter, will run a seminar series over the next few years which will examine shame and stigma in the context of medical history.

Seminars are hybrid events and will take place on Thursdays from 2-3.30 GMT.

Upcoming seminars:

  • 8th February 2024 Dr Jennifer Evans (University of Hertfordshire) – Registration details to follow.

TITLE: ‘‘He was ashamed to let me know of it, and thought to have got cured otherwise without my knowledge’: Medical writer’s quibbles about genitourinary patients in early modern England.’

ABSTRACT: This seminar considers the extent to which disorders affecting the genitals and reproductive organs caused embarrassment and shame. It demonstrates that medical literature described men as being embarrassed but configured this as a specific component of the relationship between medic and patient, whom they avoided in favour of domestic solutions, irregulars, and quacks. To counter this, practitioners mingled shame and embarrassment with negligence, emphasizing that a failure to seek appropriate medical help exacerbated symptoms and further threatened the reproductive organs. Moreover, they made strategic use of anonymity in their observations to accentuate their own abilities to be discreet during treatment. Practitioners played upon men’s concerns about the embarrassing nature of these disorders to gain paying clients.

  • 2nd May 2024 – Dr Daria Schwalbe (University of Copenhagen) – Registration details to follow.

TITLE: ‘The Culture of Silence: Sexual Violence and Shame.’

ABSTRACT: It has been repeatedly pointed out that the long-term psychological consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic might still be underway, as the massive and complicated nexus of emotions and pain is only beginning to be understood. In the Arctic, the virus was not very widespread; and Greenland managed particularly well to control the pandemic, and the imposed social isolation measures were limited. Yet, the numbers of suicide threats and cases of sexual and other forms of violence were reported to increase in Greenland, as well as across North American Arctic, particularly after the first wave of the pandemic. In this talk, I explore emotional responses and psychological consequences of the pandemic for the Arctic communities. Further, by looking at assumptions about suicide, culture and cure, embedded in therapeutic and health discourses, I scrutinize the role of culture and context for mental health in Greenland. I will also talk about the danger of the ‘silent culture’ (in Danish, ‘tavseskultur’), ascribed to Inuit (and Sami) societies, and the possible side effects of the ‘culture of confession,’ which prevails in contemporary health care and media discourses, and which assumes that ‘talking’ is the only possible cure and hence, the only rational solution to mental health problems in the Arctic. In my talk, I question this universal idea, arguing that to change the current mental health challenges in the Arctic, we need to change the framework of understanding suffering experiences in relation to the conditions for people’s lives.


Previous seminars:

  • View recording23 November 2023 (online only) – Professor Laura Kelly (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow) – ‘Shame in Narratives of Reproductive and Sexual Health in Twentieth-century Ireland’.
  • View recording – 4th May 2023 – Dr Michael Brown (Lancaster University) – ‘Bodily Shame in Romantic Surgery’.
  • View recording – 9th March 2023Dr Fred Cooper (University of Exeter) – ‘Loneliness and Shame: Towards a Historical Genealogy.’
  • View recording 5th May 2022 – Dr Anne Hanley (University of  Birmingham) – ‘I am polluted to the marrow, soaked in abomination!’ Shame and Sexual Health in Modern Britain.’

These seminars are approved by the Federation of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom for 2 category 1 (external) CPD credit(s) each.  A certificate of attendance will be issued.


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