Monsters and Mutations

Health Humanities co-director Andrew Mangham (English Literature) reflects on the recent season of events.

Last week our ‘Monsters and Mutations’ series of events closed with a screening of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1832), a controversial film featuring real ‘freak show’ performers and offering an insight into the daily lives of circus performers in the early decades of the twentieth century. The film was introduced by our own PhD researcher Evan Hayles Gledhill who drew attention to the question of who the real ‘monsters’ of the film are; a pertinent query given how it is the able-bodied characters who behave most horribly throughout. Evan also introduced the second film in the series, Nosferatu, the 1922 German Expressionist gem, directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok. Evan introduced the larger cultural questions surrounding the portrayal of the vampire, including the impact of eugenicist theories, the menace of antisemitism, and the perceived spread of syphilis. A week prior, the film season had been kicked off by Xavier Aldana Reyes, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and author of Spanish Gothic (2017), Horror Film and Affect (2016), and Body Gothic (2014). Xavier introduced Der Golem, a 1915 German silent horror film, written and directed by Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen. Introducing us to the rich and fascinating context for the film, he also discussed the question of what constitutes monstrosity, how its energies are largely man-made, even within the context of the supernatural, and how it often touches upon our deepest fears and prejudices. Overall, the three films worked extremely well together, each one taking the problem of defining the monstrous and effectively holding a mirror up to the cultural ideologies and creative powers of the societies and the industries who create them.

Complementing the three film screenings, we had a public talk on ‘Hybrids and Health Humanities: Ceroplasty, Couplets, Chimeras’ by Eleanor Crook and Kelley Swaine. Eleanor is a sculptor and medical artist. She trained at the Royal Academy and has sculpted anatomical and pathological waxworks for the Gordon Museum of Pathology at Guy’s Hospital, the London Science Museum, and the Royal College of Surgeons. Kelley is a writer working in academia, science, and the arts. She is the author of numerous books exploring questions of science and culture, the history of science, and the body in representation. Together, Eleanor and Kelley explored the intersections between sculpture, the body, and the written form; they teased out some vital questions on the intersections between medical science and the humanities, revealing patterns across artistic and biological forms. On the theme of monsters and mutations, we were introduced to some of Eleanor’s beautiful works on hybrids and metamorphoses, while Kelley’s interpretations of Eleanor’s work complemented her own creative work on chimeras, and the creative links between monsters, mutations and the imagination.

For up-to-date information on other Health Humanities Events, follow @healthhums on Twitter.

Monsters film festival

In the weeks leading up to Halloween the Health Humanities research cluster is teaming up with Reading Film Theatre to organise a ‘Monsters’ film festival. Academics, students and the local community are invited to (re)discover classic monster films. Victims or fiends, the protagonists in these interwar films challenge us to question our perceptions of monstrosity but also of normality.



  • Wednesday 11th October: The Golem (1920), Minghella Studios, 7pm

An immediate success upon its release in 1920, The Golem is a seldom-screened Gothic horror gem from Germany’s Weimar era. Set in the 16th-century, it is based on the legend of a rabbi who creates the Golem – a giant creature made of clay – in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution. The film showing will be preceded by a talk on ‘Visualising Monstrosity in Early Gothic Cinema’ by Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, author of Horror Film and Affect and Digital Horror: Haunted Technologies, Network Panic and the Found Footage Phenomenon amongst other publications.


  • Wednesday 18th October: Nosferatu (1922), Minghella Studios, 7pm

Based on gothic classic Dracula, Nosferatu is an early horror masterpiece. The film will be introduced by Evan Hayles Gledhill, researcher of monstrosities and masculinities at the University of Reading.


  • Wednesday 25th October: Freaks (1932), Palmer G10, 7pm.

Tod Browning’s controversial classic features real actors from carnival shows and asks vital questions about cultural perceptions of ‘normality’ and ‘monstrosity’. The film will be introduced by Evan Hayles Gledhill, researcher of monstrosities and masculinities at the University of Reading.


Tickets cost £5 and no booking is required. For more information please contact Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt.

Anatomical Art in the Royal Academy

Anatomical artist Eleanor Crook reflects on the University of Reading’s Minnie Jane Hardman Collection.

‘Lady Artist’: Minnie Jane Hardman (née Shubrook)

Minnie Jane Hardman (née Shubrook) and I attended the Royal Academy Schools at points a century apart. Hardman was a student at the Royal Academy in the 1880s and I trained there myself in the 1990s. The University of Reading owns over 125 original pieces by Hardman, including examinations on perspective, anatomical and life drawings, and examples of her superb sketches and stippling – many of which were awarded prizes by the Academy. With members from the University’s Health Humanities Research Group, I looked through Hardman’s anatomical studies and sketchbook earlier this month. Looking through her artschools work from the Academy was very touching and certainly gave me a lot to think about. Her figure drawings and anatomy studies were a discipline in their day, more formative, I suspect, than enjoyable. Like practicing scales and arpeggios at a classical music conservatoire, one was there to hone skills and train the machine of rendering within the perceptual and recording apparatus that that style of representation demanded. It must have been such hard work, especially as it was pitched in competition against the men at the Academy (who would have received a deeper training and had the advantage of higher expectations). I expect that for any budding art student each drawing was to begin a welter of self-doubt and intimidation under the supervision of strict and critical masters. Not to mention the pressure of actual Rubenses, actual Reynoldses, and actual Delacroixes bearing down from the walls of the academy! In fact, I am reminded of a famous passage from Karl Marx:

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis, they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language.

The Academy’s schools’s august tradition certainly had that effect on me and some of my contemporaries.

These reflections make me love, really love, Hardman’s drawings and appreciate how wonderful that they are being cared for, studied, and rescued from obscurity by Naomi Lebens, the University’s art curator. Naomi showed us a little book of press cuttings, left by Hardman. I think, on some level, that the artist left her press cuttings book for researchers, thinking they would find it useful. The most obscure of us harbour a fantasy that one day our art school drawings will be dusted off and looked through by a sympathetic eye – that one day we might make something that would give our sketches a retrospective importance. Otherwise, we’d throw them away.

Eleanor Crook trained in sculpture at Central St Martins and the Royal Academy and makes figures and effigies in wax, carved wood, and lifelike media. She has also made a special study of anatomy and has sculpted anatomical and pathological waxworks for the Gordon Museum of Pathology at Guy’s Hospital, London’s Science Museum, and the Royal College of Surgeons of England. She exhibits internationally in both fine art and science museum contexts.

New Chapter: “She Sleeps Well & Eats an Egg”: Convalescent Care in Early Modern England

By Hannah Newton (History)

Today in western healthcare, a special branch of medicine is dedicated to the care of patients recovering from critical illnesses – rehabilitation or convalescent medicine. Involving a host of professionals, including intensive care specialists, nutritionists, clinical psychologists, and occupational therapists, rehabilitation medicine seeks to help patients regain their former physical and emotional health after a life-threatening or debilitating disease. We might be tempted to assume that convalescent medicine is a modern invention, which coincided with advances in medicine; back in the ‘olden days’, when remedies were ineffective or even dangerous, surely the sick would have died rather than recovered. In a new open access chapter, ‘She Sleeps Well and Eats an Egg’, I show that this was not the case. Convalescents were ubiquitous in early modern England. Typically described as ‘pale as marble’ and ‘lean as skeletons’, these patients were deemed worthy of their own distinctive type of medicine, which was designed to restore strength and flesh to the body, and prevent relapse into disease. To achieve these aims, doctors and family members monitored and managed what were known as the ‘six non-naturals’, the patient’s excretions, sleep, food, emotions, air, and exercise. A gentle laxative, followed by nutritious and easily digestible food, merry company, and plenty of sleep, expanded the body’s ‘spirits’ and ‘radical moisture’, thereby fattening and enlivening the whole person. I argue that these various interventions constituted a concept of convalescent care, or to use the contemporary term, ‘analeptics’.

This open access chapter is part of a collection on Conserving Health in Early Modern Culture (Manchester University Press, July 2017), edited by Sandra Cavallo and Tessa Storey. Here is the download link:

New Project: Combating Anti-Microbial Resistance: Information Design and Architecture in Persuasive Pharmacy Spaces

By Rosemary Lim (Pharmacy)

What do graphic and information design, architecture, pharmacy and human factors have to offer collectively to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?

We are very excited to report that a multi-disciplinary team of academics who are members of the Health Humanities research cluster in the disciplines mentioned and Loughborough Design School have recently been successful in receiving funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council special call on tackling antimicrobial resistance in the build environment.

The Information Design and Architecture in Persuasive Pharmacy Spaces: combating AMR [IDAPPS] project, led by Professor Sue Walker (Typography and Graphic Communication), introduces ‘persuasive space’ in thinking about the presentation of information, its situation within an environment, and how users interact with it, in the context of a community pharmacy. Community pharmacies are socially inclusive and convenient, and today play a key role in delivering public health. They are places where people wait for prescriptions to be filled or to see a pharmacist, and offer a persuasive space to raise awareness of the dangers of AMR.

The work done by Otto and Marie Neurath in the 1930s to raise awareness of and support prevention of tuberculosis (TB) inspired our work. They produced a series of charts with striking and effective images based on consistent and carefully considered principles, for public display in schools and community centres. The Neuraths believed that the space in which the charts were read and used was important for their effective reception and understanding. This aligned with the notion of persuasive space in architecture, in particular a significant seam of work taking place in the 1930s in the early stages of modernism when functionalism came to the fore.

IDAPPs considers this historical context studying graphic and information design in the nineteenth- and early-twentieth century used to tell people about, for example, TB, infection spread, and approaches to hygiene to combat bacterial infection. We use this information to inform ideas for the development of designs for a persuasive pharmacy space, also taking account of user-centred information design projects which patients, families, carers, health professionals and designers work together, and the integrating and participatory principles of human factors and ergonomics.

IDAPPS has been designed to provoke and to generate ideas for future consideration. Through a competition, good practice report, and public exhibition, we anticipate a thriving legacy. A competition to design persuasive pharmacy space will comprise teams of information/graphic designers, architect or built environment profes­sionals or researchers and pharmacy practitioners or researchers. It will result in the development of a winning prototype set up in a pharmacy.

A report containing good practice guidelines for persuasive space in community pharmacies will contribute to expanding knowledge on the impact of the built environment and information design on wellbeing and education and will therefore be of interest to a wide variety of organisations. An exhibition will show examples of archival material to show how explanations and descriptions of AMR have been dealt with in the past, and the prototype design solutions.

To enhance feasibility and add value to the project, we have engaged two project partners: Day Lewis, a large independent pharmacy chain and Design Science, a leading science communication design group who will advise on the transformation of scientific fact to understandable information and play a key role in the curation and design of the exhibition.

Academic team

University of Reading

Prof Sue Walker (PI) Typography & Graphic Communication; Dr Rosemary Lim (Co-I) Pharmacy; Prof Flora Samuel (Co-I) Architecture

Loughborough University

Prof Sue Hignett (Co-I) Loughborough Design School


Examples of late-19th and early-20th century printed ephemera selected to how information about ‘microbes’ was presented to the public. Our intention is to focus on the verbal and graphic presentation of the information, noting, for example, expected level of literacy of the readers; ways in which medical authority is conveyed, and how the idea of microbes and resisting their spread has been represented graphically.

The Moral and Spiritual Implications of Illness and Suffering: the 2017 EMRC Conference

By Alanna Skuse (English Literature)

It’s now 48 hours since the end of the Reading Early Modern Research Centre’s 2017 conference, and I have sufficiently recovered to write up some observations from the event. (How can sitting down for two days be so exhausting?)

This year’s conference theme was ‘Complaints and Grievances’, and both the Wellcome Trust and the Health Humanities Research Group generously helped to fund a medical humanities strand which attracted speakers from various corners of the globe. This aspect of the conference intersected neatly with the University of Reading’s increasingly active medical humanities scholarship, including the cluster for Health Humanities.

Among those who travelled some distance to attend was the plenary speaker Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen (University of Leiden), a literary historian whose work has been central to the recent foregrounding of pain as a scholarly topic. His nuanced presentation on ‘Affliction, Consolation and the Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern England’ dealt provocatively with the question of what comfort and solace religious faith might (or might not) offer to those struggling under various kinds of grievances. His account of Nehemiah Wallington’s inconsolable grief at the death of his infant daughter was a moving reminder of the limits of consolation in the face of tragedy.

Appropriately, the topics of suffering, succour, consolation and punishment ran through many of the papers. Most of the papers in the medical strand focussed on the practical ‘complaints’ of early modern life, with topics ranging from sexual health (Jennifer Evans, Mona O’Brien) to accident and injury (Craig Spence), poverty (Sarah-Jayne Ainsworth, Hannah Worthen), self-help in illness (Hannah Newton, Elizabeth Hunter) and epidemics (Paola Baseotto). In discussions, however, it quickly became evident that underpinning these investigations were common questions about the . Did God send suffering as a punishment for wrongdoing or as a valuable opportunity to strengthen ones faith? Was the correct response to suffering resignation or active struggle? Did early modern people believe that they were bound to suffer, or that they had a right to health and happiness?

A visit to the Cole Collection

The Health Humanities Research Group was proud to welcome poet Kelley Swain and sculptor Eleanor Crook to the Cole Museum and to the Cole Archive on Tuesday. Kelley’s blog post can be read at the following link:


Kelley Swain is a poet and writer with a particular interest in  the links between poetry and science:

Eleanor Crook is a sculptor of anatomical models and the macabre:

For more information on the Cole Collection, visit: and

Michael Ruse speaking on evolution as a religion

Prof Michael Ruse from Florida State University will be coming to speak on Tuesday 26th May (week 6) at 2 in the Harborne Lecture Theatre on the theme of ‘Is Evolution a Religion? A View From Literature’. Michael is one of the leading philosophers of evolution, and the author of many influential books on the subject, including Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? and Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology . Please do join us if you can for his stimulating and engaging talk – all welcome.