NNMHR Congress 2021: (In)Visibility

Apr 17, 2021 | Blog, Media

The global and local health inequalities revealed and perpetuated by the COVID-19 pandemic require us to reflect upon how we do medical humanities research. How does our work render some aspects of health and illness visible, while leaving others out of sight?

The aim of this year’s congress is to think more carefully about what sort of experiences the medical humanities has become adept at bringing to light, whilst reflecting on the ways in which theoretical methodologies, research priorities and funding structures have left other voices unheard.

The organising committee includes Fraser Riddell, Angela Woods, Mary Robson, Jesse Proudfoot, Marie Allitt, Pauline Harrison, Ruben VerWaal, Sarah McLusky and Jane Abel. The Congress is hosted by the Institute for Medical Humanities, Durham University, organised by the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research, and supported by Wellcome.

Keynote speakers interviews

In the build-up to the Congress, I interviewed all four keynote speakers. The interviewa were published on The Polyphony:

Video poster presentation

My video poster presentation explores earwax in early modern medicine, arguing that it allows us to observe how diversity in hearing was rooted in the aural fluid of earwax. Scholarship has demonstrated how the senses were perceived afresh in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it often takes unobstructed hearing for granted or focuses almost exclusively on the profoundly deaf. With this video, I demonstrate that earwax was a point of entry into medical understandings of hearing and hearing difficulties. Also known as cerumen, earwax was the yellow, waxy substance secreted in the passage of the outer ear. Across Europe, physicians agreed that the quality of earwax resonated with both healthy and bad hearing. Asking why these physicians believed earwax played such an important role in hearing, I trace investigations into the variabilities of earwax, enabling physicians to come up with an aetiology for a wide range of hearing conditions, from ear pain and irritation to an obstructed aural orifice and deafness. In short, by focussing on the fluids coming from inside the ear, this video provides a fresh view on early modern perceptions of hearing and deafness.