This Wellcome Trust-funded network is a community of scholars from a range of disciplinary and institutional backgrounds, whose research is broadly situated in the field of Black health. The network was born of a critical call to address issues related to racism in healthcare, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement which surfaced the urgency of attending to the disproportionate impact of healthcare crises and asymmetrical affordances of care in marginalised communities.
From October 2020-September 2022, under the brilliant leadership of Principal Investigator, Dr Josie Gill, and Research Associate, Dr Amber Lascelles, based at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Black Humanities, the network ran a training programme for its members. The programme offered a series of virtual workshops led by artists and activists, deploying formats as diverse as creative writing exercises to archival work to critically interrogate how institutional and creative practices mediate ecologies of healthcare in Britain. At its core, the network created a supportive space for expressing and addressing critical issues that confront us as researchers in the medical humanities, and in our communities – from mental and sexual health, to the climate crisis and environmental racism. What emerged was vital connections that exceeded academic collaborations, during what was often an isolating experience of researching and living through the pandemic.
From September 2022, we are delighted to announce that the network will be hosted by Durham University’s Institute for Medical Humanities, coordinated by Network members, PI Dr Arya Thampuran (Assistant Professor at Durham University’s Institute for Medical Humanities) and Co-PI, Dr Shelda-Jane Smith (Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Liverpool).
The network will continue to be member-led and collaborative, committed to supporting the needs of members identified through the training programme, providing research support, mentorship, and an outlet for creative productions. This institutional transfer offers exciting prospects for expanding the interdisciplinary partnerships that have proven invaluable in the last year, with the infrastructural support to build upon the network’s legacy as it develops beyond this academic year.
Durham’s leadership in the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research and its existing research communities, such as the Neurodivergent Humanities Network, can valuably bridge further cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary dialogue. There is much scope for collaborative conferences, reading groups, and publications that draw on the wide-ranging skills and interests across these scholarly communities. The network will also facilitate regular work-in-progress forums for existing members to meet their research and career support needs. In the longer-term, there is a view towards extending the membership model and incorporating a mentorship programme for precarious scholars in the field.
Through the research activities planned for this year, Arya and Shelda-Jane are aiming to develop a best practice methodology document which will outline principles for engaging with sensitive material informed by the network’s facilitation of research activities, and that can, in turn, shape pedagogical practice within and beyond academic spaces.