Health Humanities

Health humanities is an emerging strength within the English unit at Loughborough. Our research explores the intersection of English, Humanities, Health, Healthcare, and Wellbeing.

We have particular expertise in mental health in the nineteenth century, ageing and the contemporary, ill-health and work in the twenty-first century, early modern dietary culture (including Shakespeare), and early modern women’s health, pregnancy, and childbirth.




Recent activities:

  • Siân Adiseshiahworks on ageing, old age, and longevity. She has written on utopia and ageing in relation to George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 play, Back to Methuselah and has a chapter forthcoming, ‘Ageing and/as Crisis in Twenty-first-century British Theatre’, in Performing Crisis in Contemporary British Theatre, ed. Clare Wallace et. al (London: Bloomsbury, 2021). Siân was Principle Convenor of British Academy conference ‘Narratives of Old Age and Gender’ (September, 2019). Her current project, ‘Ageing in the Contemporary’ examines the ways in which the ‘contemporary’ of ‘contemporary culture’ is conventionally associated with younger phases of the life course at the expense of old age. 



  • Katherine Aske works on women’s beauty and skincare in the long eighteenth century. She has published widely in the field of eighteenth-century studies, on literature, scientific and philosophic theory, medicine and material culture, in national and international peer-reviewed publications. She is currently working on her first monograph, Being Pretty: Understanding Beauty in the Eighteenth Century, which examines the conceptualisation of women’s beauty as a physical and metaphysical concept, uncovering the constructs that informed the judgement of women’s bodies, appearance, and characters in the period. Her most recent research project focuses on the medicalisation of the skin and proto-dermatology from 1660 to 1830. Creating an original framework for identifying established physiological indicators of health, the project examines professional and domestic engagement with skincare in order to evidence a mutual exchange of medical knowledge between domestic, popular and professional cultures. With two upcoming chapters on the subject, Aske’s research argues that, while the medical and popular history of the skin is a growing area of research, it also necessitates a re-evaluation of what constitutes medical literature, and underlines the need for further research into the significance of women’s domestic medical knowledge of skincare treatments in eighteenth-century and health humanities studies.
  • Megan Constable's research is practice-based and examines the intersection of disability studies and young adult literature. Megan’s research examines the cultural context, debates and challenges faced by an able-bodied author writing a fictional character with a disability. Her creative work intends to highlight the societal, institutional, environmental and attitudinal barriers which contribute to lower employment expectations for disabled people. Megan hopes to provide the reader with a more complex and comprehensive understanding of the physiological, psychological and social implications of disabled reality. Megan’s novel will include themes such as: disability and society, mental health, social media and issues surrounding digitally manipulated images.
  • Jennifer Cooke works on feminism and gender in contemporary literature and theory, a focus that frequently leads to consideration of mental and physical health, and embodied labour such as surrogacy, sex work, and childcare. In Contemporary Feminist Life-Writing: the New Audacity (CUP, 2020), she analysed accounts of rape, mental ill-health, sex work, and experimentation with testosterone. Her current monograph project on contemporary representations of the work of mothers examines memoirs of poverty that detail the tribulations and poor mental and physical health of mothers working precarious jobs, analyses surrogacy novels and plays, and discusses the difficulties of balancing childcare with a career in academia.
  • Joan Fitzpatrick has been involved in a number of projects relating to her expertise on early modern dietary culture, Shakespeare, and his contemporaries. These include 'ExpoShakespeare: Food Onstage' organized by Milan State University (2013- 2016) where she served as a member of the project’s Advisory Board. Joan is regularly invited to speak to the media about Shakespeare and dietary culture and was part of BBC Radio Three's 'Big Essay' series in 2016 to mark 400 years since Shakespeare's death. She is on the editorial boards of the peer-reviewed journals Early Modern Culture and Global Food History and is currently working on a book for Routledge on Shakespeare and hospitality.
  • Elaine Hobby is interested in early-modern perceptions and experiences of health. She has edited the first English-language midwifery manual, The Birth of Mankind, which was a best-seller between 1540 and 1650 – in part, no doubt, because for its first 50 years it was the only description of the human reproductive system available in English (complete with pictures). In her work on that book, and in her earlier edition of the first midwifery manual written by a woman – Jane Sharp’s The Midwives Book (1671) – Elaine has sought to enable present-day readers to understand how it might have felt to bring babies into the world and to have responsibility for their care in the past. In the early-modern period, today’s tendency to think that physical health is separate from mental health had not yet developed, and Elaine has also worked on early-modern depression, and more generally on the relationship between diet, medicine and health. 
  • Claire O’Callaghan’s research includes constructions of health, mental health and the politics of representation. With Dr Sarah Fanning (Mount Allison University, Canada), she has a chapter forthcoming in the collection Diagnosing History: Medicine in Television Costume Drama (2021, MUP) on the representation of addiction and mental health in Brontë biopics. Claire is also writing an article on Charlotte Brontë’s account of her sister Emily’s experience of tuberculosis. Beyond this, Claire has interests in the history and representation of the nineteenth-century lunatic asylum. Claire is a co-founder of Loughborough’s Mental Health Research Network.  
  • Rai Powell began her PhD at Loughborough University in October 2021, having accepted a fully funded research studentship from the School of Social Sciences and Humanities in the Department of English. Through practice-led research, Rai is exploring female monstrosity in Young Adult Fiction and Popular Culture. Her thesis is called ‘Menarche, Monstrosity, and Magic: Destigmatising Menstruation in Gothic Young Adult Literature and Popular Culture’, and is supervised by Dr Sara Read and Dr Catie Gill. Rai’s practice-led research centres around the link between menstruation and female power. It also examines the reasons why women are so often demonised and turned into monsters. Her research will look at the challenges of writing about menstruation and supernatural power without creating further stigma. In 2020, Rai completed an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. During her MA, Rai also published work as a freelance music journalist and a health and lifestyle writer for a number of national magazines. Rai also received a BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Salford. During her time at Salford, she wrote and performed in a play based on her real-life experiences of being hospitalised. She also worked on the university newspaper and published her first novel.
  • Sara Read works on cultural representations of early modern women’s reproductive health. Her doctoral research was a study of representations of reproductive bleeding in this era from menarche to menopause, and including postpartum bleeding. Her first monograph Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England was published by Palgrave in 2013. She has since published on representations of pregnancy and miscarriage. She appeared as an expert guest on BBC 3’s Free Thinking ‘All About Eve: Stories of the Fall; Pregnancy and Aphrodisiacs’. Sara works on the history of health and medicine more broadly too and co-edits the popular blog She has been published in numerous history magazines on topics related to her research, including History Today, and Who do You Think You Are? And had bylines in the iNews and Yorkshire Pose on the history of diseases. Her most recent publication was a practice as research novel in which she brought to life a fictional midwife inspired by the writings of historical figures. The Gossips’ Choice was published by Wild Pressed Books in 2020.
  • Izzi Sigley focuses on haptic experience in short fiction by women at the fin de siècle. The sensory focus of her research has brought her  into contact with Health Humanities in various ways, from thinking about the function of the skin (and the consequences of broken or pierced cutaneous layers), to thinking about the embodied experience of illness. A lot of touch scholarship has developed out of considerations of blindness and, as such, this has left an impression on her own work. Her focus on touch has also lead to reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic, which she has written about from a sociological perspective in the Social Sciences and Humanities Open journal. She has also been invited to speak at two symposiums on the sensory impact of the pandemic. The first was a SocialBridges event titled ‘Social Distancing and Touch’ held in conjunction with the International Association for the Study of Affective Touch in June 2021. The second symposium, ‘Sensing the Pandemic’, in which she discussed the pandemic and touch from a more phenomenological perspective, was jointly hosted by Anglia Ruskin University and University of Melbourne in December 2021.

Group members

Katie Aske

Research Student

Megan Constable

Research Student

Jennifer Cooke

Head of English, Senior Lecturer in English

Rai Powell

Research Student

Elaine Hobby

Professor of 17th-Century Studies

Izzi Sigley

Research Student