The Reading Room: The Birkbeck Medical Humanities Reading Group


The Birkbeck Medical Humanities reading group aims to create a space in which academics, clinicians and students can come together to explore key readings, ideas and materials in the field of medical humanities. Our endeavour is to find ways of talking across the different disciplines of the humanities and medicine, and we welcome participation from colleagues interested and engaged in these areas.

Our next meeting will be on Wednesday, 27 May 2015, where we will continue to explore the theme of narrativity in the medical humanities, with a special focus on verbalising illness.

We will meet in the Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square, between 3.30-5pm. 

Set texts:

  • Lucy Bending, ‘Approximation, Suggestion, and Analogy: Translating Pain into Language’, The Yearbook of English Studies, 36:1, Translation  (2006), 131-137
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  • Joanna Bourke, ‘Metaphor’, in The Story of Pain: From Pain to Painkillers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • Extracts from Alphonse Daudet, In the Land of Pain, trans. By Juilan Barnes (New York, 2002)
  • Extracts from Eula Bliss, On Immunity: An Inoculation (2014)

For further details, and copies of the set texts, please contact Heather Tilley,

Colleagues may also be interested in listening to this Radio 4 programme on the Language of Pain, aired on 2 May, on the BBC iPlayer ( (blurb below).

Virginia Woolf claimed that English has no words to express what it feels like to be in pain. Professor Joanna Bourke from the Birkbeck Pain Project sets out to challenge this notion, exploring archives from the last two centuries to illustrate the rich metaphorical language people have used to express pain, and demonstrate why doctors need to pay attention to what their patients say. This one-hour programme includes contributions from social, cultural and music historians Dr Louise Hide, Dr Lucy Bending, Dr Simon Heighes, Professor Javier Moscoso and Dr Ana Carden-Coyne, as well as pain clinicians Professor Rita Charon and Dr Joanna Zakrzewska, and artist Dr Deborah Padfield. It has been produced by Isabel Sutton for Just Radio.

Next Reading Group

Our last meeting of the term will be held on Wednesday 24 June, 3.30-5.00 (again in the Keynes library), and will focus on graphic medicine, with selections from Ian Williams, Daryl Cunningham, and some short animated videos.

More information on the group is available on our webpage, along with details of past reading.

Jo Winning (Director), Heather Tilley and Suzannah Biernoff.


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