Winners announced for 2020 Medical Humanities Awards

Puzzle jigsaw heart on brain, mental health concept.

This year’s winners have transformed our understanding of contemporary issues such as the spread of disease, mental illness and obesity.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), in association with Wellcome, are delighted to announce the winners of the 2020 Medical Humanities Awards.

The research recognised by this year’s winners has challenged the way we approach medical science and informed health policy in the UK and internationally.

It includes research into how the stigma surrounding obesity contributes to the obesity crisis and innovative art therapy techniques with long term benefits for patients.

Celebrating leading researchers

Among this year’s winners is Exeter University’s Dr Dora Vargha whose research into the impact of epidemics on the political landscape has informed current policies on epidemic management.

The Hearing the Voice team at Durham University have received the Best Research Award for their work with people who hear voices that others don’t.

Taking an arts and humanities approach, the team have changed traditional scientific approaches to this issue and provided crucial support for those distressed by their inner voices.

Rethinking medical science

For the UK to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis as a healthier society we must think creatively to unlock improvements to health and wellbeing.

The UK’s arts and humanities research sector is a powerhouse of creative thinking and has extraordinary potential to boost our health system and improve health outcomes.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the list of recipients of this year’s awards, each of whom have developed our understanding of medical and health sciences.

For the first time, this year’s winners were announced on BBC Radio 3 and you can listen back to the announcement on the BBC’s Free Thinking podcast.

Demonstrating academic and practical value

Professor Edward Harcourt, Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation at AHRC, said:

The projects recognised by these awards demonstrate that research into medical humanities has both academic and practical value with many projects already improving people’s long-term quality of life.

A fundamental part of AHRC’s mission is to encourage research that brings together communities from academia, the arts and medicine. These projects are a shining example of what we can achieve when we do this.

Importance of understanding health

Dr Dan O’Connor, Head of Humanities & Social Science at Wellcome, said:

From how the history of epidemics contributes to modern policies, to linking the intersections of social stigma and health inequalities, the diversity of these winning projects are astonishing examples of the importance of understanding health in its social and cultural contexts.

Discovery research in the medical humanities research informs our understanding on the very essence of what it means to be human and Wellcome proudly supports a range of research projects that provide these fresh insights.

The growing complexity of healthcare and wellbeing across a range of settings shows this research is as important now as it has ever been.

Further information

The 2020 Medical Humanities Awards winners

The Medical Humanities 2020 winners booklet (PDF, 1403KB) showcases the winners of these awards in more detail.

Best Research: Hearing the Voice (Durham University)

Hearing voices that others don’t is an experience people typically associate with distress, with the suffering of psychosis, with the fear of the unusual or unshared, with the shame arising from social stigma.

Over the last eight years, the Hearing the Voice team have pursued three closely related goals:

  • to help those who are distressed by their voices
  • to find out what voices are like and why they happen
  • to explore how hearing voices is an important and meaningful part of human experience.

Best Doctoral or Early Career Research: Weight of expectation (Oli Williams, Kings College London)

Oli Williams’ doctoral research joins the dots between inequality, health, and everyday life. It demonstrates how the ‘war on obesity’ promotes stigma. Oli’s aim was to understand how this stigma impacted people living in one of the most deprived areas in England.

His findings highlight how ineffective weight-based stigma is at preventing weight-gain or promoting weight-loss. Instead this stigma detrimentally impacts people’s health and discriminates against poorer sections of society.

Best International: Polio across the Iron Curtain (Dora Vargha, Exeter University)

Dr Vargha’s research on the Cold War politics of polio epidemics in the 1950s has explored a crucial moment in global health history.

Entwining an analysis of international organisations, the medical profession, and parents and children it sheds new light on an epidemic that did not respect geopolitical divisions.

In her book, Polio Across the Iron Curtain, Dr Vargha investigates the manifold politics of vaccine development, use and failure, treatment regimens and post-war disability, and scientific collaboration and mistrust.

This led to wider research into how the history of epidemics can contribute to understanding and informing current policies in epidemic management.

Best Community Research: Change Minds, archives for mental health (Laura Drysdale, Restoration Trust)

Since 2015 The Restoration Trust has partnered Norfolk Record Office and local mental health providers to run Change Minds, an archives and mental health programme.

Change Minds engages people with mental health challenges in a transformative co-created archival adventure.

Over 15 three-hour sessions, a facilitated group of around 10 people investigate case records of patients in local 19th century asylums.

Everyone choses a patient and learns research skills as they investigate their life story. They use this research as the basis for creative writing, art and theatre, leading to a shared public event.

Leadership Award: Victoria Bates, University of Bristol

Dr Victoria Bates is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Bristol. Her expansive research expertise ranges from 19th century forensic medicine to current-day sensory studies.

Victoria has recently focused on developing new types of impactful interdisciplinarity, through partnerships between medical humanities researchers and professionals in creative and design industries.

Her Future Leaders Fellowship, ‘Sensing Spaces of Healthcare’ brings together history, medical humanities, spatial or sensory studies and design for the first time.

Top image: Credit: ThitareeSarmkasat/GettyImages

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