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Reading Well. The Trials of Bibliotherapy and the Hospital Library as Contact Zone

18.12.2018

Taking the idea of the hospital library as a central case study, this lecture draws on the spaces between medicine and the humanities, particularly the different ways of reading and knowing that seem inherent in each discipline. The notion of reading to get well, or ‘bibliotherapy’ is broadly established in current usage in the social sciences and humanities, but the word’s first appearance, in an issue of the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1916 was meant as a joke. Something of this vulnerability remains on both a micro and macro level, as arts-based interventions try to justify themselves in medical contexts, and in the precarious status of the humanities in a global funding context geared towards the sciences.

A study of the East London Children’s Hospital library catalogue, which survives from the nineteenth century, is thought-provoking in the light of these contemporary questions. While we can recover something of Victorian reading habits and mores from looking at the archival material, this lecture will reflect on the difficulty of reading this (or any) hospital library space ‘well’. Articulating and placing a use-vale on a space which is, both ‘under-theorized’ (Nethersole, 2011) and riven by affective forces may be an impossible and counterproductive task. The lecture will conclude with reflections on possibilities for public engagement for those in the humanities – particularly the difficulties of translating ideas of affect and anecdote in a world dominated by measurement and evidence.

 

Sophie Ratcliffe

Main Research InterestsSophie Ratcliffe

  • Medical Humanities
  • Literature and Emotion
  • Nineteenth Century Literature

Publications (selected)

  • “The Trouble with Feeling Now: Thomas Woolner, Robert Browning, and the Touching Case of Constance and Arthur.” In: 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. 2016(23).
  • “The Episodic Trollope and An Editor's Tales.” In: Victorian Studies, Vol. 58(1) 2015, 57-83.
  • “The Condition of England Novel.” In: Discovering Literature, British Library Website, 2014.

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