Dr Alun Withey
Associate Research Fellow
I am currently a Wellcome Research Fellow, working on my major new project 'Do Beards Matter?: Facial Hair, Health and Hygiene in Britain, 1700-1918', funded by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Wellcome Trust.
I am an expert in early modern medical history, and my research interests include domestic medicine, and especially medical remedy collections, the medical marketplace and medical advertising, gender and the sick role, and the lived experience of sickness in early modern Britain. My book, 'Physick and the Family: Health, medicine and care in Wales c. 1600-1750 (MUP, 2012) was awarded the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH) book prize.
More recently, I have been exploring the interplay between technology and culture in the long eighteenth century, and the increasing market for products to shape the body. My new book 'Technology, Self-Fashioning and Politeness in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Refined Bodies' was published by Palgrave Macmillan in December 2015.
I am a Wellcome Research Fellow at Exeter, and have recently embarked on a major study of the history of facial hair in Britain, between 1700 and 1918, funded by a fellowship from the Wellcome Trust. Whilst some attention has been paid to the relationship between facial hair and constructions of masculinity, the place of facial hair within health and medicine has largely been overlooked. This project therefore aims to provide a new study of the health and hygiene history of facial hair over two centuries.
Among the themes are new studies of the changing understandings of tha nature of facial hair, but also of the practices associated with managing it. This will include a new study of the changing role of barbers/barber-surgeons, and of the impact of new technologies upon decisions to shave. To do this it will survey a mass of material from medical and other printed literature, portraiture, trade records and advertising, along with personal sources such as diaries and letters.
Outcomes of the project will include a major new academic monograph, a public exhibition and other related engagement events.
My broader research interests lie in medical history of the early moden period, (roughly c. 1600-1800) and include themes such as the body, early modern medical practice and practitioners, technologies of the body, domestic medicine, remedy culture and Welsh medicine.
I am currently supervising PhD candidates working on the history of early modern illegitimacy and infanticide, and industrial health in nineteenth-century Northumberland.
I am very happy to consider requests for supervision in any aspect of early modern medical history, and also in early modern history more broadly. For possible topics, please see my list of research interests.
Selected Conference Papers
- ‘Welsh Remedy Collections: Problems and Opportunities’, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, ‘Out of the Archives: Researching Herbal History Then and Now’ Seminar, 26th October 2011
- ‘Surgical Instruments and the Development of the Steel Trades in Eighteenth-Century Britain’, École normale supérieure, Paris, ‘Fitting for Health’ conference, 2nd September, 2010
- ‘Physicking the Family: Domestic medicine and gender roles in early modern Wales’, University of Sheffield, ‘Historical Perspectives on the Family’ conference, 23rd April, 2010
- ‘Worlds of Goods or Vulgar Counters?: Provincial apothecaries and the early modern medical marketplace’, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Warwick University, Research Seminar, 20th October 2009
- ‘A Silent Partner?: Wales and the Wider Medical World c. 1600-1750’, Oxford University, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Research Paper, 11th May 2009
- ‘The ‘Dyn Hysbys’ and the Doctor: Reassessing Welsh Medical History’, University of Glamorgan, Centre for Modern and Contemporary Wales, Research Paper, 29th October 2008
- ‘Cymru Collections: The Importance of Domestic Remedy Collections as Sources for Welsh Medical History’, Warwick University, 9th August 2008, ‘Reading and Writing Recipe Books’ conference.
- ‘Crossing the Boundaries: Medical Networks in Early Modern Wales’, New College Oxford, 18th September 2007, ‘Social Networks in Early Modern England’ Conference
- ‘Beyond the Meddygon Myddfai: ‘Doing’ Medical History in Early Modern Wales’ – Gregynog, 9th March 2007, ‘The Future of Welsh History’ Postgraduate Conference
- Contributor, S4C, ‘Wedi 7’, January 2012
- Consultant and contributor, BBC Wales, ‘Coming Home, October 2011, August 2012
- Consultant and contributor, BBC One, ‘Rebuilding the Past’, July 2011
- Article, ‘The Unseen Villain: sickness and disease in early modern Wales’, Western Mail Newspaper, March 2011
- Guest, BBC Radio Wales, ‘Roy Noble Show’, 18th February, 2011 & 13th April 2011
- Article: ‘The ‘Dyn Hysbys’ and the Doctor: Wales and the seventeenth-century medical world’, Western Mail Newspaper, 28th September 2010
- Consultant and contributor, BBC Wales, ‘Coming Home’, October 2010
- Consultant and contributor, BBC Radio Wales, ‘Past Masters’, October 2010
Membership of Official/Professional Bodies
- Fellow of the Royal Historical Society
- Society for the Social History of Medicine – Member
- History of Medicine Society of Wales - Member
External impact and engagement
A big component of my future plans for public engagement is an photographic exhibition of Victorian beards, planned for London in 2017. The exhibition includes a suite of public events including a launch evening, beards debate, family activities and even a pantomime. An application to the Wellcome Trust for funding is currently in progress.
My project on the history of beards has attracted a great deal of media interest, and led to appearances on BBC's 'The One Show', Sky News, BBC Five Live and BBC Radio Three, along with articles and interviews in many major UK newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times and The Evening Standard. I have also appeared on several international radio shows, and have written opinion pieces for leading publications including 'History Today', BBC History Magazine, the 'Times Higher', and 'The Conversation'.
I run a highly successful blog, (dralun.wordpress.com) which has had more than 90,000 views from over 120,000 countries.
After a rather unsatisfying ten-year career with a major high street bank, I decided to take the plunge and return to study. Having begun studying for my history degree part-time with the Open University, I enrolled at the University of Glamorgan and completed my BA (Hons) there in 2005, writing my undergraduate dissertation on the medical information within a seventeenth-century commonplace book.
Having secured funding from the AHRC, I completed my MA in History at Cardiff University in 2006, and was then funded by a Wellcome Trust prize studentship to study my PhD at Swansea University, which I completed in 2009. My thesis was adapted into my first book "Physick and the Family: Health, medicine and care in Wales, c. 1600-1750", published in 2011 by Manchester University Press.
After completing my doctorate I returned to the University of Glamorgan in 2010, as a research fellow on the Leverhulme Trust-funded project "Steel in Britain in the Age of Enlightenment", working with Professor Chris Evans. At the completion of this project, I became a lecturer in History at Swansea University, teaching a range of modules in early modern European history.