Dr Alun Withey
I am a senior lecturer in History, based in the Centre for Medical History, and recently completed a major research project 'Do Beards Matter?: Facial Hair, Health and Hygiene in Britain, 1700-1918', funded by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Wellcome Trust. My new book Concerning Beards: Facial Hair, Health and Practice in Britain, 1650-1900 will be published in early 2021 with Bloomsbury, and have also edited an essay collection, published in 2017 by Palgrave, on the history of facial hair.
More broadly 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
I am also interested in the interplay between technology and culture in the long eighteenth century, and the increasing market for products to shape the body. My monograph 'Technology, Self-Fashioning and Politeness in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Refined Bodies' was published by Palgrave Macmillan in December 2015.
I am a senior lecturer in History at Exeter, and have recently completed 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 include a major new academic monograph, a public exhibition, held at the Florence Nightingale Museum in London in 2015, 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.
My next research project will focus on medicine and travel in the long eighteenth century.
I am very keen to supervise PhD topics within my area of expertise, and am always delighted to chat over possible ideas. In the first instance please send a copy of your CV, and a 500-word outline of your project idea.
The work of my postgraduate research students covers a wide range of topics. I am currently supervising PhD candidates working on the history of Jacobite masculinities, and also living standards in industrial communities in Northern England.
I am very happy to consider requests for supervision in any aspect of early modern medical history, and also in early modern and eighteenth-century history more broadly. I am especially happy to consider working with candidates with interest in the following areas, c. 1600--1800:
Remedies and remedy culture
household and domestic medicine
medical practice/practitioners and care
the body and its relationship with technology
medical advertising; masculinity and the male body
advertising and consumption;
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
In 2016 I curated a major photographic exhibition of Victorian beards, in the Florence Nightingale Museum in London. The exhibition includes a range of public events including a launch evening, beards debate, family activities and even a pantomime.
As an historian of early modern medicine I have appeared in a wide variety of television and radio, including BBC and ITV television, Channel 4, Sky News, ABC and also many local and national radio appearances, including contributions to documentaries and debates, and also presenting my own documentary programmes. My research on the history of facial hair attracted a great deal of public interest, and was widely covered in the local and national press, including major newspapers and magazines. I have written for BBC History and History Today magazines.
In 2014 I became one of the small group of BBC/AHRC 'New Generation Thinkers', specifically linked to BBC Radio 3, and continue to write and present material for broadcast.
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, to date, had more than 120,000 views from over 120 countries.
I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and also an Aspire Fellow, both of which are nationally-recognised accreditations for research-led teaching.
My modules are all based directly on my own research into the history of medicine and the body, often drawing on some of the most recent developments in the field, and newly-disovered source materials. As well as helping students to develop their own research skills, and to meet the specific learning objectives of each course, I firmly believe in making lectures and seminars enjoyable, and do this by adopting a range of teaching approaches, materials and tasks, and also by an informal and approachable style.
- HIH1014 - The Body in Eighteenth-Century Britain
- HIH1410 - Understanding the Medieval and Early-Modern World
- HIH2002 - Uses of the Past
- HIH2032A - Europe 1650-1800: From Enlightenment to Romanticism
- HIH3005 - General Third-Year Dissertation
- HIH3629 - Disease
- HISM017 - Critical Approaches to Medical Humanities
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.