Diagnosing history

Medicine in television period drama

Edited by Katherine Byrne, Julie Anne Taddeo and James Leggott

Diagnosing history


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-6328-8
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: March 2022
  • BIC Category: Television, PERFORMING ARTS / Television / Genres / General, MEDICAL / History, PERFORMING ARTS / Television / History & Criticism, Humanities / Social & cultural history, Medicine / General, The arts / Television, History of Medicine, Television Studies


This timely collection examines representations of medicine and medical practices in international period drama television. A preoccupation with medical plots and settings can be found across a range of important historical series, including Outlander, Poldark, The Knick, Call the Midwife, La Peste and A Place to Call Home. Such shows offer a critique of medical history while demonstrating how contemporary viewers access and understand the past. Topics covered in this collection include the innovations and horrors of surgery; the intersection of gender, class, race and medicine on the American frontier; psychiatry and the trauma of war; and the connections between past and present pandemics. Featuring original chapters on period television from the UK, the US, Spain and Australia, Diagnosing history offers an accessible, global and multidisciplinary contribution to both televisual and medical history.


Introduction - Katherine Byrne, Julie Anne Taddeo, and James Leggott

Part I: Early modern professions and disease
1 Golden rats and sick empires: portraying medicine, poverty, and the bubonic plague in La Peste - José Ragas, Patricia Palma, and Guillermo González-Donoso
2 Wellness, womanhood, and witchcraft in Outlander: televised historical portrayals of women's shifting roles in medicine - Jennifer M. Fogel and Serenity Sutherland
3 Avoiding 'the faddlings of Dr Choake': the professionalisation of medicine in Poldark - Barbara Sadler
4 'Infection was Mary's reward': Harlots and televising the realities of eighteenth-century English prostitution - Kristin Brig and Emily J. Clark

Part II: Pioneers, heroes, and villains
5 Feminist doctors and medicine women: the lady physician in the American western - Jacqueline D. Antonovich
6 The Black doctor on the historical small screen: African American physicians in television period dramas - Kevin McQueeney
7 When women were nurses: gender, nostalgia, and the making of historical heroines - Aeleah Soine
8 Heroic childbirth and Call the Midwife - Katherine Byrne
9 'Physician, heal thyself': the good doctor of When the Boat Comes In - James Leggott

Part III: Dissecting the body
10 'And when you touched my naked body . your fingertips running along my flesh . this was abuse, not science': Victorian medicine in Showtime's Penny Dreadful - Julie Anne Taddeo
11 The surgical gaze in the operating theatre: early twentieth-century surgery on screen - Marie Allitt
12 Of gods, monsters, and men: science, faith, the law, and the contested body and mind in The Frankenstein Chronicles and The Alienist - Andrea Wright

Part IV: 'Treating' the mind
13 Bad or mad?: Branwell Brontë, mental health, and alcoholism in Sally Wainwright's To Walk Invisible - Sarah E. Fanning and Claire O'Callaghan
14 'After I left England, they thought I was mad. But they taught me to use it - now it's a gift': representations of mental illness in the period dramas of Stephen Knight - Dan Ward
15 Bitter living through science: melodramatic and moral readings of gay conversion therapy in A Place to Call Home - Gordon R. Alley-Young

Afterword - Jessica Meyer


Katherine Byrne is Lecturer in English at Ulster University
Julie Anne Taddeo is Research Professor of History at the University of Maryland
James Leggott is Associate Professor of Film and Television Studies at Northumbria University

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