Alannah Tomkins Q and A – Medical misadventure in an age of professionalisation, 1780–1890

Posted by Rebecca Mortimer - Friday, 21 Jul 2017


What book in this field has inspired you the most? 

I was inspired somewhat by David Wootton’s Bad Medicine, which seemed to me to consider the failings of medicine from the wrong angle; for me it wasn’t so much the technical shortcomings of practitioners as the problematic ways that they interacted with patients and with each other.

Did your research take you to any unexpected places? 

At one point, when I was researching the career of the supposed murderer William Warder, I searched for him on the 1861 census.  I discovered that, at that date, he had been living in a house within walking distance of my chair!  I went and looked at the outside of the house later that afternoon.

What did you enjoy the most about writing your book? 

The process of writing was so protracted that I had the chance to trial sections of the content with attendees at conference workshops.  The material drawn from asylum case notes, or suicide notes, was both highly poignant and well received, by audiences as diverse as GP trainees and members of local history societies.

What did you find hardest about writing your book? 

I was always conscious of the risk that individual men’s stories might sound lurid or prurient if recounted inappropriately.  I tended to show drafts to friends and colleagues who are also clinicians, to try to prevent this from happening. 

Is this your first published book, or have you had others published? 

This is my second monograph.

How did you feel when you saw your first published book? 

Relief, mostly, but also gratitude to the publisher’s reviewers (coincidentally also MUP) for helping me to refine and improve what was at heart my doctoral thesis.

Why did you choose to publish with MUP? 

I’m publishing in the Social History of Medicine series, which always seemed to me to be the most appropriate home for this research, but I’m glad to be working with MUP again.

Did you approach writing this book differently to any of your previous work? 

Not really.  I’m essentially a story-teller who finds ways to make their stories count as historically significant.

Have you had time to think about your next research project yet?

What are you working on now?  Since completing the manuscript I’ve been working with the Staffordshire archive service to develop research on little-used sources for the Old Poor Law, namely overseers’ vouchers; however, I haven’t quite finished with doctors.  There are at least two men who did not fit into the book but whose biographies or experiences deserve separate treatment in scholarly articles.



Medical misadventure in an age of professionalisation is available now! To learn more about the books in the Social Histories of Medicine series, please visit here.



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