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Professor Roberta Bivins

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On Research Leave 2021/22

r dot bivins at warwick dot ac dot uk



I am currently doing research in two areas. First, building on my portfolio of work on migration and medicine (e.g. , Contagious Communities, 2015) I'm looking at technologies and practices of border control, and their intersections with biomedicine. From quarantines and 'excludable conditions' to X-rays and DNA, Britain's borders have long been medicalised. But what does that mean for migrants, medical practitioners, and communities? Does the medicalisation of borders provide any public health benefits (a matter of some urgency in Covid times), or is it just another instance of the biopolitics of privilege?  

If you would like to hear more about my existing migration work, you can follow these links:

My second strand of research looks at ideas of inclusion and equality from a slightly different perspective, building on my interests in comparative health systems and health environments. With an eye to metabolic disease and obesity, I'm asking 'how do we define and recognise health in ourselves and others'? Whose definitions of health 'count', and how have the historical processes of defining health and illness contributed to the persistence of systemic inequality in health outcomes. Bringing these two strands of research together is my growing interest in emerging embodied cultures of self- and citizen-management and 'responsibilization' at the borders, whether of the body, the community, or the state.

Alongside these new directions, I continue to be interested in the Cultural History of the NHS. From 2015-2020, Mathew Thomson and I led a Wellcome Trust-funded project to uncover what the NHS meant to people in Britain, and how it came to have such emotional and political resonance. A significant portion of this research was done working closely with the public, and their input was a key driver of our research agenda. As well as a series of Open Access articles and an OA edited volume (all available from links here), the fruits of this collaboration were captured in a 'People's Encyclopaedia of the NHS' and a 'Virtual Museum of the NHS' -- reflecting and restoring to history our collective experiences and memories of a British institution.

Undergraduate Teaching:

HI3H7 Foreign Bodies, Contagious Communities: Migration in the Modern World

HI176 Mind Body and Society: The History of Medicine and Health (team-taught first-year option module).

Postgraduate Teaching:

HI991 Matters of Life and Death: Topics in the Medical Humanities (team-taught MA module)

HI907 Themes and Methods in Medical History (team-taught MA module)

Academic Profile:

  • Professor, Department of History, University of Warwick (2016- ).
  • Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Warwick (2008-16).
  • Wellcome Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine, Cardiff University (2004-8).
  • Assistant Professor, History of Medicine, University of Houston (2001-3).
  • Research Associate, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester (2000-1).
  • Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester (1997-2000).
  • Wellcome Fellow, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London (1996-7).
  • PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1997.
  • BA, Columbia College, Columbia University, 1991.



Selected Articles:

Other interests:

Among other topics, I am interested in:

  • the relationship between technology and medicine, particularly in the 20th century;
  • popular responses to genetics since WWII, for example in relation to genealogy and personal identity; genetic conditions/predispositions; and genetically modified organisms;
  • Practices of care, cure, and health promotion in the 20th century household.

I will be happy to supervise dissertations in any of these areas.

Post-Graduate Supervision:

Current and past doctoral students have studied:

  • Dr Rebecca Williams, The Khanna Study: Population and Development in India, 1953-1969 [AHRC-funded].
  • Dr Martin Moore, A Question of Control?: Managing Professionals and Populations in Type-II Diabetes, 1948-1992[ESRC-funded].
  • Dr Jane Hand, Visualising Food as Modern Medicine: Gender, the Body, and Health Education in England, c. 1940-1990. [Wellcome funded].
  • Dr Kyle Jackson, (co-supervisor with David Hardiman), 'Missionaries, and Medicine: Religious and Medical Contact in Northeast India' [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canda funded]
  • Dr Fabiola Creed, 'Aesthetics, Addictions and Health Advice: Understanding ‘Tanorexia’ in Contemporary Britain, 1978-2016' [Wellcome funded].
  • Katey Logan (co-supervisor with Graeme Currie), Examination of the Boots Healthcare Provision. [ESRC funded]
  • Dr Mari Nicholson-Preuss, Down and Out in Old J.D.: Urban Public Hospitals, Institutional Stigma and Medical Indigence in the Twentieth Century [UH Funded].

I have also supervised MA topics including: Family Planning in India; 'Lands of Opportunity': Colonial Networks and Diabetes Research; Yaws, Hygienic Citizenship and International Health; Missionary Medicine and East African Madness c. 1880-1920; Aesthetics, Prosthetics and the Breast; Race, Identity & Human Genome Project; Popular Understandings of Genetics; and Cultures of Birth in Meiji & Modern Japan.

Past Undergraduate Modules:


  • Director, Centre for the History of Medicine (2012-2015).
  • MA in the History of Medicine Course Director (2012-2015).
  • Research Governance and Ethics Committee (2014- 2018).
  • External Examiner, MA in History at University of Exeter (2014-17).
  • Convenor for the IDEA Collaboration (2009- ).
  • Admissions Tutor (2008-2011).


Roberta Bivins


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