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Professor Roberta Bivins

Office Office Hours E-mail Phone
H3.30 In term: Tuesdays 9-10; Wednesdays 11-12 r dot bivins at warwick dot ac dot uk +44(0)2476523440


With my colleague Mathew Thomson, I am conducting a new Wellcome Trust funded Senior Investigator Award project to map and explore the Cultural History of the NHS. Since 2015, we and our team have been asking what the NHS means to people in Britain, and how it came to have such emotional and political resonance. A significant portion of this research is done working closely with the public, and their input is a key driver of our research agenda. The fruits of this collaboration will be 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.

I recently finished Contagious Communities, a study of the impact of post-war immigration – and particularly non-white immigration – on medical research and healthcare delivery patterns in the UK. Looking at epidemic, endemic, behavioural and genetic disease (smallpox, tuberculosis, rickets and sickle cell anaemia and thalassaemia, respectively), I've uncovered deep connections between perceptions of the National Health Service and of Britain's immigrant and ethnic minority communities. My research also reflects strong continuties between responses to the migrations of post-war Britain and the to migration crisis Europe is experiencing today (as noted in a recent New Scientist review). For an overview describing some of my results, see: Wellcome Blog. If you would rather hear me talk about them in more detail, you can follow these links:

'Building Communities, Changing Practice: Patients and Medical Research in the NHS'

'Race, Ethnicity and Environment in the Postcolonial Metropole'

'"Slummy Foreign Germs"? Politics, Medicine and Postcolonial Migration'

In the next stage of my work on migration, I am continuing to explore intersections between migration and the NHS, and -- I hope -- gradually populate what is a largely political history with individual stories, cultural portrayals, and social meanings. I will also add parallel studies of US responses to post war migrants and immigration. Here, as well as constructing an account of what happened to these immigrants and to the doctors and biomedical researchers engaged in their study and care, I am looking for answers to broader questions. In particular, I’m assessing the impact of two very different medical systems – one national and public, the other highly fragmented and private -- on responses to newcomers, their medical needs, and their vital labour in healthcare provision. 

Undergraduate Teaching:

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

HI176 Kill or Cure: 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:

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- ).
  • 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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