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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



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 continuities between responses to the migrations of post-war Britain and to the 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:

BMJ Talk Medicine Podcast, 'History Lessons: Immigration, the NHS, and Fear of the Other'. An interview with Brandy Shillace, editor of the journal. Medical Humanities, June 2019.

"On today’s podcast, Dr. Bivins speaks to latent fears of immigrants that, though unfounded, have underpinned rhetoric surrounding the NHS from its inception post-WWII. She describes how historical antecedents can help us understand where we are today, describing the ways in which the NHS has relied upon immigrants to function as skilled doctors and nurses from all over Europe work in the sprawling NHS system. How have cultures of fear hostility threatened England’s diversity and strength in the past—and what does that mean for our future?"

'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, populating what is a largely political history with individual stories, cultural portrayals, and social meanings. I am also exploring emerging embodied cultures of self- and citizen-management and 'responsibilization' at the borders, whether of the body, the community, or the state. 

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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