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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Local histories

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Manchester Royal Infirmary on its Piccadilly site, 1908

Local studies are at the cutting edge of the history of science, technology and medicine - but much depends on what 'local' means! Sometimes it refers to work in a particular laboratory, or museum, say, without much connection to the town or nation in which the institution sits. Sometimes, local studies are focused on communities of experts or enthusiasts, but without much reference to their scientific work, or the specificities of the locality. At their best, local studies in HSTM connect scientific sites and communities with the life of towns or regions -- so illuminating both.

Manchester is a great place for local studies of science, technology and medicine. It is paradigmatic for:

  • Science, technology, medicine and the industrial revolution;
  • Victorian and Edwardian universities;
  • Early twentieth century technoscience (including the world¿s first industrial park);
  • Post-Second World War science, technology and medicine (eg nuclear science, computing, radio astronomy and pharmaceuticals), and for science, technology and medicine in the regeneration of post-industrial cities (including genomics and nanotechnology.)
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One of the North West's most instantly recognisable landmarks, the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank

There is, perhaps, no place on earth which so well exemplifies the changing relations of science, technology and medicine and industrial society, because Manchester was a world city that was never a capital, and where pre-industrial formations were minimal.

CHSTM has always been keen on local studies, especially of the Manchester region; and usually we have tried to connect the science, technology and medicine - like the people who made the history. We have worked, for example, on Manchester physics, especially Rutherford's lab; and on the connections of the University to industry, especially Metropolitan-Vickers, a model of industrial research in the early twentieth century. Work on chemistry has ranged from John Dalton to ICI pharmaceuticals. For biology, there is work on the university disciplines and on the Manchester Museum. Studies of medicine have explored hospitals, public health, popular medicine, laboratories, mental health services, and medical technologies. Gill Mawson is studying the experience of Guernsey evacuees in the North West between 1940-45: personal interviews reveal details of  their health, education, relationships with host families, and their contribution to the war effort. Engineering studies range from early Victorian engineers to the latest computing. And, of course, we are in touch with many other historians who know about Manchester and its region, some of whom, like Arnold Thackray and Robert Kargon, became famous for their work here.

But there is much more to be done, especially on industrial technologies and civil engineering. The chemical industries cry out for more work; so too, most aspects of science, technology and medicine in the surrounding industrial towns, and the other Northern capitals. Our work on modern biomedicine and its recent revolutions gets more interesting by the year, and there is a great need for good studies of the contemporary history of the NHS – see the section on Contemporary History. We would love to do more comparative work, for example with continental Europe, the Americas, and the once-colonial cities. Local prospects are endless, for any one who likes their science, technology and medicine understood in 'deep context'. Let us know if you are interested in working with us -- from a student project to a visiting professorship.

Local history is also crucial to our increasing involvement with a wide range of Manchester institutions, schools and communities, evident in our work with the annual Manchester Science Festival and with the hugely successful Manchester Histories Festival, which filled Manchester Town Hall on 21 March 2009, and was largely organised from CHSTM.

Recent publications by CHSTM staff and students

Gill Mawson. "Child Evacuees". Stockport and District Heritage, 2009, 6(12): 8-11.

John V Pickstone, ed. Manchester Regional History Review, 18 (special number: Science and Technology in the North West.) Carnegie, 2007.

John V Pickstone and Stella Butler, eds. John Rylands Library Bulletin, 87(1) (special number: Medicine in the Manchester Region. University of Manchester, 2005.

See also the local contributions in the sections on contemporary history and public and occupational health.


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