Working with the Cultural History of the NHS Project

Daisy Payling.

Over the last term, members of the ‘Placing the Public in Public Health’ team have twice had the pleasure of working with researchers from the Cultural History of the NHS project, based at the University of Warwick.

On 22nd September, we held a workshop here at the School loosely themed around how people and the ‘public’ feature in the two projects.

In the morning, George Gosling kicked us off with a talk about the meaning of the NHS being “free” and how that concept was shaped by politicians and the public. Jack Saunders spoke to changing ideas of the NHS’ workforce and how different parts of it were or were not represented in the services decision-making process, which prompted discussion of who we think of as the ‘public’ when it comes to health. Gareth Millward then talked about the concept of “common sense”, and how this fit within public and party-political attitudes towards health.

After lunch, Jane Hand presented work on public health posters and how they shaped perceptions of disease risk. Peder Clark talked about the concept of ‘lay epidemiology,’ and how different publics interpreted health research and constructed their own versions of disease risk through lived experience and popular discourse. And Daisy Payling spoke about using archives of complaints to get a snapshot of how the public responded to being surveyed by public health.


‘Born in the NHS’: one way in which people assert their identification with the NHS.

The final session of the day focussed on how we engage the public in our research. Natalie Jones and Jenny Crane talked about their roles as Public Engagement Research Fellows and reflected on the public meetings, road shows, and panel discussions they have held in the last year. They also spoke about engaging the public through their interactive website: the People’s History of the NHS.

The workshop with the Cultural History of the NHS team was both fun and useful. Methodological discussions of how we find the ‘public’ in the past, and how we can engage them in the future were particularly valuable for thinking about how we go forward with our individual research and team projects. We’re very much looking forward to holding a similar event with the Governance of Health project based at the University of Liverpool in 2017.

One simple but far-reaching way the Cultural History of the NHS project is engaging the public is through Wikipedia. On 22nd November, Gareth and Daisy joined the Cultural History of the NHS team at the Wellcome Library for a Editathon with the Wellcome’s Wikimedian in Residence Alice White.


There we learnt how to edit Wikipedia and how, as historians, we can contribute to this widely-accessed platform. While the Cultural History of the NHS team worked on creating a space for cultural history on Wikipedia’s NHS pages, Daisy and Gareth searched for gaps they could fill and pages they could add to, and began work on their own pages. Watch this space!