Abnormal to Supernormal: The Medical Construction of the Athletic Body in 20th Century Britain

21 May 2008, 00:30 - 00:30

CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane

Speaker: Vanessa Heggie (History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge)

 
The athletic body has many identities, some positive (hero, ideal) some negative (drug-addict, 'man-woman'); it has been used to prove the superiority of political systems, evidence national strength and reinforce traditional gender roles. This paper will examine the contribution of sports medicine and exercise science in constructing and interpreting these identities. As a specialism developed across Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, sports medicine reconceptualised the athletic body as a distinct clinical entity. From being the 'average healthy man' for the Victorians and Edwardians, sportsmen (and some women) became 'heroes' and 'battling soldiers' through two world wars, before evolving into distinct clinical types of humanity in the 1950s and '60s. These subtypes were sometimes supernormal, sometimes abnormal, but always required specialist treatment and consideration.

Vanessa Heggie: Completed her PhD (on degeneration and health in Victorian/Edwardian Manchester) in 2004, and went on to work as a Research Associate at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, on a Wellcome Trust-funded project researching the history of British Sports Medicine. This project ended in September 2007, when she was appointed to a two-year Mellon Fellowship in Cambridge (teaching the History of Modern Medicine and Biology); a monograph on the history of Sports Medicine in Britain is forthcoming.

More info & publications:
http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/dept/heggie.html

 

 
 

 
 

 

 
 

Part of the  Health and Welfare Research Group

 

From an interdisciplinary perspective, the Health and Welfare Research Group explores the malleable and sometimes recursive nature of knowledge about health, disease, and society. Members approach this topic comparatively, focusing on the construction and conceptualisation of human and social well-being in diverse historical periods and geographical areas. The group also considers the impact of these ideas on the practice of healthcare and the implementation of welfare policy. The group is open to anyone with an interest in exploring these issues and particularly welcomes postgraduate students and early career researchers.

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