UKAHN 25th Annual Colloquium

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UKAHN 25th Annual Colloquium: Greenwich University June 2024

By Dr Janet Hargreaves

On this 25th year of the UKAHN Colloquium we were lucky to be hosted by the University of Greenwich in the historical Royal Navy College at Greenwich. The sun shone, lunch lovely and the fire alarm was only a minor inconvenience! The papers and posters took us on an international journey from the 1750s to Covid 19 provoking thought, debate and, for myself, great pleasure in seeing a thriving nursing history community sharing their best.

Three papers and two posters took war as their unifying theme: Dr Wendy Maddocks’ on first world war New Zealand nurses, and Dr Gavin Wilk on Thomas Lipton’s innovative use of his Yacht. Prof Linda Palfreeman on British and Spanish nurses in the Spanish Civil War and Dr Jane Brooks on Jewish prisoner nurses in Second World War Nazi concentration camps. Dr Katherine Roberts brought the theme up to the present comparing nurses’ role as surrogate family in Second World War practice and Covid.

Prof Erin Spinney took us to the Haslar Naval Hospital in the 18th Century and Dr Stuart Wildman to the Northen Workhouse Nursing Association: both illustrating the joy of archival discoveries, and the narratives they offer of nursing’s past. Asc. Prof Jan-Thore Lockersten brought us back to the 20th century to theatre nursing in Norway.

Three biographical papers again took us across continents and time. Prof Claire Chatterton to Mary Stanley and the Crimean War and Prof Judi Pettigrew, Ciara Egan, Naoise McMahon, Gwawr Faulconbridge and Irene Llot to Thomas Costello, who combined nursing and occupational therapy. Much further afield, Prof Odette Best and Prof Tracey Bunda revealed the remarkable history of Muriel Stanley, an early Aboriginal Australian nurse. All brought to life not just the nurses, but the times in which they lived.

Finally, two posters celebrated work initiated by the Royal College of Nursing: Dr Antonia Harland-Lang talked of co-curating an exhibition about the history of children and young people’s nursing and Teresa Doherty and Dr Sarah Rogers presented the epic work of the Nurses in Red Wikipedia project, showing off their very well-deserved Wikipedia prize.

Several crossing themes occurred to me: What struck me, mostly, but not exclusively in wartime, was how consistently nursing practice took a huge toll on physical and mental wellbeing, how frequently nurses were marginalised or rendered invisible and what hard decisions they often had to make regarding their own survival and that of their patients. All whilst maintaining hope, that their care could make a difference, how ever short lived or small.

In the case of people who have been marginalised and oppressed, such as Aboriginal and Jewish nurses, presenters offered a masterclass of the respect and care needed in researching and documenting their story.

And finally, the day illustrated that nursing history is alive and well, rich in its scholarship, international reach and relevance to the present day.

Many thanks to the UKAHN committee for organising this and in particular, Justin Stephens, for being an excellent convener. 

We are told to hold the date for next year: June 25th, 2025 in Keele. I for one can’t wait.

-Dr Janet Hargreaves

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