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Epidemic Belfast: Podcast takes a scalpel to our medical past

Mar 5, 2022

Sign Up With most of the information readily available online, Ian and his research team: Eugenie Scott, Tom Thorpe, Rebecca Watterson, Michael Kinsella and Hannah Scott, then set about conducting interviews and recording sessions. “There’s a lot of 19th century stuff and some 20th century. With the more recent material we were able to interview people. We spoke to thalidomide survivor, Jacqueline Fleming, polio survivors and people who worked in the hospitals during the Troubles. That was interesting actually, rather than trying to look at old newspapers, just actually speaking to people and trying to understand their experiences. It was fascinating.” The past, it’s often said, can offer a window into the present and one of the topics covered by Epidemic Belfast is the anti-vax movement in the Victorian era, one that Ian singles out as being particularly informative given current rise in anti-vaxxers due to the Covid-19 vaccines. Expand PHD researcher Rebecca Watterson “Specifically how that group operated in Belfast. There were very similar arguments, just in a different context. It was smallpox then, as well as the extent to which the state should be imposing vaccination. Meningitis and TB, which both feature in the podcasts, you can see the idea of asymptomatic people as carriers, the emergence of public health measures. “Also what comes across in Belfast a century ago is a lack of action by the council in adequately managing people’s health. You can see a lot of similar arguments today.” His podcast colleague, Rebecca Watterson, a PhD Researcher in Medical History at Ulster University, stresses most people would be surprised to know that parallels can be made between both anti-vax movements over a century apart. “I think with a lot of the podcast topics there’s a lot that seem quite relevant. We’re talking about diseases that affected quite a lot of people through the city— you had cholera, TB,” explains Rebecca. “With the anti-vax movement we were talking about smallpox, but the idea that anti-vax opposition began quite recently — maybe in the past 10 years — isn’t true. There was significant opposition [in the Victorian era]. It wasn’t a small movement by any means who were opposed to it. “It was based on class. There was a real concern that the medical profession, and by extension the state, were attempting to control the working class, and that’s were the fear developed from. Expand Dr Ian Miller “And I do think it is important to note that it is about fear. I think we can see that play out today.” Rebecca says the links between the past and present explains why Epidemic Belfast has resonated with listeners, adding: “One of the episodes is about conversion therapy that took place in the Belfast City hospital in the 1970s. “And that is one of the most popular episodes. I think that’s because that discussion is happening at the moment and is ongoing, about the use of conversion therapy and whether it should be banned. “I think people were shocked to realise particular form of conversion therapy — that used electric shocks — was being used here. I think that often, we think the horrific things in history happened in other places.” Rebecca, who is from Comber, is also keen to shed more light on the lives of Belfast’s mill workers — including women and children — who developed various conditions, such as ‘toe rot’ due to the wet floors and lung diseases, due to the horrendous working conditions. “I have mill workers in my family and I’ve felt that we need to more on that topic, because when we as a city, rightly, celebrate linen, we celebrate it as this expansive industry that built Belfast. “But that was on the back of mostly women and children, who lived with life-long health conditions that were solely due to the conditions within the mills.” She stresses: “I don’t think we acknowledge, or celebrate enough, what they gave. “There’s a growing interest in family history at the minute, and health history comes into that. We do want to know what there job was. “When people find death certificates of past family members online and they see what they died of, the conditions are very often connected to their jobs. And what their lives would have been like. For me, that’s quite an important topic.” There was also a focus, adds Ian, to explore what life was like for sections of society — such as LGBT members — whose experiences have been previously neglected by historians. “We tried to emphasis people, communities and patients and put the medicine and the doctors a little bit to the back. The whole project was designed to put people’s voices and experiences to the front, particularly the LGBT community.” Ian continues: “We did a few episodes on the LGBT community — one was about the attempt to ‘cure’ homosexuals in the late 20th century. We interviewed someone anonymously who had been through that process with the psychiatrists and he said he had suffered emotionally for some decades following those attempts. “There was also the AIDS crisis as well. It wasn’t quite as severe in Belfast as in other places but it still impacted on LGBT communities, and gay men, disproportionately.” Dr Miller, who has also worked as a historical consultant on the movie Suffragette, Bobby Sands: 1981, as well as various BBC television shows, said the response to Epidemic Belfast has been great so far. “We’ve had over a thousand downloads already, which we think is really good for a relatively new podcast. Specifically, the LGBT material is amongst our highest ratings so far,” he explains. “We had an event in the Sunflower Bar, which was really well received as well, and I guess now we’re trying to get more interest.” Each podcast episode typically runs between 20 and 30 minutes, although there are shorter run-times, hitting just over 10 minutes, perfect for those on a time-crunch. “Personally, I like a lot of the Victorian stuff. So, we have some material on bodysnatching from Belfast graves in the early 19th century,” he reveals. “One episode I did looks at late 19th century ideas about how too much tea drinking was causing ‘widespread insanity’, as it was called then. Mental health issues in the 19th century, that’s some of my interests. “We’ve covered the asylums. Rebecca did a podcast on the history of lobotomy and also an episode on the history of 19th century asylums and the conditions within them.” Ian says the aim of the podcast and website is to make history accessible to a wider audience. “We also have articles linked to the podcasts and we try and make them as entertaining as possible to people.” Epidemic Belfast is supported by funding from the Department of Economy and Ulster University. The academic adds: “We’re hoping to have an oral history section on the website later this year, as well as interview people on subjects we haven’t had the chance to cover. It’s an ongoing project. “We really want to reach out to people in the community, and appeal for any photographs or stories they want to contribute to the website.” To access the podcast, please visit: https://epidemic-belfast.com Related topics

Michael Kinsella Investments

1 Investments

Michael Kinsella has made 1 investments. Their latest investment was in Sports Surgery Clinic as part of their Other Investors on .

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Michael Kinsella Investments Activity

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Sports Surgery Clinic

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