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  • Professor Waltraud Ernst

    Professor in the History of Medicine, c.1700-2000

    School of History, Philosophy and Culture

    Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


    Phone number: +44 (0)1865 483478

    Email: wernst@brookes.ac.uk



    • U67503 The Rise of the Modern World (year 1)
    • U67504 Medicine and Society, c. 1650-1914 (year 1)
    • U67720 Gender, Sexualities and the Body (year 2)
    • U67923 Historical Writing (year 2)
    • U67590/67599 History and Interdisciplinary Dissertation/Project(Honours Component) (year 3)
    • U67775 Madmen, Mad-Doctors and Madness (year 3)


    Waltraud Ernst has taught widely on various aspects of history at postgraduate level, contributed to the MA Science, Medicine and Culture, jointly run by the Departments of English, History, and Philosophy at Southampton. She was also in charge of the MA/MRes in History from 2006 to 2008. Her MA teaching included Historiography, Research Skills, Introduction to History, Science-Magic-Religion and Race, Science and Medicine.

    At Brookes she has taught the following modules:

    • P67575/68575 The Hospital in History
    • P67598 Independent Study Module (History)
    • P68501 Key Concepts and Methods in Humanities Research
    • P68505 Science-Magic-Religion
    • P67505 History of Mental Illness

    History of western science, psychiatry and medicine; inter-relationship between modern medicine and indigenous healing from the eighteenth to the twentieth century; transnational perspectives, global history and culture.

    Main historical period covered: c. 1750-2000

    • 'the body' and 'the mind' in historical, social and cultural context
    • Asian medicine, tradition and modernity
    • history and culture of alternative medicine in Europe
    • history and culture of psychiatry and mental healing
    • science, magic and religion in comparative perspective
    • historical and cultural constructions of 'normality' and 'abnormality'

    In my work on the social history of western medicine and science c. 1750 - 2000, I am particularly interested in the inter-relationship between biomedicine and other paradigms of healing. I am comfortable with applying a multidisciplinary perspective to my research topics and in my writing I explore the various dimensions involved in the construction of what counts as 'health', 'illness' and 'medicine/science' at different times and places: the political/state perspective; institutions; medical professions and 'folk' traditions; the patients' perspective; scientific theories and practices; myths, beliefs and representations.

    I have just completed editing a book on Work, Psychiatry and Medicine (Manchester University Press) and a research monograph on Colonialism and Transnational Psychiatry. The case of the Ranchi Indian Mental Hospital in British India, c. 1920-1940 (Anthem). The book on Ranchi is the first comprehensive case study of an Indian mental hospital. It focuses on the largest psychiatric institution in south Asia prior to Indian independence, assessing the demographics of its patient population, death and illness statistics, diagnostic categories and medical treatments. Earlier work has examined the role of British psychiatry within the context of nineteenth-century colonial expansion. This study breaks new ground by exploring how the changing imperial order during the early twentieth century, with a particular focus on the 'Indianisation' of the medical services, affected institutional trends. These local developments are set within the wider purview of transnational networks. Themes covered include gender, culture and race, and changing medical theories, conceptualisations and plural clinical practices within the context of medical standardisation. The limitations of institution-based data and statistical analysis and the pitfalls of post-hoc assessment and comparison of diagnostic categories and classifications are explored. The book is based on a range of original sources, including hospital reports, medical journals and textbooks, and official and private correspondence. It is relevant to historians of colonial and western psychiatry, comparative and transnational history, as well as social historians of south Asia more generally.

    I am currently working on my chapters for a jointly authored book on 'Health and Medicine in the Indian Princely States, c. 1850-1950', to be published by Routledge in 2016. The book maps developments in public health, the emergence of specialised medical institutions, the influence of western medicine on indigenous medical communities (and their patients) and the interaction between them. Two comparatively large states (Mysore and Travancore), considered 'progressive' and 'enlightened', and some of the 24 Orissa Princely States, seen as 'backward' and 'despotic', will be at the centre of investigation. Contentious issues currently debated in the existing scholarship on medicine in British India and other colonies will be explored (such as the 'indigenisation' of health services the inter-relationship of colonial and indigenous paradigms of medical practice; the impact of specific political and administrative events and changes on health policies). Developments in public health and the emergence of medical institutions in Princely India will be traced from both Indian and European perspectives, and British medical policies and the Indian reactions and initiatives they evoked in different Princely States with highly varied socio-economic, cultural and administrative set-ups will be examined.

    Another book is due to be published by Manchester University Press, on 'Mental Illness and Colonialism. Patients' lives and discourses of power during the age of British imperialism in South Asia, 1800-1947'. I explore the ways in which the lives of mentally ill people and their families were affected by wider social and political circumstances during the age of British imperialism in India and how their stories in turn reflect the socio-political context within which they were set. A close reading of patients' cases and their individual circumstances will be employed. The intention is to illuminate the relations between the personal, and the social and political, in regard to the main discourses that engulfed patients and their families.

    Waltraud Ernst was educated at the University of Konstanz, Germany, where she studied Social Sciences, specialising in International Politics, Sociology, and Psychology. She did her dissertation in 1982 in Cultural Psychology (Prof. E.E. Boesch) as an affiliate of the Socio-Psychological Research Centre for Development Planning, University of the Saar, on ethno-psychoanalytical case studies of women migrating from the Meru region in Kenya to Nairobi. This was based on field-work visits to the Meru district during 1980 and 1981. She subsequently worked on a project on "Mad Colonisers" in the Division of "Probleme des Fremdverstehens und inter-kulturelle Kommunikation" in the Sociology Department at Konstanz (Prof. D. Kantowsky). She received her PhD in the History of South Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1987, with a dissertation on psychiatry and mental illness in South Asia, c. 1780-1858 (Prof. Kenneth Ballhatchet). From 1988 to 1989, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Prof. R. Porter) at the Wellcome Institute in London, continuing her work on colonial psychiatry. Following practical work as a Senior Clinical Psychologist at Hutt Hospital and psychotherapist in private practice in Wellington, New Zealand, she worked on the history of Pakeha psychiatry and Maori mental healing in the Department of Sociology at Victoria University Wellington. She joined the Sociology Department at Southampton University in 1994 as a Wellcome University Award Holder, focusing on the comparative historical sociology of mental health and healing in British India and the Pacific. She moved to the History Department at Southampton in 1998 and joined History at Oxford Brookes University in December 2008 as Professor in the History of Medicine, 1700-2000.


    • Ernst W, Pati B, Sekher TV, Health and Medicine in Indian Princely States 1850-1950, Routledge (2017)
      ISBN: 9780415679350
    • Ernst W, Ed., Work, Psychiatry and Society, c. 1750-2015, Manchester University Press (2016)
      ISBN: 9780719097690
    • Ernst, W, Colonialism and Transnational Psychiatry: The Development of an Indian Mental Hospital in British India, c. 1920-1940, Colonialism and Transnational Psychiatry: The Development of an Indian Mental Hospital in British India, c. 1920-1940 (2013)
      ISBN: 978-0-85728-019-0
      Abstract Website
    • Ernst W, Mueller T, Transnational Psychiatries: Social and Cultural Histories of Psychiatry in Comparative Perspective c. 1800-2000, Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2010)
      ISBN: 9781443822176
      Abstract Website
    • Digby A, Ernst W, Mukharji P, Crossing colonial historiographies: histories of colonial and indigenous medicines in transnational perspective, Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2010)
      ISBN: 978-1-4438-2154-4
      Abstract Website

    Journal articles

    • Ernst W, 'The role of work in psychiatry: Historical reflections'
      Indian Journal of Psychiatry 60 (6) (2018) pp.248-252
      ISSN: 0019-5545 eISSN: 0019-5545
    • Ernst W, 'Mixed Voices: Post/colonial Biographies and Transnational Identities'
      South Asian History and Culture 8 (3) (2017) pp.301-316
      ISSN: 1947-2498 eISSN: 1947-2498
      Abstract Website
    • Ernst W, 'The limits of comparison: institutional mortality rates, long-term confinement and causes of death during the early twentieth century'
      History of Psychiatry 23 (4) (2012) pp.404-418
      ISSN: 0957-154X eISSN: 0957-154X
      Abstract Website
    • Ernst W, 'The Indianization of colonial medicine. The case of psychiatry in early twentieth-century British India'
      20 (2) (2012) pp.61-89
      ISSN: eISSN:
      Abstract Website
    • Ernst W, 'Crossing the boundaries of 'colonial psychiatry'. Reflections on the development of psychiatry in British India, c.1870-1940'
      Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 35 (4) (2011) pp.536-545
      ISSN: 0165-005X eISSN: 0165-005X
      Abstract Website
    • Ernst W, Mukharji P, 'From History of Colonial Medicine to Plural Medicine in a Global Perspective Recent Works on History of Medicine in Colonial/Postcolonial Contexts'
      NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin 17 (4) (2009) pp.447-458
      ISSN: 0036-6978 eISSN: 0036-6978
    • Ernst W, 'Beyond East and West. From the History of Colonial Medicine to a Social History of Medicine(s) in South Asia'
      Social History of Medicine 20 (2008) pp.505-524
      ISSN: 0951-631X eISSN: 0951-631X

    Book chapters


    • Ernst W, review of The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine, in English Historical Review 128 (2013) pp.234-235
      ISSN: 0013-8266 eISSN: 0013-8266
    • Ernst W, review of International Relations in Psychiatry: Britain, Germany, and the United States to World War Ii, in American Historical Review 116 (2011) pp.1092-1093
      ISSN: 0002-8762 eISSN: 0002-8762
    • Ernst W, review of Psychiatry and Empire, in Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 38 (2010) pp.163-164
      ISSN: 0308-6534 eISSN: 0308-6534
    • Ernst W, review of Refiguring Unani Tibb. Plural Healing in Late Colonial India, in Social History of Medicine 21 (2008) pp.416-418
      ISSN: 0951-631X eISSN: 0951-631X



    Adjunct Professor 
    Division of Health and Humanities, St John's Research Institute, St John's National Academy of Health Sciences, Sarjapur Road, Bangalore, India 560034

    Press, publicity and reviews


    • Editor of Book Series Critical Thinking in South Asian History (Orient BlackSwan)
    • Member of editorial board of History of Psychiatry (Sage)
    • Founder-Editor of Asian Medicine - Tradition and Modernity (Brill Leiden), 2005-2007
    • Member of editorial board of Asian Medicine (Brill)
    • Editor of Social History of Medicine (OUP), 2003-2006
    • Editor of Wellcome History (Wellcome Trust), 1998-2001