Jane Freebody

MA History of Medicine, 2015

Jane Freebody

I have always been interested in the History of Medicine as I come from a medical family. I am fascinated by the concept of what constitutes mental health or mental illness, and by the way that those suffering from mental illness have been treated across time and in different territories

Now in the first year of her PhD specialising in the history of psychiatry, Jane reflects back on what made her first apply for an MA History of Medicine.

My early career was in events management, marketing, and fundraising, but I decided to take a career break while my children were small, enrolling at Oxford Brookes University as an undergraduate in History and French Studies in 2009. I was delighted that I achieved a First in my undergraduate degree, and really wanted to carry on with my studies. I planned to secure funding so that I could pursue an MA in the History of Medicine – and after applying to the Elizabeth Casson Trust I was awarded a scholarship.

I have always been interested in the History of Medicine as I come from a medical family. I am fascinated by the concept of what constitutes mental health or mental illness, and by the way that those suffering from mental illness have been treated across time and in different territories. I also have a particular interest in France, and because French physicians were pioneers in the introduction of moral treatment for the mentally ill in the early nineteenth century I was able to combine my interest in both medical history and France.

My MA dissertation focused on the Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy, England’s first school of occupational therapy, founded in 1930 by Dr Elizabeth Casson. The Casson Trust, which funded my MA, was established in Dr Casson’s memory. The Trust was keen to preserve the voices and experiences of Dorset House alumni, so I based my dissertation on twenty oral history interviews conducted with those who were at the school, either as members of staff or students, between 1956 and 1980. It was fascinating meeting these women and talking to them about their experiences and then to put these experiences into their historical context.

I really enjoy being a “detective” and tracking down articles or books that are out of print and obscure archive material; if something is difficult to get hold of that makes me want to locate it even more! I also find it very satisfying to put together these elements to make an argument that hangs together. I suppose you could say that I enjoy the craftsmanship involved in research and writing, and the MA course has really helped me develop those skills.

Whilst studying for my masters I became very interested in the history of psychiatry and mental illness. I hoped to continue working with my MA supervisor, Professor Waltraud Ernst, a specialist in the history of psychiatry, at PhD level. Encouraged and supported by Professor Ernst, I applied to the Wellcome Trust and was successful in securing a PhD studentship. I am now half way through my first year of PhD study, which I still can’t quite believe! I feel that I have come a long way since first enrolling as an undergraduate and I wouldn’t be at this stage without the support and encouragement of my supervisors and tutors.