Professor Waltraud Ernst

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

School of History, Philosophy and Culture

Waltraud Ernst


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.

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.



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Professional information


  • 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

Further details

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