Catriona Gilmour-Hamilton

  • Catriona Gilmour-HamiltonCatriona Gilmour-Hamilton was a research student in the School of History, Philosophy and Culture. She completed her PhD in April 2016 and her thesis title is 'Bodies in the Service of "The Patient Body": Expectations, Discourse and Experiences of Cancer Research in Britain, 1960-2010.'

    Tell us about your research project.

    My choice of subject represents a union of various strands of my working and academic life. I began my career as a nurse, training in Sydney, Australia in the 1980’s. After moving to England, I worked for a national cancer charity supporting people with cancer and writing information about the disease and its treatments. During this time, I completed an undergraduate degree in History of Art, graduating in 2009. I immediately took to academic study, and knew that I wanted to continue to postgraduate level. So I decided to move into History of Medicine as this would combine my interest in history with my prior working life. After completion of a Welcome Trust funded Masters in History of Medicine at Brookes in 2011, I was fortunate enough to be offered funding for my PhD. The faculty had been awarded a Welcome Trust grant for a programme of research that matched my interests and my background.

    My research uses oral history to consider the experience of cancer research in late 20th century Britain from the perspective of the research participant. Current histories manage to leave out the stories of research participants without whom no research can take place. We have the “naturalistic/technical” histories of cancer, science, technologies, and doctors; we have the “normalistic/cultural” histories of research politics, research methodologies, and research ethics. But we lack the subjectivity of the research participant: the stories of being part of research, what it is like to possess the body under scrutiny, what happens to that body as a consequence of trial therapies and what the implications are for individual lives. Without that subjectivity our historical understanding is limited, at risk of assumption and oversight. The period 1960 – 2005 saw exponential change in research conduct and in how our culture talks about cancer. My research will consider the implications of historical change for individual participants: expectations, understanding, choices, faith in research and trust in medicine. By considering these lives in historical perspective, I hope to expand on our historical understanding of what cancer research means. I trust that my work will have wider implications for research ethics and informed consent.