Postgraduate Spotlight: Manon Williams

Blog written by Manon Williams. Manon is a first-year PhD student. Her research examines how medical knowledge was constructed at sea among surgeons in the British and French navies

Manon is a first year PhD in Modern History under the supervision of Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith and Professor Aileen Fyfe. Her doctoral research, funded by a Wolfson Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities, explores how medical knowledge was constructed and implemented at sea among surgeons in the British Royal Navy. Using naval medical journals from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, her thesis examines how surgeons applied various contemporary medical theories to different patient populations. She is especially interested in the role of medical bias, including how patients were categorised based on preconceived or constructed notions of disease susceptibility and transmissibility.

After an undergraduate degree focused on late antiquity, a master’s degree in medieval history, and a brief interlude as a research assistant in a paediatric hospital, Manon has inexplicably yet irrevocably landed on late-eighteenth-century naval medicine. She likes to think that her previous study of hermits and monks has some bearing on her current research, but in general it was her experience analysing data in a paediatric infectious diseases department that brought forward many of the questions that drive her research. After nearly two years of analysing patient data, she realised how powerful of a story those data points could tell once interpreted and contextualised. In her search for historical records of patient data, Manon discovered the National Archive’s collection of naval surgeons’ journals (series ADM 101) and fell into a world of poisonous fruits and arachnids, death by lightning and battle, and the devastating effects of tropical diseases. By analysing various illnesses and comparing their treatment in different geographic locations and among different patient populations, Manon hopes to identify how prevailing medical theories informed patient care and shaped modern clinical practice.

Raised by a family of architects and engineers, Manon’s passion for history has often perplexed relatives whose experiences with the discipline consisted mainly of rote memorization and monotone lectures. Undeterred, Manon has spent nearly a decade trying to convince her friends and family that history is a fascinating subject requiring deep critique and contextualisation. To Manon, history teaches empathy, introspection, and awareness. Whether discussing medieval saints or eighteenth-century sailors, Manon’s drive is to find ways to make history interesting, engaging, and approachable to all. She is looking forward to taking this time during her PhD to explore opportunities with public engagement and public history.

Originally from Denver, Colorado, Manon has happily exchanged her 300 days of sunshine a year for a PhD on the windy east coast of Scotland. After an undergraduate semester abroad in Edinburgh, she is excited to be back and looks forward to exploring the country further. When not buried deep in a monograph or computer screen, Manon enjoys bicycle rides, long walks in nature, photography, games, and gardening. This summer’s task is to figure out how to grow vegetables in a new climate. She hopes that the excess of moisture, compared to semi-arid Colorado, will make up for the loss of sunshine. Any tips are most welcome.

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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