About the project

Conceiving Histories is a project which concerns the time of pre-pregnancy, exploring the space between literature, history and art. It received funding from Birkbeck, University of London and the Wellcome Trust (October 2016-December 2017). We are partnered by Fertility Network UK, the largest fertility support charity in the UK. Click here to find out more about them and their work.

Conceiving Histories looks into the archives to find a history of pre-pregnancy: that is, the diagnostic ambiguity of early pregnancy, the experience of trying to conceive and the politics of childlessness in the past. This is a study of fantasies about the body, about objective and scientific knowledge, and of parenthood. Conceiving Histories investigates the very ordinary experience of not being pregnant for month on month; the difficulties for medical professionals in diagnosing pregnancy; and men’s anxieties about their own reproductive fortunes.  It looks at fakes and fashions, dreams and denials, trying and testing.

The project will identify and research case studies from different historical moments, asking: how was the time of pre-pregnancy described and negotiated in the past and what might a historical knowledge of this time contribute to contemporary debates around fertility, trying to conceive and childlessness?

This project is principally a collaboration between literary history and visual art.

Snapshot_20140501_8Isabel Davis is an academic in the School of Arts at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published widely on medieval literature, gender, temporality and the body.


Anna Burel is an artist based at the Bow Arts Trust in London. She img011works in a range of different media – photography, drawing, costume and performance art – to think about the body, and particularly the female body, under medical scrutiny. Her work mediates on the properties of skin and viscera, anatomy, surgical examination and pharmacopoeia.

The image featured at the top of this page: Icon mulieris Selenetidis, from Ulyssis Aldrovandi, Monstrorum historia (1642), p. 36.