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The Birkbeck Pain Project

Pain is one of the most influential forces in history. Yet, we still know remarkably little about how people experienced it in the past.

The experience of pain is both highly subjective and social, arising out of culturally-governed interactions, embodied consciousness and theories of the body and mind circulating within any particular period.

The Birkbeck Pain Project has evolved from a three-year project funded by the Wellcome Trust. We set out to advance our understanding between corporeality and culture by exploring the complex biomedical, neurological, psychological, cognitive, and sensory aspects of ‘the body in pain’.

Our approach is both historical (1760s to the present) and transcultural. We are analysing narratives of pain from diverse communities, including those whose voices were seldom heard. These include slave populations, prisoners, the poor, immigrant and religious groups, and children.

Out this month...

The Story of Pain
Joanna Bourke, The Story of Pain. From Prayer to Painkillers (Oxford University Press, June 2014). Read more.


Funded by the Wellcome Trust

Etching in the crayon manner by
W. Herbert, c. 1770, after C. Le Brun.