Document Actions

Pain and its Meanings

On 7-8 December 2012, we hosted with Wellcome Collection a two-day symposium to probe and discuss profound questions around how and why we give meaning to bodily pain.

Leading thinkers participated, including: Gillian Bendelow, Joanna Bourke, Javier Moscoso, Tom Shakespeare, Marina Warner and Joanna Zakrzewska.

Deborah Padfield screened her film duet for one. Two new commissions were presented: a poem by Jo Shapcott, titled 'P'; and a new two-part drama set to music by Daniel Eisner Harle titled As Above, So Below.

To hear Joanna Bourke talking about the project and the event, click here.


Highlights of the event on film. Click image Film still.jpg


The booklet which includes an introduction by Joanna Bourke, an interview with Deborah Padfield, Jo Shapcott's poem, and the libretto from As Above, So Below.

Pain and its Meanings: Click booklet to download Thumbnail FC.png

The 'Perspectives on Pain' issue of 19. Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century includes eight new, open-access, peer reviewed essays on pain.

'Perspectives on Pain' issue: Click here19 logo.jpg


As Above, So Below - a short drama to music in two parts. Music by Daniel Eisner Harle, words by Spencer Noble. Cast: Mr Clarke - Nick Allen, Miss Sinclair - Rosie Lomas. Band: Hurdy gurdy - Steven Tyler, flugal horn/trumpet - Darren Moore, flutes - Rosanna Terberg.

Miss Sinclair goes to Mr Clarke for advice on her illness. Mr Clarke initially dazzles her with his seemingly limitless knowledge but after five weeks of following his orders to no avail, Miss Sinclair’s confidence in Mr Clarke is tested.

To read the full libretto, download the booklet Pain and its Meanings.

Jo Shapcott - Poem titled 'P'

Gillian Bendelow - Chronic Pain and the Mind-Body Problem in Health and Illness

Tom Shakespeare - Disability and its Discontents

Marina Warner - 'Blood in the Shoe': Cruelty, Pleasure and the Happy Ending

Joanna Zakrzewska - Pain: Friend or Foe?

Joanna Bourke - Being in Pain: Historical Reflections

Past events


Pain as Emotion; Emotion as Pain: Perspectives from Modern History

26 October 2012

Organised by Rob Boddice, Ph.D (Languages of Emotion Cluster, Freie Universität, Berlin)

Download the conference programme herePDF icon

Listen to the podcast here

Pain and Old Age: Three Centuries of Suffering in Silence?

27 October 2012

Organised by Lynn Botelho, PhD (Department of History, Indiana University of Pennsylvania)

Download the conference programme herePDF icon

Listen to the podcast here

History of Pain without Lesion in the Mid to Late Nineteenth Century West

19 May 2012

This workshop generated lively discussion around the social, cultural and medical influences of what we might now refer to as chronic pain.

Main speakers: Dr Daniel S Goldberg (Visiting Fellow to the BPP) and Dr Andrew Hodgkiss (Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist)

Listen to the podcast here


Rhetorics of Pain: Historical Reflections

21st May 2011

This conference explored the complex phenomenon of pain from the eighteenth century to the 1960s.

Professor Joanna Bourke (Chair, Birkbeck College)
Rhetorics of Pain: Historical Reflections

Dr Lucy Bending (University of Reading)
Translating Pain: Overcoming the Ineffability of Pain

Dr Ana Carden-Coyne (University of Manchester)
Cultures of Pain: The Political, Social and Sexual Provocations of War Wounds

Dr Jeremy Davies (University of Cambridge)
The Distinction between Mental and Physical Pain

Professor Sander Gilman (Emory University)
Seeing Pain

Professor Javier Moscoso (Spanish National Research Council)
The Topics of Pain and the Anthropology of Experience



A remedy for headaches. Process print, c. 1850.

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.