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Dr Sarah Marks

  • Overview



    Sarah Marks works across History and the Social Sciences to examine science and medicine in the modern and contemporary world, in transnational context. She also researches the lived experience of mental ill-health and its treatment, collaborating with qualitative researchers and anthropologists. Before joining Birkbeck she taught at UCL Science & Technology Studies and held a research fellowship in History & Philosophy of Science at Cambridge. She is the founding Director of the Birkbeck Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Mental Health. She serves as an Academic Governor on the Birkbeck Governing Body (2023-26).

    Sarah is Principal Investigator for the CBT In Context project (UKRI), and co-PI on the Connecting 3 Worlds Wellcome Collaborative Award. She is an Editor for the journal History of the Human Sciences and advisory board member for the Czech Journal of Contemporary History. Her research has been taken up by the WHO Regional Office in Europe, BBC Radio, and The Wellcome.


    • PhD History of Medicine, UCL, 2015
    • MA History of Medicine, UCL, 2009
    • MRes East European Studies, UCL, 2008
    • BA History, UCL, 2006

    Administrative responsibilities

    • Co-Director, MA Medical Humanities
    • History lead for UBEL ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership
    • Academic Governor, 2023-26
    • Member of Research Committee for School of Historical Studies
  • Research


    Research interests

    • History of Science and Medicine 19th C to the present
    • Interdisciplinary Mental Health Studies
    • Science and Technology Studies
    • Central and Eastern Europe
    • Sub-Saharan Africa
    • Britain
    • Phenomenology

    Research overview

    Research grants: 

    UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship 'Cognitive Behavioural Therapies: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives' (2019-26)

    Wellcome Collaborative Award (with Dora Vargha, Exeter and Edna Suarez Diaz, UNAM Mexico) 'Connecting Three Worlds: Socialism, Medicine and Global Health after World War II' (2021-25)

    Wellcome Trust/SSHM Network Grant 'Histories and Legacies of Aversion Therapy, the Psy-Disciplines & LGBTQ+ Communities in Britain' 2022-24

    Global Challenges Research Fund Grant 'Oral Histories of Community Mental Health in Ghana' (2019)


    Journal articles

    (with Sarah Chaney and Rebecca Wynter) '"Almost Nothing is Firmly Established": A History of Genetics and Heredity in Mental Health ScienceWellcome Open Research, 2024 

    (with Daniel Pick & Mary-Clare Hallsworth) 'Hidden Persuaders on Film: Exploring Young People's Lived Experience through Visual Essays', Research for All, 5:2 (2021) 

    Suggestion, Persuasion and Work: Psychotherapy in Communist Europe’, European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, 20:1 (2018) 

    'Psychotherapy in Europe', History of the Human Sciences, 31:4 (2018) 

    The Romani Minority, Coercive Sterilizations, and Languages of Denial in the Czech Lands’, History Workshop Journal, 84:1 (2017), pp. 128-148  

    Psychotherapy in Historical Perspective’, History of the Human Sciences, vol. 30:2 (2017), pp. 3-16 

    From Experimental Psychosis to Resolving Traumatic Pasts: Psychedelic Research in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1954-1974Cahiers du monde russe, 56 (2015), pp. 53-75 



    Captive Minds: Mental Health and Mind Control in Cold War Czechoslovakia - forthcoming

    Mat Savelli and Sarah Marks (eds) Psychiatry in Communist Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2015).


    Guest-Edited Journal Special Issues

    Psychotherapy in Europe’, Special issue of History of the Human Sciences, vol. 31:4 (2018) 

    Psychotherapy in Historical Perspective’, Special issue of History of the Human Sciences, vol. 30:2 (2017) 


    Book Chapters

    'Interview with Sarah Marks' in Katherine Hubbard & Peter Hegarty (eds) A Feminist Companion to Conceptual and Historical Issues in Psychology. (McGraw Hill, 2024)

    ‘A History of the Talking Cure’ in David Jones (ed.) Understanding Mental Health and Counselling. (OUP, 2020).

    (co-authored with Mat Savelli and Melissa Ricci) ‘The Long (or Short) History of Mental Health.’ in

    Research projects

    Connecting three worlds: socialism, medicine and global health after WWII.

    Post doctoral staff

    • Dr David Bannister
    • Dr Sarah Howard
    • Dr Simon Huxtable
    • Dr Becka Hudson
    • Dr Rachel Starr
  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    Completed PhD Students

    Dr Sasha Bergstrom-Katz ‘On Intelligence Tests: Psychological Objects and their Subjects’ (Birkbeck, 2023)

    Dr Hannah Blythe 'The use of interpersonal relationships to treat and understand madness in Britain’s first community-based mental health charities, 1879-1939' (University of Cambridge, 2023)

    Dr Becka Hudson 'Pathology and penal risk prediction: investigating the construction of personality disorder and decisions on captivity in British prisons' (Birkbeck, 2023)


    Current PhD Students

    Mary Heffernan 'Psychoanalysis and Ireland, 1911-1998' (School of Historical Studies, Birkbeck, co-supervised with Sean Brady)

    Janina Klement 'Mapping Critical Psychiatry: A Transnational Study of Critical Psychiatry’s Reception in Western Europe and the US since 1965' (UCL School of European Languages, Cultures & Societies, co-supervised with Sonu Shamdasani)

    Rebecca Klette 'Nordic Decay: The reception and application of degeneration theory and the concept of atavism in Scandinavian psychiatry, criminology, and eugenics, 1880-1922' (School of Historical Studies, Birkbeck, co-supervised with Carmen Mangion)

    Evan Sedgwick-Jell 'Depression as a Political Category in English-Language Popular Non-Fiction Writing' (School of Social Sciences, co-supervised with Brendan McGeever)

    Jon Thurston 'The Myth of the Therapeutic' (School of Social Sciences, Birkbeck co-supervised with Paul Turnbull)

    Kiara Wickremasinghe, 'Innovation in Psychiatric Crisis Care: an Investigation into Peer-Supported Open Dialogue in Inner London' (Bloomsbury Doctoral Partnership, SOAS Department of Anthropology & Sociology, co-supervised with David Mosse)

    Keiran Wilson, '(Anti-)Therapeutic jurisprudence: Queer narratives of power and control under The Mental Health Act' (School of Social Sciences, Birkbeck, co-supervised with Sarah Lamble)



    I co-direct the Birkbeck MA in Medical Humanities with Dr Grace Halden, which is a collaboration across the School of Historical Studies and the School of Creative Arts, Culture & Communication. As part of this I co-convene the core module Critical Entanglements and Methods in the Medical Humanities, which provides students with exposure to key approaches to the field from across the humanities and social sciences, drawing on expertise from our Faculty and beyond. Students in this MA join us from a wide variety of backgrounds across the humanities, sciences and law, including clinical and health professionals, and people with lived experience of health conditions and disability activism. The diversity of the cohort, and the range of perspectives that students bring to the seminar discussions, is one of the programme's most important strengths.

    In 2023/24 I am working with Professor Jessica Reinisch to offer a new intensive module at final year BA and MA level on Epidemics and Pandemics in History, which will run in the summer term 2024, with a combination of lectures, seminars and study trips to London archives. I also contribute to teaching on the Foundation Year as well as dissertation training and supervision across a number of Birkbeck programmes.

    In 2024/25 I will be offering a new intensive Level 6/MA Module, Mental Health Past and Present, charting the rise of modern approaches to madness from the late 18th century to contemporary mental health policy. 

    Teaching modules

    • Dissertation (Literature and Culture 1800-present) (AREN145D7)
    • Healing, Health and Modernity in African History (HICL035S7)
    • Critical Entanglements and Methods in the Medical Humanities (SSHC483S7)
    • Critical Entanglements and Methods in the Medical Humanities (SSHC483S7)
    • Dissertation in Medical Humanities (SSHC485D7)
    • Epidemics and Pandemics in History (Level 6) (SSHC570S6)
    • Crossing Borders (SSSS001S3)
  • Business and community

    Business and community

    I have media training.


    I am happy to receive enquiries from the media on the following topics:

    • History of mental health, psychiatry and psychotherapy - 19th C to the present
    • Science and Medicine in the Cold War
    • History of Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe under Communism


      Understanding the Causes of Mental Distress: Wellcome Trust Consultancy

      Sarah is currently leading a commissioned project for the Wellcome Trust Mental Health Strategy Team on the causes of mental ill-health, past and present, facilitating an aspect of the Wellcome's field-building work. This will enable us to better understand how different aetiologies have been generated, their contexts, longevity, and some of the current debates around them within mental health science and the lived experience community. A report on diverse perspectives on the causes of mental ill health was delivered to Wellcome in Summer 2023. Three articles are currently under peer review, and an interactive website timeline and pop-up exhibition will be launched in January 2024.

      This project includes collaboration with researchers, lived experience advocates, artists, designers, clinicians and members of the Wellcome's Mental Health Strategy Team, and will run to 2028.

      Psychotechne: Assessment, Testing, Categorisation

      In Spring 2023 Sarah collaborated with artists Sasha Bergstrom-Katz and Tomas Percival to curate an exhibition, 'Psychotechne' at the Birkbeck Peltz Gallery, with a parallel events programme. This led to an engagement workshop with of learning disability self-advocates from My Life My Choice, Sunderland People First and the UEL Rix Inclusive Research Group. Read more in Community Living Magazine.

      Hidden Persuaders Outreach with North London Schools and Freud Museum London

      Sarah collaborated with Professor Daniel Pick and the Hidden Persuaders research group, Birkbeck’s Derek Jarman Lab, the Freud Museum, and north London schools on a public engagement project with funding from the Wellcome Trust from 2017-2019. This led to an exhibition, Wunderblock, led by artist Emma Smith; and a series of filmmaking workshops and screenings on ideas about brainwashing and hidden persuasion in history, science and culture. The participatory short films made by our young participants are available to watch here.

      Media contributions

      Sky TV History 'Strangest Things' Season 2 

      BBC Radio 4 'D for Diagnosis: What's in a Name'

      BBC Radio 3 'Free Thinking: Are We Being Manipulated?'

      BBC Radio 4 'Archive on 4: Dictators on the Couch'