CFP: Medical and Metaphorical Wounds from the Middle Ages to the First World War

A two-day workshop at the Science Museum, London, that may be of interest to our followers: January 26 and 27, 2018.

Wounds and their meaning have differed over time: from stigmata to the psychological wounding of soldiers in the First World War, the conception and function of wounds as religious symbols, medical signs or metaphorical devices has depended on social and historical contexts. Over this two-day workshop we hope to further a discussion on the varied understandings of wounds and wounding across history by bringing museum professionals and academics from different periods and disciplines together.

This workshop will mark the closing of the Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care at the Science Museum, on wound care and surgical developments in the First World War. The format will be a series of panels, discussions and (guided) exclusive access to the Science Museums extensive medical collections not currently on display. There will be a guided tour of the Wounded exhibition as well as a guided tour of Blythe House, one of the Science Museum object stores where large parts of the Wellcome Medical History Collection permanent loan to the Science Museum is housed. The proceedings from this workshop are to be published in a Special Issue of the Science Museum Group Journal.

Registration is free and lunch will be provided on both days. We will endeavor to cover
travel costs for student and unwaged delegates. There will be a conference dinner at delegates’ own expense.

We welcome abstracts on topics related to wounds and wounding from any period from the Middle Ages to the First World War.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

• Developments in wound care (surgical innovation during war, academic, scholastic, or
educational changes)
• Conception of wounds and wounding in medical text and literature
• Descriptions and representations of wounds in medical text and literature
• Physical and mental wounds
• Representations of wounds and wounding in images and literature
• Wounds as metaphor or simile
• Wounds in religious practice, theory and representation
• Wounds to the body politic and social wounds
• The use of wounds and wounding in political or ideological discourse

Deadline for submission of abstracts is 31st of October, 2017.

Please submit a short abstract (max 300 words) and a short biography (max 150 words) to

Any questions and queries, please do not hesitate to contact:

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How do children learn about facial disfigurement?

Jane Frances is the Policy Adviser in Education for Changing Faces. She is the author of Educating Children with Facial Disfigurement (London: Routledge/Falmer, 2004), and also has a chapter in the forthcoming Effaced publication, Approaches to Facial Difference: Past and Present (Bloomsbury: 2018): ‘Does researching disfigurement risk perpetuating stigma?’

Lucas was born with an unusual-looking face and head. At primary school the other children beat him up so much that he reached a point when he walked out and never went back. Adam Pearson, who now makes and sometimes hosts TV programmes about appearance and difference, also endured a great deal of horribleness from peers at school. Many children whose appearance is unusual have a similarly rough ride at school. Could it be that children actively dislike unusual — disfigured — faces?

During the 1970s and 80s when a team led by S.A. Richardson1 explored more than 3000 children’s responses to peers who had a range of visible differences and disabilities they included facial disfigurement. A preference ranking emerged which Richardson found to be “stable in the overwhelming majority of studies for children 6 to 16 years of age….” From most to least liked were: (a) nondisabled child, (b) child with a crutch or brace, (c) child in a wheelchair, (d) child with hand missing, (e) child with facial cleft disfigurement, and (f) child with obesity.

In their chapter2 on the development and maintenance of shame in disfigurement Gerry Kent and Andrew R. Thompson list several research findings to do with people’s general dislike and avoidance of persons with disfigured appearance. Interestingly there is a widespread tendency to attribute these reports from people with facial disfigurement to their oversensitivity. How often is a child who reports that they are being stared at or whispered about encouraged to “ignore it” or counselled that perhaps they are imagining it?

However, research in which “confederates have worn cosmetic creams to look as if they had some form of facial blemish, people [adults] were observed to offer less help and to try to avoid the confederate (Bull and Rumsey, 1988; Rumsey, Bull & Gahagan, 1982). Such reactions to disfigurement are often culturally sanctioned and can be seen in many children’s stories: ‘Out popped the troll’s ugly head. He was so ugly that the youngest billy-goat Gruff nearly fell down with fright’ (The Three Billy Goats Gruff).”3

Harper’s 1999 discussion of this and similar research, including his own, indicates a disquieting pattern in children’s attitudes and preferences when choosing playmates from among their peers. He finds that where success is associated with having enough to eat children view obesity positively. In communities which depend on people’s capacity for manual labour, children view physical incapacity very negatively. Among communities where these no longer hold true — broadly the West and Westernised cultures — children, as Richardson and his team found, most dislike facial scarring and obesity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it emerges that children’s attitudes and preferences somehow come to reflect precisely those of the society in which they grow up, whatever those preferences or fashions may be. Apparently this alignment develops even though no-one teaches them to dislike and avoid a child with facial scars. Or do they?

In film, TV and computer games the disfigurement trope that we were probably first introduced to when, as small children, we encountered the Ugly Step-sisters in our first Christmas pantomime, continues to give the baddie facial scars while the goodie’s face is much more likely to be smooth-skinned and symmetrical. For several years until quite recently the “edutainment” Moshi Monsters’ community of mostly socially positive cartoon creatures engaged millions of very young children all over the world with its vignettes of social interactions, and its illustrated catalogues of moshlings. Among all the different Moshi Monsters and Moshlings are the Glumps who manifest that same old disfigurement trope. With names like Freakface and Fishlips it might look as if the makers of Moshi Monsters were actively teaching small children how to abuse any other child they might come across who had an unusual face. The Moshi Monster Character Encyclopaedia4 describes Bloopy, for example, as having “blue flabby skin” and asks, “Well wouldn’t you be monstrously depressed if your face looked like a squished blueberry?” Of Bruiser, this children’s reference book says, “Scarred skin makes for a scary sight.” Changing Faces ran a successful campaign against the face-ism (like racism) being promulgated by this erstwhile popular edutainment.

Inclusive education in the UK calls upon most children to rub along together regardless of their wide-ranging physical, cognitive and appearance differences. Their teachers may try to facilitate this with the help of lessons about difference and respect, alongside optimistic advice such as “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and “It’s the inside that counts”.

Regarding the acquisition in childhood of socially conforming aesthetic responses, John Rickman5 includes in his reflections upon ugliness and the creative impulse, a summary of research by Dr Erno Peto in 1935, into infants’ and children’s responses not to faces, unfortunately, but to smells and tastes. Peto found that the response of disgust increased and standardised with age, from under five to over six years, becoming more in line with general adult judgements regarding what smells or tastes are experienced as horrible. Earl Hopper6 shows how these kind of aesthetic responses might be ‘learned’ through non-verbal social molding that cannot but occur as the infant is continually exposed to adult’s responses to smells and tastes — and faces.

We can see how such early non-verbal learning will lead to visceral responses that can seem completely natural. And the children of parents whose facial appearance is disfigured in some way grow up with entirely different non-verbal social molding that leaves them puzzled and upset, when they start school, by their classmates’ questions, comments and seeming dislike of their unusual-looking parent. “Yes— Imagine having to grow up with a father who looks like that.”7 “Yes. My youngest son… had a fight with the boy who commented in an unkind way. The boy had said ‘At least my mum has two eyes.’”8 “Yes…. Comments like ‘Ugh’.”9

It’s so hard to reverse non-verbal social molding in infancy and early childhood that we eagerly await the first ‘Becoming a Parent’ book or website that includes activities that will encourage children to respond positively to unusual faces. This will range from the ubiquitous response of adoration to conventional new babies that leaves us covered in discomfort and lost for words when we see a baby with a large facial birthmark. And not forgetting the task of countering the hissing, etc, that arises in the theatre when the ugly sisters come on stage (whose attitudes and behaviour are the thing, not their appearance). Meanwhile, books for children about a classmate whose face is disfigured10 are inevitably set in social contexts where everyone spends a lot of time getting it all wrong.

That dreadful Moshi encyclopaedia is out of print now and the press are beginning to refer to facial injuries as ‘life-changing’ where previously they would have used ‘horrific’. Many people live good lives that include the challenge of living with an unusual facial appearance from birth or following injury or cancer treatment etc. So let’s keep chipping away at the old face-ist mindset to re-shape it into something much more varied and human.


Richardson, S. A. (1983) ‘Children’s values in regard to disabilities: A reply to Yuker’, Rehabilitation Psychology, 28, pp. 131–140. Cited in Harper, D.C. (1999) ‘Social psychology of difference: stigma, spread and stereotypes’, Childhood, Rehabilitation Psychology, 44/2, pp. (131–144). Accessed online 6 August 2017.

Kent, G. and Thompson, A.R., (2002) ‘The development and maintenance of shame in disfigurement’, in P. Gilbert and J. Miles (Eds) Body Shame: Conceptualisation, Research and Treatment (Hove: Routledge, 2004): pp. 103–116.

Ibid., p. 104.

Published by Dorling Kindersley in 2013.

Rickman, J. (1957). ‘X. On The Nature Of Ugliness And The Creative Impulse’ (Marginalia Psychoanalytica. II) 1 (1940). Int. Psycho-Anal. Lib., 52: pp. 68–89.

Hopper, E. (1996) ‘The social unconscious in clinical work’. In Hopper, E. (2003) The Social Unconscious: Selected Papers (London: Jessica Kingsley), p. 126–161.

Free text answers from the Changing Faces Survey behind Disfigurement in the UK – Q107 asked if people discourage you from having children.

As above. Q113 asked if your children have ever faced questions or comments about your condition or appearance.

As above. Q 113 again.

10 Fire Girl by Tony Abbott and R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.

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Portraits, Likenesses, Composites? Facial Difference in Forensic Art

Kathryn Smith is completing her PhD at Liverpool John Moores University. A member of FaceLab, her doctoral research project is a cross-cultural consideration of the ethics of professional and public attitudes to visual depictions of the dead in contemporary culture. The research is supported by the National Research Foundation (South Africa).

Portraits, Likenesses, Composites? Facial Difference in Forensic Art

Station Strangler_colour composite_web

Police colour composite of the alleged ‘Station Strangler’, later identified as Norman Simons. Image courtesy of the Eyewitness Group, University of Cape Town.

The police composite sketch is arguably the most fundamental example of forensic art, and one which enjoys considerable cultural prominence. Intended to produce a positive identification of a specific individual, composites are a form of visual intelligence rather than hard evidence. Based on verbal descriptions drawn from memory deriving from highly contingent and possibly traumatic events, composites are by definition unique and precarious forensic objects, representing an epistemological paradox in their definition as simultaneous ‘artistic impression’ and ‘pictorial statement’. And despite decades of operational use, only in recent years has the field of cognitive psychology begun to fully understand and address the conditions that affect recognition rates both positively and negatively. How might composites contribute to our understanding of representational concepts such as ‘likeness’ and ‘accuracy’? And what role does visual medium – drawn, photographic or computerized depiction – play in the legibility of these images? Situated within the broader context of forensic art practices, this paper proceeds from an understanding that the face is simultaneously crafted as an analogy of the self and a forensic technology. In other words, the face is a space where concepts of identification and identity, sameness and difference (often uncomfortably) converge. With reference to selected examples from laboratory research, field application and artistic practice, I consider how composites, through their particular techniques and form, contribute to subject-making, and how they embody the fugitive, in literal and figurative terms.

Keywords: forensic art; memory; composites; facial features; justice; proof

Appearing in Approaches to Facial Difference: Past and Present (Bloomsbury: 2018).

KSmith_Portrait Machine 2014_web

Portrait Machine: Kathryn Smith 2014 With thanks to Trasi Henen, the Stellenbosch University Fine Arts Drawing II class, and Lucy Jane Turpin Courtesy Kathryn Smith

274_Portrait Machine_2015

Portrait Machine: Kathryn Smith 2014 With thanks to Trasi Henen, the Stellenbosch University Fine Arts Drawing II class, and Lucy Jane Turpin Courtesy Kathryn Smith

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‘Trotule (Trotula) puts many things on to decorate and embellish the face but I intend solely to remove infection’: L’abbé Poutrel and his Chirurgerie c.1300

Theresa Tyers is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of English Literature and Creative Writing at Swansea University, having completed her PhD at the University of Nottingham. She has published several articles on medieval vernacular healthcare manuals.

‘Trotule (Trotula) puts many things on to decorate and embellish the face but I intend solely to remove infection’: L’abbé Poutrel and his Chirurgerie c.1300 

This chapter examines a work produced c.1300 referred to by its translator, Jean de Prouville, as a Ciurge or Chirurgie: ‘A Book of Medicine’. Its contents are based on an earlier Latin surgical work by an Italian writer but it is known to have undergone numerous changes in the course of its transmission. At one point in the text Jean de Prouville’s vernacular version claims that its aim is, unlike the well-known Trotule, only to treat infection and not to embellish. Nevertheless, there are signs that the advice given does more than that and, in doing so, this work authorises its own forms of disfigurement intended to achieve the goal of acquiring a perfect complexion. The present study aims to demonstrate the importance of vernacular medical texts for the circulation of didactical material and the ways in which these texts provided instant, easily accessible surgical advice for their owners. It first discusses the source of this vernacular text and explores a number of the problems that are encountered when dealing with medieval vernacular medical texts. It briefly outlines why their owners sought out texts such as these. In particular, it considers what the treatments, which claim to treat disease rather than embellish, reveal about the author’s understanding of medical practice. The present article uses this vernacular manuscript to explore how medical knowledge was disseminated at the threshold of the early fourteenth century and how owning a text such as this authorises a form of disfigurement in the search for a perfect complexion.

Keywords: medieval; France; vernacular medicine; women; knowledge transfer; disease

Appearing in Approaches to Facial Difference: Past and Present (Bloomsbury: 2018). While you wait, check out other medieval material on our blog.


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A familiar face: wartime facial wounds and William Kearsey

Dr Kerry Neale works in the Military Heraldry and Technology Section of the Australian War Memorial. She completed her PhD thesis through the University of New South Wales on the experiences of disfigured Great War veterans in Britain and the Dominions. She is currently preparing her thesis for wider publication.  This blog is from a forthcoming chapter of a Museums Victoria publication to support the WWI: Love and Sorrow exhibition. You can contact Kerry via email , her LinkedIn profile or Twitter @kreativekurator.

This Friday, 18 August 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Queen’s Hospital for the treatment of facial wound cases at Sidcup, Kent, in England. During a war that saw the rapid advancement of weapons and mass casualties, the number of facial wounds sustained by British and Dominion forces was unprecedented.

I fell upon this topic after listening to a radio talkback program in 2006 – who would have thought all these years later I would still be so intrigued and moved by the stories of these men.  The program was discussing the battle of the Somme, and a man rang in saying that he had series of photographs of his grandfather, who had lost his nose during the battle.  These photos charted his grandfather’s facial surgery journey.  Two things struck me – firstly, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the results of facial surgery during the First World War would look like.  The other was a comment by the grandson – that in each of the photos, even though his grandfather’s nose was being reconstructed, his eyes seemed to ‘dim a little’, that he ‘lost his spark of life’.  I couldn’t understand this – if his appearance was being repaired, shouldn’t life have been coming back to his eyes as he regained confidence?  And so my search for answers began…

What I found were stories of incredible innovation carried out at the Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup, which had been established specifically for the treatment of severe facial wounds.  Begun primarily as a British endeavour under the direction of Harold Gillies (a New Zealand surgeon working with the British Red Cross), the hospital attracted surgeons and staff from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and later, a small unit from the United States; and took in patients from all those countries.  Between the hospital’s opening in 1917 and its closure in 1925, surgeons there treated over 5,000 servicemen, and carried out more than 11,000 major operations. Work at the Queen’s Hospital was mainly focused on gun-shot and shrapnel wounds (approximately 80 per cent of all cases treated there); most patients arriving from the Western Front rather than other theatres of the war.[1]

One of the patients who benefited from the remarkable treatment carried out at the Queen’s Hospital was Private William Kearsey from Inverell in NSW. At the outbreak of the First World War, William’s two older brothers, Jack and Stanley, had volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force, but both were found medically unfit for service: Jack suffered from asthma and Stanley had a hearing problem. So when William, a 24-year-old coach builder, went to enlist, we can imagine how frustrated he may have been to find that he was also rejected, because of problems with his eyes. Determined to play his part in the war, he underwent eye surgery in Sydney during 1915. He successfully enlisted with the 33rd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, in April 1916.


Private William Kearsey, 1916. AWM P10965.001

During the third battle of Ypres, on 3 October 1917, Private Kearsey was in the path of an exploding shell. The wound to his face was so devastating he was initially left for dead. It was only through the efforts of a fellow soldier, Jack Gaukroger, that William made it to an aid post to begin his long journey of repair and recovery.

William spent more than 18 months at the Queen’s Hospital, undergoing more than 25 major operations to repair his face. Returning to Australia in 1919, he spent another six months in Keswick Hospital in Adelaide under the care of surgeon Henry Newland, who had returned to Australia in 1918 after heading the Australian section at the Queen’s.[2]


William Kearsey, c.1920s. AWM P10965.002

Once his treatment ended, William returned to Inverell and, after some early struggles, built a solid reputation for himself as a hardworking wool grower. While he remained single for much of his life, he married at the age of 59 to a woman called Verdun – named for the Western Front battle in 1916, the year she was born. They dedicated many years to bringing out needy children from the United Kingdom under the Big Brother Movement in the 1950s and 60s – thus helping 26 boys find a future in Australia. The last of these they would adopt. William died in 1971, aged 80.

William has become a personal link for me to the experiences of the thousands of disfigured Great War veterans I have investigated. His was one of the first series of photographs I viewed at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Melbourne, and the watercolour painted by Daryl Lindsay depicted such gentle eyes, that I was drawn to the story behind them.

Kearsey at RACS

William Kearsey – original plaster cast, reproductions of photographs, and original watercolour by Daryl Lindsay.  Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Melbourne.
Photographed by author, 2007.


Just a week after first seeing his records, I found myself speaking to William’s niece, Beryl Taylor. At 87 years of age, Beryl still had the warmest and most vivid memories of her ‘Uncle Bill’.  Beryl had responded to my notice asking for relatives of disfigured Great War veterans to contact me for my research. It turns out that William had grown up in Inverell – the very country town in rural New South Wales where I had spent the first seven years of my life.  It gives me a chill to think that the steps leading to the Post Office (built in 1904) that I remembering running up and down as a child were the very same ones that William walked.

In a strange way, William followed me on my PhD journey.   When searching for images of the hospital ship on which William returned to Australia, I never expected to see William’s face.  But lo and behold, of the hundreds of men on the ship, there he was staring straight at the camera.

Kearsey on Karoola_P01667_002

Soldiers (including William, circled) and nurses aboard No.1 Australian Hospital Ship Karoola, 1919. AWM P01667.002.

In late 2013, I visited Belgium, and while walking through the galleries of the In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres, I stepped into an enclosed obelisk, unsure of what I was to see.  With nothing displayed on the walls, I turned my gaze to the ceiling – who should be staring down at me but William.

Kearsey at Ypres

Photograph of William (top centre) during treatment, as displayed at the In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres. Photographed by author, 2013.

The stories and experiences of facially wounded veterans are only now beginning to be told – for almost 100 years, they were forgotten or (worse still) overlooked in the writing of Great War histories.  But William is no longer forgotten – and indeed, he has become more than just a familiar face to me. I have spoken to his family; I have met his adopted son. William’s story currently features in Melbourne Museum’s First World War centenary exhibition, WWI: Love and Sorrow. His is only one story, but he represents a ‘face’ for so many of the ‘faceless’.


 You might enjoy these other posts about World War I on Effaced from History?.

[1] For some further reading see Harold Gillies, Plastic Surgery of the Face: based on selected cases of war injuries of the face including burns (Frowde : Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1920); Harold Gillies & D. Ralph Millard, The Principles and Art of Plastic Surgery (Butterworth & Co. (Publishers) Ltd, London, 1957); Reginald Pound, Gillies: surgeon extraordinary (Michael Joseph, London, 1964).

[2] Kearsey’s service record and repatriation files are available through the National Archives of Australia. NAA: B2455, KEARSEY WILLIAM; NAA: C138, R55422, KEARSEY William [WW1 repatriation file] [box 16052]

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