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David Shreeve Doctoral Studentship in the History of Medicine

by | Sep 30, 2022 | Studentships | 0 comments

NEW DEADLINE: 1 June 2023

The University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) and John Rylands Research Institute invite applications to undertake a fully funded 3 year doctoral studentship researching the history of neurology, neurosurgery and the brain sciences in Britain across the twentieth century.

This studentship has been made possible by the generous donation of Dr. David Shreeve, who qualified in medicine at the University of Manchester and spent his career working to improve health and medical education across the Greater Manchester area specializing in gastroenterology. He continues to be a strong supporter of the University of Manchester, Manchester Medical Society, and the study of medical history.

Candidates: please email Dr. Robert G. W. Kirk ( with informal queries about the project and for guidance on how to apply.


This studentship, based in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), will significantly contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the history of neurology in Manchester across the twentieth century. Research will examine the work of Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (1886-1961), pioneering neurosurgeon and professor at the university and his collaborators, including Dorothy Davison (1890-1984), an important figure in the art of medical illustration. Jefferson published many important works such as those on fractures of the atlas vertebra (often referred to as Jefferson’s Fracture), and in 1924 he became the first surgeon in Britain to perform a successful embolectomy. He held a number of surgical positions in the Manchester area including at Salford Royal and the MRI, before being offered the first neurosurgical chair in England by The University of Manchester. He became professor of neurological surgery and Director of the Neurological Laboratories in 1945 and was elected to the Royal Society in 1947. Dorothy Davison trained at the Manchester School of Art and entered the field of medical illustration through work done on Egyptology at the Manchester Museum. She was well known for her neurological, orthopaedic and haematological paintings and produced a number for Jefferson whilst working at the MRI and The University of Manchester. She was a pioneer in the field, and in 1939 was appointed Medical Artist by The University of Manchester, training a new generation of medical artists.

This project will explore Jefferson’s work across clinical research, neurosurgery and medicine, as well as his formative role in shaping the British neurology through contributions to the work of the Medical Research Council (principally as the Chairman of its Clinical Research  Committee), thereby reconstructing his legacy and continued influence. In 2021, The University of Manchester launched the Geoffrey Jefferson Brain Research Centre ( which conducts ground breaking research to tackle some of medical science’s most devastating conditions. The launch of the centre demonstrates the continued influence of Jefferson’s work and Manchester’s contribution to the advancement of neurological research.

Working with academic colleagues in CHSTM and with the support of curators and specialists at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, this studentship will seek to answer a number of research questions about the history of neurology through the framework of Jefferson’s career. For instance, we will study his distinctive approach to clinical research and knowledge construction, investigating how Jefferson’s methods required the intensive careful study of a relatively small number of cases as opposed to statistical analysis of large quantities of data. Relatedly, we will also address his work with Dorothy Davison, and what this can tell us about the relationship between science and art and the increasingly important field of medical humanities. Research may also examine Jefferson’s more philosophical contributions, not least his early speculations on the ‘mind of mechanical man’ and the limits of what we would now call artificial intelligence.

Main Resources/Collections

Research activity will draw on the analysis of rich archival resources held in The University of Manchester Library, primarily those relating to Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (1886-1961) collaborators, including Dorothy Davison (1890-1984). The papers of and relating to Sir Geoffrey Jefferson amounts to 563 items and include significant research papers and drafts of lectures and papers, alongside varied correspondence relating to all aspects of neurosurgery. The collection provides abundant scope for research into a number of topics, especially the early development of neurosurgery in England and abroad and the increasing specialism of neurosurgery as a profession, particularly in the 1940s. The development of the science and practice of neurosurgery is illustrated in Jefferson’s own research notes and papers and in his correspondence with other neurosurgeons such as Hugh Cairns.

Research may also draw on relevant historical material from across the UK including the Medical Research Council (held at the National Archives, Kew) and various collections held by the Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine (London).

Related References

Walshe (1961) ‘Geoffrey Jefferson’ Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 7: 127-135.

Geoffrey Jefferson (1949) ‘The mind of mechanical man’ British Medical Journal Jun 25; 1(4616): 1105–1110.DOI: 10.1136/bmj.1.4616.1105

D. Mohr (2017) ‘Dorothy Davison (1890-1984): Manchester medical artist and her work for neurosurgeon Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (1886-1961)’ Journal of Medical Biography 25(2):130-137. DOI: 10.1177/0967772014555292

Peter H. Schurr (1997) So That Was Life: Biography of Sir Geoffrey Jefferson London: Royal Society of Medicine.

Papers of and relating to Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (University of Manchester):


Established in 1986, the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) is a globally recognized leader in the integrated study of the history of science, technology and medicine, as well as science and health communication. Our historical research examines science, technology and medicine as important aspects of modern culture. CHSTM has a thriving community of doctoral research students (, with projects funded by a variety of organizations examining varied aspects of how science, technology and medicine have shaped the modern world.

Our undergraduate and postgraduate teaching portfolio includes provision of introductory courses to the history of science and medicine, alongside focused courses dealing with subjects such as the environmental history, history of forensic science, history of mental illness, science and science fiction, and the history of the nuclear age. Contribution to teaching is not a requirement of the studentship but opportunities exist for compensated contributions as Graduate Teaching Assistants where the post holder may wish to develop and/or enhance their teaching skill set and experience.

The University of Manchester is the largest single-site university in the UK with around 38,000 students and more than 11,000 staff. We are committed to (a) delivering an outstanding teaching and learning experience preparing students for leadership; (b) contributing to the social and economic success of local, national and international communities; (c) producing the highest calibre graduates; (d) and developing our staff to be amongst the very best of their peers. Our trajectory is excellent, evidenced by recently being named as the world number one university in the Times Higher Education rankings for Impact.


Person Specifications

Essential qualifications:

  • a BA and MA in a historical area that demonstrates research expertise pertinent to this project, for example history of science, technology or medicine.
  • a strong grasp of recent historiographical debates pertinent to the project, including those linked to health and medicine in the late nineteenth through twentieth century.
  • the ability to understand and engage quickly with new historiographical debates and with the arguments and approaches adopted in allied fields, and to frame research findings within a variety of historiographical and methodological contexts;
  • excellent analytical and writing skills;
  • experience of working with empirical sources in archives, libraries and other collections;
  • excellent organisational skills;
  • ability to work both independently and as part of a team.

Desired qualifications:

  • experience of oral history and the ability to work with varied forms of historical evidence (e.g. text, visual and material)
  • experience of organising conferences and/or other events;
  • experience of promoting research via websites and social media;
  • experience of managing and analysing large sets of data and use of databases/digital analytical software (for example NVivo)


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