Monday, 21 January 2013


Dear readers

I hope you had a wonderful weekend and that you are not completely snowed in!  I have around 5 inches of snow outside my window right now and I am hoping that it will not hold back my research at the National Archives this week.  This post serves a duel purpose.  It publicizes a conference, of which I am a co-organiser, and also illuminates a fundamental institution that guided the practice and development of aviation medicine in the early twentieth century:  the Royal Air Force Medical Service.  

I am a committee member of the Institute for Historical Research History Lab postgraduate group, based in London - the national network for postgraduate students in history.  It is an intellectual and social forum designed to meet the needs of the postgrad community and to discuss ideas on how to drive history forward.  History Lab runs a diverse series of events throughout the academic year, including research seminars, method workshops, and frequent socials.  For more information, see:  IHR History Lab  On top of this, it also hosts an annual conference and this year's theme is 'Institutions'.

INSTITUTIONS: History Lab Annual Conference 2013
Institute of Historical Research, London, 12-13 June 2013

Institutions have always been an integral part of human society and were traditionally understood as instruments of bureaucratic and social control and administration. However, recent events such as the Eurozone crisis have seen a collapse of trust in politics and the rise of activist movements such as Avaaz. These global changes have called into question the traditional definitions of institutions. ‘Institution’ also has a metaphorical meaning, from the ‘institution’ of marriage to a set of behaviours with very specific rules.
What is an ‘institution’? Who makes ‘institutions’? How do they operate? What does the process of ‘institutionalisation’ entail? With these questions in mind, the History Lab Conference 2013 aims to investigate the relationships between institutions, societies and individuals through the analysis of historical example. 

Postgraduate students and early-career researchers are invited to submit proposals for papers (twenty minutes), or panels of three speakers, on specific topics exploring institutions or on wider relevant methodological and philosophical issues. 

Papers may cover any historical region or period, exploring institutions in topics including, but not limited to, the following areas.

  • Religion and morality
  • Social and community activism, protest and resistance.
  • Governmental, non-governmental and charitable
  • Medicine, medical institutions and treatment.
  • Administration, bureaucracy and accountability.
  • Industry, trade and commerce..
  • The family, education and welfare.
  • Cultural production and practices.
  • Labour, business and industrial relations.
  • Policing, law and order, and incarceration.

Some travel bursaries will be available for research students travelling from the United States. Please email: for further details.  

To submit a proposal for the conference, please send your title along with a 250-word abstract, your institutional affiliation, and full contact details to: by the deadline of Thursday 28th February, 2013. 

It is going to be a fantastic conference, so if you are a postgrad, please consider putting forward an abstract for consideration.

The theme of institutions has got me thinking.  Research into the history of aviation medicine is crucial, as without it, we wouldn't have achieved so many advances in aviation technology over the last century.  Aviation medicine was particularly useful in military settings, as medical specialists contributed to the management of modern warfare by maintaining morale, combat efficiency, and discipline.  The Royal Air Force Medical Services (RAFMS) attempted to meet these goals during the Second World War but to do so effectively, it had to have an excellent plan.  How would the medical officers, specialists, and consultants respond to the broad range of casualties created by operational flying?  

By the Second World War, the British armed forces tended to apply medicine and medical knowledge to all aspects of military life.  Harrison argued that this orientation was applied to conserve manpower and to maintain fighting strength.  The use of general medicine declined and clinical medicine was superseded by a new focus on disease prevention.  Each of the armed forces adopted these principles but applied them in very different ways.  The Official History of the RAFMS showed that this service demonstrated their commitment to the dual-emphases of specialisation and prevention by introducing a broad range of specialists.  From 1927, the Central Medical Establishment (a central body that aimed to examine and classify the medical fitness of air force personnel) employed specialists from eight elite branches of the medical profession in special reserve posts, each holding either Wing Commander or Group Captain rank in the areas of medicine (including tropical-medicine), neurology, surgery, bacteriology and parasitology, radiology (including electro-therapeutics), anaesthetics, ophthalmology, and otology. Prior to this, the RAFMS employed specialists to act as civilian consultants, as it was believed that they could rapidly reduce the rate of pensions paid to injured Great War veterans, which had caused an unforeseen financial burden.  By 1932, the prestige of specialist appointments had increased with a number of special reserve posts being upgraded to consultant status, which demonstrated that the RAFMS considered specific skills to be particularly valuable.  These included:  oto-rhino-laryngology, applied physiology, neurology, medicine, and surgery. The consultants proved their value in the earlier pre-war period as they attended a large number of cases, with consultations exceeding 3000 in 1932 and over 6000 in 1935.  It is clear that the consultants were essential in maintaining the health and combat efficiency of RAF personnel in peace time and would be even more indispensable at a time of war.    

I hope you have found this post interesting.  I would love to hear your opinion on 'institutions'.  

Best wishes


1 comment:

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