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Professor Helen King

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Profile summary

  • Chair in Classical Studies and Head of Department
  • Faculty of Arts
  • Classical Studies
  • helen.king

Professional biography

I am Professor of Classical Studies, and I moved to the OU from the University of Reading in 2011. My first degree, at UCL, was in Ancient History and Social Anthropology; I then held research fellowships in Cambridge and Newcastle, taught in Liverpool for 8 years, and came to Reading on a Wellcome Trust University Award in 1996. I have been a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (2001), a Lansdowne Visiting Lecturer at the University of Victoria, British Columbia (2002), and a Visiting Professor at the University of Texas at Austin (2005). In Spring 2014 I was the Käthe Leichter Visiting Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Vienna. My history of medicine interests include my service from 1998-2003 as the co-editor of Social History of Medicine (Oxford University Press), and membership of a variety of funding committees at the Wellcome Trust, including several years as Chair of the Research Resources in Medical History Committee and membership of the main History of Medicine Grants Panel and the Strategic and Enhancement Awards Committee. 

I welcome enquiries from potential research students and would be happy to supervise doctoral work in aspects of gender and medicine in the ancient world and beyond: my email address is helen.king@open.ac.uk. Recent and current theses supervised include work on the body in late antiquity, the historiography of ancient Athenian and pre-Hellenic women in the 19th and early 20th centuries, early medical illustrations, the patient in the work of Rufus of Ephesus, sterility in the ancient world, and classical reception at Stourhead.

Research interests

Ancient medicine

From my PhD (on ancient Greek menstruation) onwards, I have been interested in setting ancient medical thought within its social and cultural context, as one way - among others - of making sense of life. I've therefore looked at ancient ideas about creation, the role of women, and sacrifice to illuminate Hippocratic gynaecology (Hippocrates' Woman: Reading the female body in ancient Greece, Routledge, 1998). From teaching the history of medicine at Reading, I wrote a short introduction to the main issues, Greek and Roman Medicine (Bloomsbury Press, 2001). 

This is aimed at undergraduate students and general readers. A new volume in French, La Médecine dans l'Antiquité grecque et romaine (Editions BHMS, 2008) starts from this book but adds extra material, especially on the visual evidence; this was co-written with Véronique Dasen (Fribourg). Read a review of this book online.

A volume of essays on Health in Antiquity was published under my editorship in 2005 (Routledge) and in 2013 I published a chapter on the humours and Hippocratic medicine in the Horden and Hsu collection, The Body in Balance. For ten years I also taught on, and examined, the History of Medicine Diploma run by the Society of Apothecaries, London.

Reception of ancient medicine

I have written on the use of classical models in nursing and midwifery, but I am particularly interested in the alleged (and imaginary) classical origins of 'hysteria', on which I've published Hysteria Beyond Freud (written with S. Gilman, R. Porter, G.S. Rousseau and E. Showalter, University of California Press, 1993), a section in History of Clinical Psychiatry (eds G. Berrios and R. Porter, Athlone Press, 1995), and 'Recovering hysteria from history: Herodotus and "the first case of shell shock"' in Peter Halligan et al. (eds), Contemporary Approaches to the Science of Hysteria: Clinical and Theoretical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2001). I continue to work on psychiatry; see for example my chapter on phobia in William V. Harris (ed.), Mental Disorders in the Classical World (Brill, 2013).

Before moving to the Open University I held a post at Reading that was initiated by a Wellcome Trust University Award to work on a project on the reception of the sixteenth-century compilation, the Gynaeciorum libri; in particular, the impact of Hippocratic gynaecology in the period after its publication in Latin by Calvi in 1525, but also the subsequent history of the books themselves, their owners and their uses. Outputs from this funding include my monograph The Disease of Virgins: Green-Sickness, Chlorosis and the Problems of Puberty (Routledge, 2003), which moves from sixteenth-century ideas based on Hippocratic medicine, to the early twentieth century. Find out more about this book. Another monograph, Midwifery, Obstetrics and the Rise of Gynaecology (Ashgate, 2007), focuses on uses of classical medicine in the eighteenth century, a time when men and women were in competition for control over childbirth, and sheds new light on how the claim of female 'difference' was shaped by specific social and cultural conditions. It examines the use made of the 1597 Gynaeciorum libri by some of its early modern owners and users, and the remodelling of Hippocrates as the 'Father of Midwifery'. View the table of contents online. Read a review of this book.

In 2009, I co-organised with Manfred Horstmanshoff and Claus Zittel a conference at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies, on the history of physiology: 'Blood, sweat and tears'. This was published in the series Intersections: Yearbook for Early Modern Studies (Leiden: Brill, 2012). Find out more about this publication. In December 2014 my co-written chapter (with Jo Brown) on the reception of Thucydides' account of the plague of Athens will be published in the Handbook to the Reception of Thucydides.

Gender/History of the body

My 2013 monograph The One-Sex Body on Trial: Using the Classical and Early Modern Evidence (Ashgate) examines the reception of the story of the ‘first midwife’ Agnodice and of the Hippocratic case history of Phaethousa of Abdera, who grew a beard after her husband was exiled. By tracing the different versions of each story that existed between c.1550 and 1840, I show how the authority of the classics was invoked in professional disputes about medicine, debates about the role of women, and discussions of sexual identity. I was awarded an AHRC Fellowship to complete this monograph. An interview in which I discuss the Agnodice story and its reception with my colleague Dr Jessica Hughes appears in the ‘Classics Confidential’ series; watch this online.

I was Women's Studies Area Advisor to the Oxford Classical Dictionary (1996) and am a member of the international EuGeStA network. I have also published on ancient Greek and Roman sexology, most recently with 'Medicine and disease’, Sexuality in the Classical World (500 BC-350 AD), eds Peter Toohey and Mark Golden (Berg, 2010), 107-124 and ‘Galen and the widow. Towards a history of therapeutic masturbation in ancient gynaecology’, EuGeStA: Journal on Gender Studies in Antiquity 1 (December 2011), 205-235; this article was awarded the Barbara McManus Prize by the Women’s Classical Caucus.

Death

In 1981 I co-edited, with my PhD supervisor S.C. Humphreys, Mortality and Immortality: the anthropology and archaeology of death (Academic Press). My interest in death has continued, and I've also worked on the role of the doctor at the deathbed in classical antiquity; a preliminary study, comparing classical and early modern deathbeds, has been published in Dutch.

Publications

See also Open Research Online and open.academia.edu for further details of Helen King’s research publications.

Teaching interests

In October 2009, I recorded 'Myth and Reason', part of the audio material for the module A330 Myth in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Since I arrived at the OU I have been chair of A219 Exploring the Ancient World, and I am currently chairing the foundation module of the new MA in Classical Studies (A863), for which I have also written most of Block 1 on 'How we know what we know'. Some reflections on teaching gender appear in the 2011 CUCD Bulletin. I have co-written (with Patty Baker and Laurence Totelin) a chapter on teaching challenging topics in ancient medicine in the 2014 volume From Abortion to Pederasty, edited by Fiona McHardy and Nancy Rabinowitz.

When I arrived at the OU, I was interested to find that my predecessor Professor Lorna Hardwick had attended the same secondary school; we wrote about our experiences of being taught about the ancient world in From Sutton High School to the Open University.

I am Visiting Professor at the Peninsula Medical School in Truro, where I teach an SSU module on the history of dissection. I greatly enjoy the interchange with 'real' medical students, helping them to develop a historical perspective to their practice. My topic is particularly relevant because human dissection does not form part of the curriculum there. I work with the De Partu history of childbirth network.

Impact and engagement

In 2012 I co-organised a conference bringing together people from many disciplines, including midwives, to discuss narrative and birthing. I have published on the history of pain, drawing on comparative studies of modern sufferers from chronic pain. For the impact of classical studies on improving the understanding of patients’ needs, see my short film on  the healing power of Greek and Roman tales.

I enjoy working with the wider public too, and co-led a Martin Randall Travel cruise with the theme 'Ancient Greek Philosophy and Medicine' as well as speaking on one of the company's weekend events on the nature of history. In September 2013 I led a history of medicine tour of Italy for the second time, and will be doing so again in 2015.

I am a Monthly Contributor on the blog Wonders and Marvels and write for The Conversation.

Podcasts

Podcast of 'In Our Time' episode on Galen, with Caroline Petit and Vivian Nutton, October 2013

On Titian’s ‘Diana and Callisto’, National Gallery Podcast 70, July 2012: and see blog post ‘Diana, Callisto and Philip II’ on wondersandmarvels.com.

On ancient medicine, and ‘Gladiator’, April 2012:
(NB full content not available if accessed on an iPad).

On Agnodike the ‘flashing midwife’, March 2012.

Podcast of ‘In Our Time’ episode on The Hippocratic Oath with Peter Pormann and Vivian Nutton, September 2011.

Podcast of plenary lecture on women’s health in history, Anglo-American Conference of Historians 2011. (Follow the link for Plenary 7).

Research Activity

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Classical Reception Research ClusterClusterFaculty of Arts
Gender in the Humanities Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts
History of Medicine Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts
The Arts and their Audiences Research ClusterClusterFaculty of Arts

Publications

An infant femur bearing cut marks from Roman Hambleden, England (2014-02)
Mays, S.; Robson-Brown, K.; Vincent, S.; Eyers, J.; King, H. and Roberts, A.
International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 24(1) (pp. 111-115)
Sex and gender: the Hippocratic case of Phaethousa and her beard (2013-12-16)
King, Helen
EuGeStA: Journal on Gender Studies in Antiquity, 3 (pp. 124-142)
Commentary: Fighting through fiction (2013-10-29)
King, Helen
Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 37(4) (pp. 668-693)
Motherhood and health in the Hippocratic corpus: does maternity protect against disease? (2013-10)
King, Helen
Mètis. Anthropologie des mondes grecs anciens, 11 (pp. 51-70)
History without historians? Medical history and the internet (2012)
King, Helen
Social History of Medicine, 25(1) (pp. 212-221)
Response to Shelton (2012)
King, Helen
Social History of Medicine, 25(1) (pp. 232-238)
Galen and the widow: towards a history of therapeutic masturbation in ancient gynaecology (2011-12-16)
King, Helen
EuGeStA: Journal on Gender Studies in Antiquity, 1 (pp. 205-235)
Creating the world: the origins of all things in ancient Greek myth and medicine (2002-12)
King, Helen
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 27(4) (pp. 271-277)
De dokter aan het sterfbed (2002)
King, Helen
Raster, 99 (pp. 90-106)
Creating the world: the origins of all things in ancient Greek myth and medicine (2002)
King, Helen
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 27(4) (pp. 271-277)
The One-Sex Body on Trial: The Classical and Early Modern Evidence (2013-10)
King, Helen
ISBN : 978-1-4094-6335-1 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Farnham
La Médecine dans l' Antiquité grecque et romaine (2008-09-20)
King, Helen and Dasen, Véronique
ISBN : 9782970053668 | Publisher : Editions BHMS | Published : Lausanne
Midwifery, Obstetrics and the Rise of Gynaecology: The Uses of a Sixteenth-Century Compendium (2007-07)
King, Helen
Women and Gender in the Early Modern World
ISBN : 9780754653967 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Aldershot
The Disease of Virgins: Green Sickness, Chlorosis and the Problems of Puberty (2004)
King, Helen
ISBN : 0-203-48710-9 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London
Hippocrates' Woman: Reading the Female Body in Ancient Greece (1998)
King, Helen
ISBN : 415138957 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London
Medicine and the senses: humours, potions and spells (2014-10)
King, Helen and Toner, Jerry
In: Toner, Jerry ed. A Cultural History of the Senses in Antiquity, 500 BCE-500 CE. A Cultural History of the Senses (pp. 139-161)
ISBN : 9780857853394 | Publisher : Bloomsbury | Published : London
Teaching ancient medicine: the issues of abortion (2014-08)
Baker, Patty; King, Helen and Totelin, Laurence
In: Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin and McHardy, Fiona eds. From Abortion to Pederasty: Addressing Difficult Topics in the Classics Classroom (pp. 71-91)
ISBN : 978-0-8142-1261-5 | Publisher : Ohio State University Press | Published : Columbus, OH
Female fluids in the Hippocratic corpus: how solid was the humoral body? (2013-08)
King, Helen
In: Horden, Peregrine and Hsu, Elisabeth eds. The Body in Balance: Humoral Medicines in Practice. Epistemologies of Healing (13) (pp. 25-49)
ISBN : 978-0-85745-982-4 | Publisher : Berghahn Books | Published : Oxford
Fear of flute girls, fear of falling (2013-05)
King, Helen
In: Harris, William V. ed. Mental Disorders in the Classical World. Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition (38) (pp. 265-282)
ISBN : 978-90-04-24982-0 | Publisher : Brill
Inside and outside, cavities and containers: the organs of generation in seventeenth-century English medicine (2012-12)
King, Helen
In: Baker, Patricia A.; Nijdam, Han and van 't Land, Karine eds. Medicine and Space: Body, Surroundings and Borders in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Visualising the Middle Ages (4) (pp. 37-60)
ISBN : 9789004216099 | Publisher : Brill | Published : Leiden
Introduction (2012-07)
King, Helen
In: Horstmanshoff, Manfred; King, Helen and Zittel, Claus eds. Blood, Sweat and Tears – The Changing Concepts of Physiology from Antiquity into Early Modern Europe. Intersections Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Modern Culture (25) (pp. 1-17)
ISBN : 9789004229181 | Publisher : Brill | Published : Leiden
Midwifery, 1700-1800: the man-midwife as competitor (2012-05-15)
King, Helen
In: Borsay, Anne and Hunter, Billie eds. Nursing and Midwifery in Britain Since 1700 (pp. 107-127)
ISBN : 9780230247031 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Basingstoke
Knowing the body: renaissance medicine and the classics (2012-05-14)
King, Helen
In: Olmos, Paula ed. Greek Science in the Long Run: Essays on the Greek Scientific Tradition (4th c. BCE – 16th c. CE) (pp. 281-300)
ISBN : 978-1-4438-3775-0 | Publisher : Cambridge Scholars Publishing | Published : Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Sex, medicine and disease (2011-01)
King, Helen
In: Golden, Mark and Toohey, Peter eds. A Cultural History of Sexuality in the Classical World. A Cultural History of Sexuality (1) (pp. 107-124)
ISBN : 9781847888006 | Publisher : Berg | Published : Oxford and New York
Gynecology (2010-10)
King, Helen
In: Grafton, Anthony; Most, Glenn W. and Settis, Salvatore eds. The classical tradition (pp. 416-417)
ISBN : 9780674035720 | Publisher : Harvard University Press | Published : Cambridge, MA
Engendrer "la femme": Jacques Dubois et Diane de Poitiers (2010)
King, Helen
In: McClive, Cathy and Pellegrin, Nicole eds. Femmes en Fleurs, Femmes en Corps : Sang, Santé, Sexualité du Moyen Âge aux Lumières . L'école de Genre. Nouvelles Recherches (4) (pp. 125-138)
ISBN : 9782862725390 | Publisher : Publications de l'Université de Saint-Etienne | Published : Saint-Étienne
Medicine (2009-03)
King, Helen
In: Erskine, Andrew ed. A Companion to Ancient History (pp. 403-413)
ISBN : 9781405131506 | Publisher : Wiley-Blackwell | Published : London
Barbes, sang et genre: afficher la différence dans le monde antique (2008)
King, Helen
In: Wilgaux, Jérôme and Dasen, Véronique eds. Languages et Métaphores du Corps dans le Monde Antique (pp. 153-168)
ISBN : 9782753507036 | Publisher : Presses universitaires de Rennes | Published : Rennes
When is a foetus not a foetus? Diagnosing false conceptions in early modern France (2007-10-11)
King, Helen
In: Dasen, Veronique ed. L' Embryon humain à travers l' histoire: Images, savoirs et rites. Testimonia (pp. 223-238)
ISBN : 9782884740272 | Publisher : Infolio | Published : Gollion
Ancient medicine (2007)
King, Helen
In: Malti-Douglas, Fedwa ed. Encyclopedia of sex and gender (pp. 982-985)
ISBN : 9780028661155 | Publisher : Macmillan Reference USA | Published : Detroit
Structures and subjectivities in 16th-century gynaecology, or how the father of medicine reclaimed his paternity (2007)
Green, Monica and King, Helen
In: Hartman, Joan E. and Seeff, Adele eds. Structures and subjectivities: Attending to early modern women. Center for Renaissance & Baroque Studies (pp. 100-101)
ISBN : 9780874139419 | Publisher : University of Delaware Press | Published : Newark, DE
The origins of medicine in the second century AD (2006-10)
King, Helen
In: Goldhill, Simon and Osborne, Robin eds. Rethinking revolutions through Ancient Greece (pp. 246-263)
ISBN : 9780521862127 | Publisher : Cambridge University Press | Published : Cambridge
Introduction: what is health? (2005-03-03)
King, Helen
In: King, Helen ed. Health in Antiquity (pp. 1-11)
ISBN : 9780415220651 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon
Women's health and recovery in the Hippocratic corpus (2005-03-03)
King, Helen
In: King, Helen ed. Health in Antiquity (pp. 150-161)
ISBN : 9780415220651 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon
The mathematics of sex: one to two, or two to one? (2005-03)
,
In: Sexuality and culture in medieval and renaissance Europe. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History (3) (pp. 47-58)
ISBN : 404645526 | Publisher : AMS Press | Published : New York, NY U.S.
Illness and other personal crises in Greek and Roman religions (2004-11-30)
King, Helen
In: Johnston, Sarah Iles ed. Religions of the ancient world: A guide (pp. 464-467)
ISBN : 9780674015173 | Publisher : Harvard University Press | Published : Harvard
Cellier, Elizabeth (fl. 1668–1688) (2004)
King, Helen
In: Matthews, Henry Colin Gray and Harrison, Brian Howard eds. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (pp. 807-808)
ISBN : 9780198613602 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford, UK
Hodges, Nathaniel (1629–1688) (2004)
King, Helen
In: Matthews, Henry Colin Gray and Harrison, Brian Howard eds. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (pp. 456-456)
ISBN : 198613776 | Publisher : Oxford University Press | Published : Oxford, UK
The power of paternity: the Father of Medicine meets the Prince of Physicians (2002)
King, Helen
In: Cantor, David ed. Reinventing Hippocrates. The History of Medicine in Context (pp. 21-36)
ISBN : 754605280 | Publisher : Ashgate | Published : Aldershot
The limits of normality in Hippocratic gynaecology (2002)
King, Helen
In: Thivel, Antoine and Zucker, Arnaud eds. Le normal et le pathologique dans la Collection hippocratique (pp. 563-574)
ISBN : 9782914561105 | Publisher : Publications de le Faculté des Lettres, Arts et Sciences Humaines de Nice | Published : Nice
Recovering hysteria from history: Herodotus and “the first case of shell shock” (2001)
King, Helen
In: Halligan, Peter; Bass, Christopher and Marshall, John eds. Contemporary Approaches to the Science of Hysteria: Clinical and Theoretical Perspectives (pp. 36-48)
ISBN : 019263254X | Publisher : Oxford University Press
Chronic pain and the creation of narrative (1999)
King, Helen
In: Porter, James I. ed. Constructions of the Classical Body (pp. 269-286)
ISBN : 0-472-08779-7 | Publisher : University of Michigan Press | Published : Michigan
Comparative perspectives on medicine and religion in the ancient world (1999)
King, Helen
In: Hinnells, John R. and Porter, Roy eds. Religion, Health and Suffering: a Cross-Cultural Study of Attitudes to Suffering and the Implications for Medicine in a Multi-Religious Society (pp. 276-294)
ISBN : 978-0-7103-0611-1 | Publisher : Kegan Paul International | Published : London
Medical texts as a source for women's history (1995)
King, Helen
In: Powell, Anton ed. The Greek World. Routledge Worlds (pp. 199-218)
ISBN : 978-0-415-06031-8 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London
'As if none understood the art that cannot understand Greek': the education of midwives in seventeenth century England (1995)
King, Helen
In: Nutton, Vivian and Porter, Roy eds. The History of Medical Education in Britain. Clio Medica: Perspectives in Medical Humanities (30) (pp. 184-198)
ISBN : 978-90-5183-571-7 | Publisher : Editions Rodopi B. V. | Published : Atlanta, GA
Half-human creatures (1995)
King, Helen
In: Cherry, John ed. Mythical Beasts (pp. 138-166)
ISBN : 978-0714117379 | Publisher : British Museum Press | Published : London
Food and blood in Hippokratic gynaecology (1995)
King, Helen
In: Wilkins, John; Harvey, David and Dobson, Michael J. eds. Food in Antiquity (pp. 351-358)
ISBN : 9780859894180 | Publisher : University of Exeter Press | Published : Exeter
Conversion disorder and hysteria (1995)
King, Helen
In: Berrios, G. E. and Porter, Roy eds. History of Clinical Psychiatry: the Origin and History of Psychiatric Disorders (pp. 442-450)
ISBN : 9780485240115 | Publisher : Athlone Press | Published : London
Sowing the field: Greek and Roman sexology (1994-09)
King, Helen
In: Porter, Roy and Teich, Mikulas eds. Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Science: the History of Attitudes to Sexuality (pp. 29-46)
ISBN : 9780521444347 | Publisher : Cambridge University Press | Published : Cambridge
Producing woman: Hippocratic gynaecology (1994)
King, Helen
In: Archer, Leonie; Fischler, Susan and Wyke, Maria eds. Women in Ancient Societies: an Illusion of the Night: (pp. 102-114)
ISBN : 978-0415908818 | Publisher : Macmillan | Published : New York
The politick midwife: models of midwifery in the work of Elizabeth Cellier (1993)
King, Helen
In: Marland, Hilary ed. The Art of Midwifery: Early Modern Midwives in Europe. Wellcome Institute Series in the History of Medicine (pp. 115-130)
ISBN : 415064252 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London
Blood, Sweat and Tears – The Changing Concepts of Physiology from Antiquity into Early Modern Europe (2012-07)
Horstmansoff, Manfred; King, Helen and Zittel, Claus eds.
Intersections: Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Modern Culture
ISBN : 978-90-04-22918-1 | Publisher : Brill | Published : Leiden
Health in Antiquity (2005-03-03)
King, Helen
King, Helen ed.
ISBN : 9780415220651 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon
Hippocratic gynaecological therapy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (1999)
King, Helen
In : Aspetti della Terapia nel Corpus Hippocraticum (Atti del IXe Colloque hippocratique) (25-29 September 1996, Pisa, Italy)
Chamberlen, Hugh, the elder (b. 1630x34, d. after 1720) (2004)
King, Helen
Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Chamberlen, Peter (1601–1683) (2004)
King, Helen
Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.