1407 preg Signs Welcoming Delegates

Perceptions of Pregnancy: From Medieval to Modern

A guest blog by Dr Ciara Meehan, School of Humanities

On 16 July, more than sixty delegates attended the three-day Perceptions of Pregnancy conference, organised by Dr Jennifer Evans and Dr Ciara Meehan of the School of Humanities.

Conference organisers Ciara Meehan (left) and Jennifer Evans (right) with Joanne Bailey of Oxford Brookes University (centre) who delivered the keynote address on Wednesday, 16 July.  Professor Bailey’s paper considered managing uncertainty in pregnancy between 1600 and 1830.

Conference organisers Ciara Meehan (left) and Jennifer Evans (right) with Joanne Bailey of Oxford Brookes University (centre) who delivered the keynote address on Wednesday, 16 July. Professor Bailey’s paper considered managing uncertainty in pregnancy between 1600 and 1830.

The aim of the conference was to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to hold an international and interdisciplinary conversation on fertility, pregnancy and childbirth from the medieval to the modern. The broad timespan allowed for a careful consideration of continuities and changes throughout history.  Speakers came from institutions in Britain, Ireland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Canada and the United States.  From Anna Andreeva’s (University of Heidelberg) paper on medieval Japan to Julia Allison’s (University of Nottingham) on Rural East Anglia, the content of the papers also covered a broad geographical span.  We heard from historians, midwives, curators, political geographers, literary critics and scholars working on visual culture.

The conference covered everything from conception to the birthing experience.  Particularly striking was the paper from Anija Dokter (University of Cambridge) that featured sound-recordings of childbirth. The darker side of pregnancy was also explored and day two, for example, featured a panel on seduction, violence and supernatural hazards.

Sylvia Murphy Tighe presenting findings from her on-going study with Irishwomen who have or are currently concealing their pregnancy.

Conference delegates listening to Sylvia Murphy Tighe (Trinity College Dublin) who presented in the panel on Infanticide and Neonaticide on Day Two.

Sylvia Murphy Tighe (Trinity College Dublin) presented some of the findings from an on-going study with Irishwomen who have or are currently concealing their pregnancy.  Moreover, while pregnancy is associated with women in the popular mindset, speakers such as Jennifer Evans (University of Hertfordshire) and Justin Dolan Stover (Idaho State University) sought to locate the man in the narrative of pregnancy and childhood.


From left: Ciara Meehan (University of Hertfordshire), Elaine Farrell (Queen's University, Belfast) and Jennifer Evans (University of Hertfordshire)

Conference organisers Ciara Meehan (left) and Jennifer Evans (right) with Elaine Farrell of Queen’s University, Belfast (centre) who delivered the keynote address on Thursday, 17 July. Dr Farrell’s paper explored unwanted pregnancies in 19th century Ireland.

There were a number of timely contributions.  Elaine Farrell (Queen’s University, Belfast) and Ciara Meehan (University of Hertfordshire) explored the stigma of being an unmarried mother.  Both made reference to the recent scandal in Ireland, which attracted international attention following revelations that the bodies of up to 800 babies had been uncovered at the site of a former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway.  With recent campaigns for gender equality in both the British and Irish parliaments, Claire McGing’s (NUI Maynooth) paper, which gave recommendations on facilitating parenting for politicians, was particularly relevant.

The conference was book-ended by two exhibitions. The first was curated by Liz Burns of the Burns Archive in New York and featured images of deceased children, sometimes posed with their parents. The practice of post-mortem photography was common in the Victorian era as an act of memorialisation.  The second exhibition gave a sneak-peak of Ellen duPont’s forthcoming gift-book for the ‘thinking mother’, which will contain a collection of forty historical images of pregnant women, accompanied by quotations, to coincide with each week of pregnancy.

Conference outcomes will include an edited collection and a special edition of Women’s History Magazine.  Although the event is now over, the conference blog will remain active. Another aim of the conference was to build networks and facilitate further conversations, and we see the blog as an excellent forum for doing so.  We hope to develop it into a space for the community of researchers working on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences to engage, exchange ideas and highlight their work.

The conference was generously supported by the School of Humanities at the University of Hertfordshire, the Social History Society and the Royal Historical Society.

University showcases research at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

Imagine sitting in a jet air-liner looking out of the window and trying to count and measure individual particles as small as bacteria in the clouds as they fly by at hundreds of miles an hour…

This is what Aerosol Ice Interface Transition Spectrometer (AIITS) does and it is on show this week (1-6 July) at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition  - which showcases the most exciting and cutting-edge UK science and technology.

NASA atmospheric instrumentation monitoring plane

The AIITS mounted on the NASA aircraft

In order to help understand the processes that are taking place in our climate system, scientists need to have detailed information about the sizes, shapes and abundance of the microscopic particles (ice crystals, droplets, dusts, etc.) that are present in the atmosphere. These particles are measured in situ by flying an instrument through the atmosphere and AIITS is one such instrument.

As the particles enter the instrument, they pass through a beam of light – scattering the light into complex scatter patterns. The scatter pattern depends on the shape, size and orientation of the particles and is like a thumbprint which can be used to classify or even identify the particles.

Light scatter patterns from various particles in the atmosphere

Light scatter patterns from various particles in the atmosphere

Led by Professor Paul Kaye, Director of Research in the University’s Science and Technology Research Institute, researchers from the Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research (CAIR) will be demonstrating some of their airborne particle analysis instruments as part of the ‘Tropical Storms’ exhibit.

Tropical storms in the West Pacific play a crucial role in the Earth’s climate system. Starting above some of the warmest waters, they carry sufficient energy to punch through the boundary that separates the troposphere, the lowest layer in the atmosphere, from the stratosphere above. In doing so, they reach as high as 20km and carry air up from the Earth’s surface. Chemicals in the air reaching the stratosphere can lead to ozone depletion.

Dr Edwin Hirst and Dr Richard Greenaway from the University’s Centre for Atmospheric  and Instrumentation Research building the instrument that will go on NASA’s aircraft.

Dr Edwin Hirst and Dr Richard Greenaway from the University’s Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research building the instrument that will go on NASA’s aircraft.

The exhibit is based on an atmospheric research campaign headed up by the University of Cambridge and involving the University of Hertfordshire and also NASA, USA.

The week-long Exhibition starts today (Tuesday 1 July) and is arguably the most prestigious of its type in the UK, attracting over 10,000 visitors; including secondary school students, policy makers, MPs, leaders of industry, and representatives from funding agencies.  For more information, visit the Royal Society’s Exhibition website.

1406 dontwash-chicken-f

Don’t wash raw chicken

A guest blog by Dr Wendy Wills, Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care

‘Don’t wash raw chicken’ is the central message of Food Safety Week 2014, which takes place 16-22 June this year.1406 chicken infographic 43058c10dc4234efbe6804ee86bb048c

Washing raw chicken risks splashing potentially dangerous bacteria, called campylobacter, onto your clothes, dish cloths, items on the draining board and work surfaces.  Campylobacter can cause unpleasant abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea that can last up to five days or can lead to more serious illness and occasionally death.

You can’t see, smell or taste this bacteria but to avoid it you need to cook poultry thoroughly (till it’s steaming hot all the way through) and prevent cross-contamination from raw poultry touching other items in the kitchen that are not then thoroughly cleaned – hence the message ‘don’t wash raw chicken’!

Research we conducted on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which involved videoing people in 20 households and talking to them about what they do in the kitchen, suggested that some people wash raw chicken and other meat because they believe that blood, bone fragments and dirt are best washed away.

Anxiety about other people touching the food before it’s purchased also led some people to wash meat and poultry. People in some households went out of their way to avoid touching raw chicken – tipping it from its packaging into a roasting tray, for example.

1406 chicken act-image2Many people in our study were aware that chopping boards are a potential source of cross-contamination (e.g. if chopping boards are used to cut up chicken and then vegetables are chopped on the board and eaten raw) – some followed FSA guidance and used one board for raw meat and another for fruit/vegetables – others chopped chicken on a plate rather than a chopping board as they felt it was easy to wash a plate and get it thoroughly clean.

See the FSA video on “What’s going on in your kitchen” on potential cross-contamination.

What our research clearly highlighted was that kitchen life is a complex business. We all use ‘rules of thumb’ that we learn from a variety of sources, such as friends, family, television, the internet and more ‘expert’ sources like the FSA. ‘Facts’ from these various sources become mixed together and so it is no wonder that we do not always follow ‘best practice’ that keeps us safe.

When you are trying to cook dinner, supervise children, feed the dog, empty the bin and stop



the cat jumping on the work surface and pinching the chicken you are trying to prepare – do you always remember to wash your hands regularly, use a different chopping board for the meat and the veg, and ensure you don’t spread potentially harmful bacteria by remembering that you shouldn’t wash the chicken?

Well done if you do! Our research suggested that it’s this messy entanglement of things going on at the same time that can prevent food safety messages being heard.

So, during this Food Safety Week and beyond – try and pay attention to the things that could harm you or your family in the kitchen – but also remember to enjoy your Kitchen Life – whatever that entails.

A report from the study mentioned here is available online

Eminent scientists join academics at Life and Medical Sciences Research Conference

Scientists, very well-known in their own fields of expertise, joined researchers from the P1030738University of Hertfordshire’s School of Life and Medical Sciences at the launch of their two day research conference.

An exciting programme of seminar and posters that reflected the breadth of the research activities across the school was put together and complemented by plenary lectures delivered by the invited guest speakers who came from government and academic institutions across the UK.

P1030590Professor Quintin McKellar CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire,  opened the  proceedings of the two day event by launching the University’s new undergraduate degree in agriculture – the BSc (Hons) in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security which was announced earlier this year. 

This new degree, aimed at tackling concerns of food security and sustainability, has been designed around internationally recognised expertise and facilities at four partner institutions all located in central Hertfordshire: the University of Hertfordshire, the Royal Veterinary College, University of London (RVC),Rothamsted Research and Oaklands College.

This initiative was supported by Professor Ian Crute CBE (Chief Scientist at The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) who gave the first plenary lecture entitled ‘How can UK science best contribute to delivering the sustainable intensification of agriculture?’

Further plenary lectures were delivered by other eminent scientists who attended covered a diverse range of topics that complement the School’s key research areas and included:

P1030629Postgraduate students from the School of Life and Medical Sciences actively participated across both days of the event by giving talks and presenting posters on their own work.

With comments like “well done for hosting an excellent research conference”, “a really great event” and “the conference was a great experience”, it’s clear that students, academics and visitors all found the event very inspiring and enjoyable – so much so that this is planned to become an annual event!

Sponsors of this two day research event included: MedPharm, The British Pharmacological Society, Thermo Fisher Scientific, High5 Sports Nutrition, Bounce, AM Sport and the Perry Foundation.

Professor Sally Kendall goes Walkabout in Western Australia

A guest blog by Professor Sally Kendall, Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care
Near Roebourne, Western Australia

Near Roebourne, Western Australia

For the last three and a half weeks I have been working out in Perth, Western Australia as part of a research team based at Murdoch University. The team is led by Professor Rhonda Marriott, Professor of Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing at the Kulbardi Centre, Murdoch University. The visit is by invitation and has been funded by the Western Australia Health Department, Murdoch University and the Telethon Kids Institute, Perth.

Professor Sally Kendallat a "welcome to the country" smoking ceremony, a traditional Aboriginal greeting ceremony to their land.

Professor Sally Kendall at a “welcome to the country” smoking ceremony, a traditional Aboriginal greeting ceremony to their land.

The purpose of my visit has been to engage in research that will contribute to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal women and children in Western Australia. ‘Closing the Gap’ is the policy of Australian government to make a difference to the wide health inequalities that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.

For example, babies born to Indigenous women in Western Australia were more than twice as likely to be of low birthweight (LBW) than were those born to all women in the region (13.6% compared with 6.1%, Australian Indigenous HealthInfonet).

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is reported to have a prevalence of 27.6 per 10,000 among Aboriginal communities in Western Australia compared with 1.8 per 10,000 in the general population (Bower et al, 2000). Among Indigenous people living in Western Australia, almost two-thirds (65%) reported having experienced low to moderate levels of psychological distress, and 33% reported high to very high levels of psychological distress in the previous 12 months [Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2013]. Indigenous people in Western Australia experienced high to very high levels of psychological distress at almost three times the rate reported by non-Indigenous people.

The research team consists of Professor Rhonda Marriott and a multi-disciplinary group of midwives, nurses, social scientists, epidemiologists, anthropologists, a paediatrician and community development workers. Rhonda is unique as an indigenous nurse and midwife with a Professorial university appointment. Some team members are themselves Aboriginal and/or have worked with Aboriginal communities for many years.

My role in the team is as a UK Professor with a background in child public health and health visiting, and a research track record in parenting and community health nursing. Whilst here I have presented at numerous events and conferences and disseminated and discussed many aspects of my research and comparative health services.

Original artwork that describes the journey of the Pijarra people

Original artwork that describes the journey of the Pijarra people

Significantly for me, during the visit I was able to reach a better understanding of the Aboriginal health issues in the context of the Australian health care system and the budget that was being announced whilst I have been here. It is at first an overwhelming issue that can only be partially appreciated during a short stay. But by being with the research team and going out to the outback area of the Pilbara in Western Australia I feel I have reached a better understanding of what it means to be an Aboriginal person in Australia today.

One of the areas I visited is Roebourne, a small community in the mining country of the

The town of Roebourne, Western Australia

The town of Roebourne, Western Australia

Pilbara. Mining of iron ore is huge business in Western Australia – it has made Perth into the most expensive Australian city to live in and widened the gap between rich and poor. The mining companies have historically claimed Aboriginal land and people have been displaced and abused in the development of the industry. Roebourne itself was established in 1866 on the Harding River and  is characterised by surrounding red rock and bush, a river that was full when I visited due to exceptional rainfall, low-rise

The red rocks near Roebourne

The red rocks near Roebourne

Original Aboriginal artwork on the red rocks

Original Aboriginal artwork on the red rocks

poor housing, a medical centre, one main shop, a post-office, a cafe and several smaller outlets. There are several local government (Shire) offices and community buildings and also a school. It has its own radio station. The population is almost 100% Aboriginal, apart from some non-indigenous community workers and a small minority of residents.

A "Yarning circle" - with Mary talking about TLC

A “Yarning circle” – with Mary talking about TLC

My time there was spent with the women in ‘yarning circles’ –  this is a way to discuss women’s business through story telling or ‘yarning’. It is not appropriate for men to be part of this and is often led by the female elders of the community.

What is apparent throughout meetings with Aboriginal women is that whilst a 150 year history of displacement, abuse, genocide, removal of children and extreme marginalisation has left a deep intergenerational trauma, there is a strong sense of cultural identity, of family and community and of the need to pass on the stories, language and the culture to the next generation.

Boys in Roebourne

Boys in Roebourne

Many of the women of Roebourne are from the Yindjibarndi language group, descended from their ancestors who belonged to the country in the Fortescue River area and were reserved into Roebourne by the white sheep farm and mine owners in the 1930s. They keep their history and culture alive through art, song, stories and careful preservation of cultural knowledge from elders to the next generation. The women spoke of their concerns for their children and their ‘grannies’ (grandchildren) and extended families in relation to the problems of alcohol, early pregnancy and problems after childbirth.

Lorraine with her 'grannie' (grand daughter) in Roebourne

Lorraine with her ‘grannie’ (grand daughter) in Roebourne

There is a great strength within the older women of the community that they want to use productively to improve the health and wellbeing of their community. One elder spoke of the need for more TLC (tender, loving care) within the community, caring for each other more and role modelling this for their children. Another woman struggled to understand why she was able to do well but her sister is not, why me but not her?

The research team was there to work with them, to identify issues that were of concern and to support strategies that could be evaluated. However, one of the challenges is that there are quite literally hundreds of programmes available to ‘help’ Aboriginal communities, from many different funding sources often with competing aims. The women are rightly frustrated with having so many programmes and meetings but not seeing direct effects or improvements. It is then a real challenge to researchers not to be just another programme, but to be able to achieve something that has meaning and impact.

The Triple WRAP research project aims to support parenting and early motherhood through Participatory Action Research. One outcome of this will be a DVD that invites women to talk about what mothering means for them in Roebourne – what is the experience of being a Mum? The methodology is based on the history of yarning and will therefore be of value in passing the positive experiences of motherhood to the young women of the town but also to highlight the challenges they face and to consider local strategies to address these.

Another project is concerned with how grandmothers can give greater support to young mums. With such projects comes a need for good evaluation and part of my contribution is to discuss how the team can use outcome measures such as the Tool to measure Parenting Self Efficacy (TOPSE, Kendall and Bloomfield, 2005 www.topse.org.uk). We will be looking at how this measure developed in the UK could be ‘translated’ into a style and format that would be acceptable to Aboriginal women. The approaches that necessarily need to be used among the communities do present a challenge to the typical white, educated UK researcher.

Yarning circles do not feel like research in the traditional sense, or even like a focus group as there is little moderation or guidance. There is a sense of a lack of hard data to go back and analyse, and a feeling of underachievement or of having disappointed the women. This requires a change in oneself, to think differently about what research means for these women and what it could potentially lead to that might eventually make a difference to the health gap.

Successful in major research grant

Successful in major research grant

Whilst I was there we were informed that we had been successful in a major research grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia, for just under $1m.




Traditional farewell with a didgeridoo

Traditional farewell with a didgeridoo

I am excited to be an associate applicant on the grant, the purpose of which is to explore and promote cultural security for Aboriginal women during pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood. There are 14 partners on the grant and I feel proud that University of Hertfordshire is one of them. It also means that I will be a ‘Boomerang researcher’ for the next four years, returning to Western Australia annually to develop the research tools and methods and to hopefully make my small contribution to improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal women and children.

Nodding off? Top tips to a better night’s sleep

New research described in Professor Richard Wiseman’s latest book Night School suggests that 59% of adults in Britain – over 28 million people – are now sleep deprived, getting only seven hours or less sleep each night.

This amount is below the recommended guidelines, and is associated with a range of problems, including an increased risk of weight gain, heart attacks, diabetes and cancer. Professor Wiseman’s research has revealed that one of the main causes of sleep deprivation is the use of a computer, smart phone or tablet in the two hours before going to bed.

Professor Richard Wiseman. Photo credit Brian Fischbacher

Professor Richard Wiseman. Photo credit Brian Fischbacher

A 2013 survey* revealed that 78% of respondents used such devices during this period before bed. This percentage increased among 18-24 years old with a remarkable 91% using electronic devices in the two hours before bedtime. It is believed that the blue light emitted from these devices suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. In addition to this, the research also found that the vast majority of people’s dreams are far from sweet, with only 10% of respondents describing their dreams as pleasant.

In response to his findings, Professor Wiseman has compiled ten science-based tips to a better night’s sleep:

1) Banish the blues: Avoid using computers, smartphones or tablets in the two hours before you head to bed. The blue light stimulates your brain and prevents you feel sleepy.

2) The list: Make a list of all of the things that you have to do the next day or that are playing on your mind. This helps prevent you lying in bed thinking about these issues.

3) Tire your brain: If you are struggling to sleep, make your brain tired by thinking of an animal for each letter of the alphabet (‘A’ is for ‘Ant’, ‘B’ is for ‘Bear’).

4) Move your bed: You have evolved to feel safe when you can spot danger early and have time to run away, and so will feel most relaxed when your bed faces the door and is furthest from it.

5) Reach for a banana: Eat a banana before you head to bed. They’re rich in carbohydrates, and these help relax your body and brain.

6) Reverse psychology: Actively trying to stay awake actually makes you feel tired, so try keeping your eyes open and focus on not falling asleep.

7) Wear socks:If you have bad circulation, your feet will get cold and cause sleeplessness. To avoid the problem, wear a pair of warm socks to bed.

Professor Wiseman's Book: Night School

Professor Wiseman’s Book: Night School

8) Avoid the lure of the nightcap: Although a small amount of alcohol puts you to sleep quicker, it also gives you a more disturbed night and disrupts dreaming.

9) The power of association: Ensure that the same piece of soporific music is quietly playing each time you fall asleep. Over time you’ll come to associate the music with sleep, and so listening to it will help you to nod off.

10) Do a jigsaw: If you lie awake for more than twenty minutes, get up and do something non-stimulating for a few minutes, such as working on a jigsaw.

More information about Professor Wiseman’s research can be found in his book, Night School

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,149 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th – 20th February 2014.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Calling all women working in STEMM!

Women in Science Network launch event1404 women in science 1

Are you a woman working in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths or Medicine (STEMM)?

Perhaps you are looking for some support in your career development, to join discussions, to meet and network with other like-minded women in STEMM areas, or looking for suitable mentoring?   If so, the new Women in Science Network could be for you.  This new network will help all women in their STEMM career development.

Launching on Tuesday 20 May, the inaugural conference will showcase a range of work 1404 women in science 2through case study and presentation from women researchers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEMM) at the University of Hertfordshire.  And TV presenter and University of Hertfordshire alumna Kate Bellingham will provide a keynote address.

Presenters include Professor Fiona Brooks, Professor Soraya Dhillon MBE, Dr Louise Mackenzie, Professor Janet Drew, Dr Ute Gerhard, Dr Cinzia Pezzolesi and Dr Wendy Wills.

The conference will be held in the Lindop Building, University of Hertfordshire College Lane campus, Hatfield, AL10 9AB.  Starting at 10am and finishing at 3pm, lunch and refreshments will be served during the day.

Join us for this inaugural meeting of the Women in Science Network – we’d love to see you.

To book your free place, please complete the booking form www.go.herts.ac.uk/events-booking or contact us directly on events@herts.ac.uk or 01707 284121

Women in science

Sweet Dreams Experiment

Is it possible for people to create their perfect dream and wake up feeling especially happy

Professor Richard Wiseman. Photo credit Brian Fischbacher

Professor Richard Wiseman. Photo credit Brian Fischbacher

and refreshed?

Well it is according to psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman’s latest book Night School!

The Dream:ON app developed with www.yuza.com

The Dream:ON app developed with www.yuza.com

In 2010, Professor Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, teamed-up with app developers YUZA to create ‘Dream:ON’ – an iPhone app that monitors a person during sleep and plays a carefully crafted ‘soundscape’ when they dream. Over 500,000 people downloaded the app and took part in the mass participation experiment.

The study sought to determine whether or not a person’s dream could be influenced by listening to carefully designed soundscapes whilst they slept. Each soundscape was designed to evoke a pleasant scenario, such as a walk in the woods, or lying on a beach. Participants used the app to choose a soundscape to listen to whilst asleep, and afterwards the app would sound a gentle alarm to prompt the person to submit a description of their dream.

Results showed that if someone chose the nature soundscape then they were more likely to have a dream about greenery and flowers. In contrast, if they selected the beach soundscape then they were more like to dream about the sun beating down on their skin. The study also indicated that certain soundscapes produced far more pleasant dreams. In addition, the researchers discovered that the results also showed that participants’ dreams became especially bizarre around the time of the full moon.

A sweet dream is thought to help people wake-up in a good mood, and as a result boost their productivity during the day. Professor Wiseman’s research may also form the basis of a new type of therapy to help those suffering from certain psychological problems, such as depression.

Professor Wiseman's Book: Night School

Professor Wiseman’s Book: Night School

The findings are described in Professor Wiseman’s book on sleep and dreaming, Night

School.  The Dream:ON app and all of the soundscapes are currently available free of charge.

What is your own experience of dreams?  Do you think you can create your perfect dream and wake up happy and refreshed?

Designing Domesticity: Visual Techniques in Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the USA since 1945

Guest blog by Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, Reader in Design History, School of Creative Arts

As one of the successful applicants for the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC’s) Image Gallery, my online gallery for the AHRC website is composed of images from domestic advice books published after World War II.

Dr Grace Lees-Maffei

Dr Grace Lees-Maffei

The AHRC’s Image Gallery was launched last summer to showcase the work and talents of the arts and humanities research community and to celebrate the role of the image in the arts and humanities, for which we source, select, caption and present digital images on the AHRC website.

Domestic advice books are one of several channels through which we receive guidance about what we do in our homes, along with magazines, advertising, marketing, and television. This advice quickly dates, so a continual stream of new advice books is produced.

Front cover of the Creda Housecraft manual

Front cover of the Creda Housecraft manual

Old advice books do not provide the historian with evidence of actual practice but they do offer insights into shared ideals of domesticity. Written largely by women, for women, these books are a valuable source in the feminist project of examining women’s writing and their little-seen experiences as home-makers.

The page spreads and book covers showcased in the gallery illuminate the visual strategies employed by advisors in persuading their readers to adopt up-to-date home-making practices.

Techniques include direct personal appeals, such as advice presented in the form of a signed letter; recycling and adaptation of images; images subverting text; before and after comparisons and novelties such as text and images which emulate stitch, in reference to home crafts. The housewife is shown happily engaged in domestic work, which teenage readers are depicted as design professionals.

This gallery draws on an interdisciplinary research project supported by an AHRC

Dr Lees-Maffei's new book : Design at Home: Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the USA since 1945

Dr Lees-Maffei’s new book : Design at Home: Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the USA since 1945

Research Leave award which resulted in my recent book ‘Design at Home: Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the USA since 1945‘.

Why do so many parents normalise overweight in their teenaged children?

Guest Blog: Dr Wendy Wills, Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, has asked why so many people do not view their weight as problematic, despite the high rates of overweight and obesity in this country.

She says children are being put at risk through this so-called normalisation process. Together with my co-author Professor Julia Lawton (University of Edinburgh), I recently published findings that suggest some of the reasons why weight is quite often the elephant in the room where parents and their teenaged children are concerned.

Our study (Attitudes to weight and weight management in the early teenage years: a qualitative study of parental perceptions and views) showed that many parents, particularly mothers, have their own stories to tell about their weight and how they have managed their weight throughout their lives.  Weight management, for many parents, was viewed as an irritating and unsuccessful necessity of everyday life.

Image courtesy of donkeyrock via Freeimages.com

Image courtesy of donkeyrock via Freeimages.com

These findings provide useful context for understanding parents’ views about their children’s weight and their attitudes towards managing it.  Some parents found it difficult to consider their child as overweight or ‘too big’, and therefore deemed their weight as being ‘acceptable’.

Others voiced concerns and some wanted to take action but these concerns were blurred by the physiological changes related to their teenagers’ puberty – how much weight gain is normal during this period of the life course?

Many parents discussed their teenage weight management strategies with us – these were often complex and multi-pronged and kept the ‘teenage’ context in mind in terms of physiological, emotional and social changes associated with this stage of life.

Parents might change the food and drinks they bought, for example, to keep higher fat/sugar foods and drinks under control at home – but some felt that teenagers were their own ‘worst enemies’ as they could buy their own food and drink with friends and were not limited to that provided by

 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Some parents gave their children direct advice about weight management but were wary about this approach, given their own negative experiences of controlling weight.  Avoiding causing their teenager to develop an eating disorder was also a priority as parents felt young people can become too focused on their body shape, which was viewed as detrimental to wellbeing during the teenage years.

Being responsible for teenaged children and their weight is not easy.

We found in our research that socio-economic status was not linked with parents’ views – normalisation of bodies happened across the social spectrum.  One of the reasons for this could be that we all use our own terms of reference to decide what’s normal, rather than terms set by experts and health professionals.  If our family, friends and neighbours look similar to us then we consider ourselves to ‘fit in’ with our social group – and this might affect those with a higher, as well as lower socio-economic status.  In addition, parents want to be considered as good parents – parents might have to redefine themselves as a ‘bad’ or failing parent if they accept their child is unacceptably large or voice concerns about this.  It’s much better to view a child’s body size as normal as it indicates parenting success –  at maintaining their weight in a seen-to-be healthy range.

We don’t have all the answers in terms of addressing the obesity problem in teenagers but our findings show that the context in which people look after older children is incredibly complex and fraught with anxieties. Trying to take account of these anxieties and concerns, and helping parents to provide a healthy home, rather than focusing on children’s weight, might go some way to understanding why overweight has started to become normalised in the UK.

The study discussed here involved individual in-depth interviews with 72 young people and their parents. Half of the young people aged 13-15 years were overweight or obese. Half of those interviewed were of low socio-economic status.


Wills, W. J. and Lawton, J. (2014) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1111/hex.12182/