Dr Elizabeth Hallam
Honorary Senior Research Fellow
Elizabeth Hallam is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, and a Research Associate in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford. She has a BA and a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Kent and was Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex (1994-96); Lecturer in Cultural History (1996-2001), Director of Cultural History (1998-2002), and Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology (2002-10) at the University of Aberdeen.
- 2014-16: Partner Investigator (external academic advisor) on the 'Digital Commemoration' project at the University of Melbourne, funded by the Australian Research Council.
- July 2014: Visiting Scholar, at the University of Melbourne.
- 2008- present: The Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI), Publications Committee.
- 2009-13: External Examiner BA in Social Anthropology, University of Kent.
Anthropology of the body; death and dying; material and visual culture; museums and collecting; anthropology of anatomy, anatomical models; making and design; history and anthropology; fieldwork, archival and museum-based research in England and Scotland; collaborative exhibition and digital imaging projects.
Following her earlier research on ritualised practices of childbirth, sickness and dying in early modern England, she developed her work on the body and death in two co-authored books, Beyond the Body: Death and Social Identity (with Glennys Howarth and Jenny Hockey), and Death, Memory and Material Culture (with Jenny Hockey). These books analyse death and memorialising as social and cultural processes, with reference to bodily, material and visual aspects.
She has explored issues relating to material and visual culture in co-edited books including: Cultural Encounters: Representing ‘Otherness’ (with Brian Street) which examines visual, textual and museum representations; Creativity and Cultural Improvisation (with Tim Ingold) which addresses creative, material dynamics in social life, and in practices such as writing, drawing and performing; and Making and Growing: Anthropological Studies of Organisms and Artefacts (with Tim Ingold) which investigates interrelations of growth and making, of decay and undoing, that give rise to and transform material entities, including human bodies.
Elizabeth Hallam's current research, at the interface of anthropology and history, is in two main interrelated areas: (i) the body – with particular reference to death and dying, and to the practice of anatomy in medical education; and (ii) material and visual culture – especially with regard to museums and collecting, and to processes of making and design. Developing research in these areas she is exploring museums, archives and other related settings as fieldsites, in Britain and in comparative perspective.
Anthropology of the Body
Her current research brings together her anthropological work on the body, death, material and visual culture, to focus on museums of anatomy in medical schools in Scotland and England. This research is concerned with the changing collection, preservation and display of human bodies from the nineteenth century to the present. It examines relationships between the tactile and the visual in anatomy museums used for medical training involving both empirical observation of, and imaginative engagement with, displays. How and why bodies have been rendered in the flesh, in wax, paper and plastic, and through drawing, photography and film, in the pursuit of anatomical knowledge, are issues explored in her forthcoming monograph, Anatomy Museum: Death and the Body Displayed, illustrated with specially commissioned photographs.
She is working on a further book, A Cultural History of the Body, which is contracted by Polity. This builds on her previous research through a re-examination of what have been identified as key historical shifts in the social and cultural constitution of the human body in European contexts.
Material and Visual Culture
Her research in fieldsites including museums and archives is particularly concerned with bodily practices and cultural representations; and with relations between material objects, visual images and written texts.
An important strand of her research on the anthropology of anatomy, as a changing field of knowledge practices, examines three-dimensional models of human anatomy in Britain, c.1850 to now. This research is exploring models in terms of their design, making and use in medical education, focusing on: the social relations of models, their changing materials and forms, how they are created and disseminated, and the kinds of knowledge they generate. She has situated her work on models in an international medical-museum context in a chapter of her recent co-edited book, Medical Museums: Past, Present, Future (with Samuel J.M.M Alberti), which brings together discussions by curators and researchers in Europe and the USA.
Bodies, materials and design
She is developing current and future projects in three main areas through multi-sited and comparative research:
- Anatomical design: this expands her research on three-dimensional models of human anatomy in medical and surgical practices, investigating small-scale workshop model-making in mixed media and large-scale processes of modelling (especially in plastics) through commercial manufacture, distribution and consumption.
- Material medicine: this will trace the social and cultural production, and uses, of medical materials that shape bodily experiences – for example, medical textiles, instruments and implants.
- Bodies after death: substance, relations and histories: this extends her work on the body and death, focusing on the collection, deployment and treatment of human remains for purposes of medical education.
Museum, exhibition and web projects
Elizabeth Hallam acts as guest curator and academic contributor to exhibitions. She is an Honorary Curatorial Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, with particular interest in the anatomical and the anthropological collections.
Her collaborative projects include:
- Three-dimensional modelling in anatomy: anthropological and historical perspectives
Working with a photographer and anatomists, this project involved digital photography of anatomical models, held in the University of Aberdeen’s Anatomy Museum, when based at Marischal College.
Her recent publications relating to anatomical modelling are:
2014 ‘Anatomopoeia’ in E. Hallam and T. Ingold (Eds) Making and Growing: Anthropological studies of Organisms and Artefacts, Farnham: Ashgate, pp.65-88.
2013 ‘Anatomical design: making and using three-dimensional models of the human body’, in W. Gunn, T. Otto, R. C. Smith (Eds), Design Anthropology: Theory and practice, Oxford: Berg, pp. 100-116.
- Creativity and cultural improvisation
She contributed a cabinet display in the exhibition ‘Fieldnotes and Sketchbooks’ held at Aberdeen Art Gallery. This formed the basis of her chapter in the book based on the exhibition:
2009 ‘Anatomists’ ways of seeing and knowing’, in W. Gunn (Ed.), Fieldnotes and Sketchbooks: Challenging the Boundaries Between Descriptions and Processes of Describing, Hamburg: Peter Lang, pp. 69-107.
The exhibition was curated by Wendy Gunn, and it opened during the Association of Social Anthropologists 2005 conference organized by Tim Ingold and Elizabeth Hallam on the issue of creativity.
The conference book was published by Berg in 2007 (edited by Hallam and Ingold).
- Learning with Museum Resources (LEMUR)
Elizabeth Hallam was an academic partner in this collaborative project with art historians, historians of science, museum curators and a photographer. Funded by JISC UK, 2000-04, the project created a web accessible virtual museum and searchable database of material objects and images from the University of Aberdeen’s museum collections.
She continues to promote the innovative uses of museum collections for teaching and research.