- Start date: 1 March 2015
- End date: 1 May 2020
Human beings have always worried about ageing, with special worry reserved for premature ageing. Supported by an AHRC Leadership Fellow award (2016-18), Dr Stark is exploring how attempts to “avoid” ageing were reconfigured in the early twentieth century. His project – “Endless Possibilities of Rejuvenation” – will uncover the origins of the many ways in which we have tried to rejuvenate ourselves, from skin creams and raw food diets to electrotherapy devices and the injection of testicular extracts.
Anxieties about ageing reveal much about how we see our bodies, both biologically and socially. In the aftermath of World War One the need to maintain the body as a productive economic unit, and reproductively functional, provided a major driver to medical scientists who sought new ways to prolong youthfulness. Although many exponents of rejuvenating surgeries and procedures were dismissed by their contemporaries as quacks and charlatans, the public fascination with cheating Father Time paved the way for a huge expansion of the rejuvenation marketplace, the legacy of which is highly visible today in everything from cosmetic procedures and skin care products to dietary supplements and an emphasis on the importance of “active ageing”.
The research challenges our preconceptions about when, how and why humans have tried to extend our lifespans and youthfulness, and the role of scientific knowledge in the promotion of supposedly remarkable over-the-counter rejuvenation products.
Dr Stark is also exploring the wider issue of regeneration – the restoration of lost structures and functions – and its effects on how we experience medical practice. Supported by a Wellcome Trust Seed Award (2015-16), the interdisciplinary research brought together philosophers, biomedical scientists, sociologists, historians and literary scholars to produce a special issue of Palgrave Communications. The collection identified a number of areas where consideration of regenerative technologies, devices and motifs might yield new accounts of human experience and perception, including transplantation, memory, joint replacement, and beauty.
“Replace them by Salads and Vegetables”: Dietary Innovation, Youthfulness, and Authority, 1900–1939