Dr Katherine Rawling

Dr Katherine Rawling


I grew up in North East England and studied History at the University of Edinburgh before completing my Masters in Women’s and Gender History at Royal Holloway, University of London. I then took up a career in marketing working for a large international conference company based in London. I returned to academic study when I received a full doctoral award from the AHRC and was awarded my Ph.D. in History from Royal Holloway, University of London in 2011. I have held teaching positions in Modern British Social and Cultural History and the History of Medicine at the Universities of Warwick, Greenwich and Royal Holloway, University of London. After a career break to have my family I joined Leeds in 2017 as a Wellcome Trust ISSF Fellow in the Medical Humanities. I have lectured in the history of science and medicine in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science and I am currently a Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century British History in the School of History. 


  • Module Leader

Research interests

My expertise lies in the visual culture of medicine in the modern period. Specifically, I pursue historical enquiry into the role, use, and meaning of photography in medicine and wider society.

My research explores the ways in which photography interacted with medical knowledge and practice, particularly when it became part of the patient-doctor encounter in the second half of the nineteenth century. My doctoral thesis (Royal holloway, University of London, 2011) analysed patient photographs contained in British and French medical textbooks, journals and asylum case books to explore photographic representations of patients across a range of nineteenth-century psychiatric institutions. It considered the interactions between gender, class and medical discourses of insanity as they were played out in front of the camera.

Additionally I am interested in the camera in Victorian institutions more generally, and the relationship between power, control, agency, and photographic technologies. My research contributes to the histories of mental health, of photography, and of institutions but, primarily, to the history of patients. It explores patients’ complex interactions with doctors who were also photographers, the ways their bodies and conditions were displayed and appropriated through photography, and the ways in which patient images reflected and were informed by discourses of degeneration, abnormality, otherness and non-medical photographic conventions. This research forms the basis of my first book, Photography in English Asylums, c.1880-1914: The Institutional Eye which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan.

I am currently developing my next project, Photomania: Anxiety and the Camera in Britain, 1839-1914. I will examine the connections between nineteenth-century and present-day responses to photographic images and health to ask the question: ‘Can photography damage our health?’ The announcement of photography in 1839 was met with much enthusiasm; the camera had the potential to open up new worlds and possibilities, changing the ways we see each other and ourselves. Photographic images spread rapidly, comparable to the extensive exposure to, and almost instant dissemination of, digital images today. But just like our current concerns over selfies, filters, and over-exposure to photos, particularly amongst the young, the Victorians were also cautious about photography. Using a broad range of historical materials, this project will investigate the ‘un-healthiness’ of photography from three different perspectives – photographing; being photographed; and consuming photographs – to tell the untold story of the threats to health posed by the camera.

I have recently been awarded Special Interest Group funding from Emerging Minds, UK to lead and co-ordinate the Social Photography Research Group. We are an interdisciplinary group of historians, psychologists, photographers and young people coming together to facilitate productive cross-disciplinary conversations around social media photography and young people’s mental and physical health. Over the next 12 months, we will work with young people to explore the relationship between social photography and self-presentation and identity. We aim to co-produce with young people historically-focussed engagement activities to help them feel empowered to discuss the potential challenges and benefits of social media and photographic content. 

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • Ph.D in History (Royal Holloway, U of London 2011)
  • MA Women's and Gender History (Royal Holloway, U of London, 2004)
  • MA History (Hons) (University of Edinburgh, 2003)

Professional memberships

  • Women's History Network
  • Society for the Social History of Medicine
  • European Association for the History of Medicine and Health
  • European Society for the History of Science

Student education

My teaching covers undergraduate and postgraduate modules in Modern British History and the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. I am also an Academic Personal Tutor for students in the School of History.

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for History and Philosophy of Science
  • Centre for Medical Humanities
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums
  • Health Histories
  • Women, Gender, and Sexuality
  • Centre for Global Health Histories
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>