Dr Rachael Gillibrand

Dr Rachael Gillibrand


For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the history of the body. As a child, I was captivated by Mary Dobson’s descriptions of ancient Egyptian perfumes and hair care techniques in her ‘Scratch and Sniff’ book series. I was similarly delighted (and terrified) when, at eight years old, I got to meet a ‘real’ medieval surgeon at the York Dungeons! 

Increasingly preoccupied with the body as a construct reconceptualised over time, I decided to pursue history as a career. As such, I completed my BA in History (2014), my MA in Medieval Studies (2015) and my PhD in Medieval Disability Studies (2020) at the University of Leeds. Throughout my doctoral research I investigated the practical ways in which fifteenth- and sixteenth-century disability aids were designed, constructed, and sold; whilst also considering how contemporaries conceptualised bodily augmentation and the day-to-day use of assistive devices.

After finishing my PhD at the University of Leeds, I spent two years teaching History and Heritage Studies at Aberystwyth University, Wales, during which time I was simultaneously employed as the Jaipreet Virdi Fellow for Disability Studies at the Medical Heritage Library. Throughout my fellowship, I developed three curated collections on Ocular Aids, Hearing Aids, and Dental Technologies.

In 2022, I was appointed as Lecturer in Inclusive Learning for the Schools of History and English at the University of Leeds. As a woman from a working-class background and the first in my family to attend university, I am deeply committed to extending and improving inclusivity practices and thinking critically about how the student experience can be improved for students from traditionally marginalised backgrounds within academia.


  • Director for Joint Honours Programmes

Research interests

Broadly speaking, I am interested in the ways that people have experienced, understood, and augmented their bodies throughout time. However, my current research focusses on the following areas:

  1. Premodern disability technology – especially the ways in which assistive aids were connected to individual and group identities.
  2. Premodern cosmetic devices and medical technology – thinking about the overlap between health and attempts to ‘beautify’ the body. 
  3. Premodern automata – namely the ways in which the construction of and attitudes towards automata are reflected in the design and use of bodily prostheses.
  4. Visual and material approaches.

For the most up to date list of my publications and reflections on my current research goals, please see my website.

<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>


  • PhD Medieval Disability Studies
  • MA Medieval Studies
  • BA History

Student education

I teach on several undergraduate and postgraduate modules in the School of History, the School of English, and the Institute for Medieval Studies. These modules focus on premodern health, medicine and the body, as well as history, heritage and museum studies.

I am also interested in extending education beyond the ‘Ivory Tower’ of academia and have designed and led a series of public events in association with local museums, libraries, and archives. I have also contributed to a range of podcasts and radio shows. If you are interested in collaborating on future public facing projects, please do not hesitate to get in touch.