Dr Rae Gillibrand

Dr Rae 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 past, I decided to pursue history as a career. 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

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 of Admissions (School of History)

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.





At the intersection of histories of health, gender and culture, this project gathered archival materials, worked towards menstrual de-stigmatisation by networking with community partners, and hosted freely accessible public events in the North of England. For more information see the research project page here

Outputs and Media: 

  • Rachael Gillibrand, ‘‘Dirty Red’: How periods have been stigmatised through history to the modern day’, The Conversation (22 August 2023). Read the article on The Conversation website, here.
  • Rachael Gillibrand, Katie Carpenter, ‘Challenging Taboo: why it’s time to put periods in plain sight’, University of Leeds Medium (8 March 2023). Read the article on the University of Leeds Medium website, here
  • Marge Bradshaw, Rachael Gillibrand, ‘Exploring Menopause through Collections and Collaboration’, Wellcome Collection ‘Exploring Research’ Series (3 October 2023). View the discussion on Youtube, here.



The purpose of this fellowship was to use the Medical Heritage Library’s digital collections to produce a publicly accessible primary source dataset relating to the theme of ‘Disability and Technology’. For more on the Medical Heritage Library, see here

Outputs & Media: 

  • Rachael Gillibrand, 'Digitalised Collections and Disability Histories', ALISS Quarterly, May (2023). Read here
  • Rachael Gillibrand, ‘Ear trumpets and audiophones: a summer in the Medical Heritage Library archives’, Medical Heritage Library Spring Speaker Series (12 September 2022). Watch the talk online, here.
  • Rachael Gillibrand, ‘Disability & Technology Primary Source Set: Ocular Aids, Hearing Aids, Dental Aids’, Medical Heritage Library (October 2021). View the primary source sets here.


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

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of HEA

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 also am available to act as a PhD supervisor. If you are interested in undertaking a PhD with me, please send me an email at r.gillibrand@leeds.ac.uk.

Finally, I am 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.

Research groups and institutes

  • Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums
  • 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>