Professor James Stark

Professor James Stark


I am a historian of modern medicine and science, with a particular interest in ageing, infectious disease, and medical advertising since 1850. I joined Leeds in 2008 as a doctoral researcher after undergraduate and postgraduate study at Cambridge and Manchester respectively. Following this I spent a year as an AHRC-funded Knowledge Transfer Fellow (2011–12) before undertaking a three-year postdoctoral Fellowship associated with the Arts Engaged project.

In 2015 I was appointed University Academic Fellow for Medical Humanities, being promoted to Associate Professor in 2017 and Professor in 2020. I have held a number of major leadership roles, including as Head of the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science for the academic year 2019–20, and Director of the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute (LAHRI) from 2020-23.

In 2016 I was jointly awarded the Royal Society's Notes and Records Essay Prize for my paper on Arthur Koestler and anti-reductionism in biology, and in 2014 I received First Prize in the Young Scholars Award Competition by the World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine for an essay examining the international network of anthrax research between Britain, France and Australia in the late nineteenth century.

I was Chair of the Outreach and Engagement Committee of the British Society for the History of Science (2013-17) and have spent time as a visiting researcher at the University of Hong Kong (November 2013) and the University of Sydney (April 2014).

In 2014–15 I was a member of the New Generations in Medical Humanities training programme, supported by the AHRC and Wellcome Trust. In 2015 I was appointed to the AHRC Peer Review College and from 2017–2019 I was Reviews Editor for the British Journal for the History of Science

In 2018 I was nominated for the inaugural AHRC/Wellcome Health Humanities Medal and I was also an Associate Director of water@leeds, one of the largest interdisciplinary water research group in the world, with particular responsibility for impact and partnership working. 

I chaired the Wellcome Trust Research Resources Committee, responsible for assessing funding applications for Research Resources Awards in Humanities and Social Science. In August 2020 I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

I would be delighted to receive enquiries from prospective research students or fellow researchers interested in any aspects of the history of medicine and the biological sciences in the nineteenth or twentieth century, particularly those whose interests lie in the following areas:

  • infectious disease and public health
  • medical technologies
  • transnational history of medicine
  • visual and material culture in the history of science and medicine
  • age, ageing and fertility

Research interests

My current research explores the interactions between humans and the microbial world in the twentieth century. This includes a large-scale project on the visual representation of germs, and an emerging interest in the different ways in which microbes were described as either indispensible aids or existential threats to humanity. I am currently part of the team leading the Wellcome Research Development Award project, LivingBodiesObjects, collaborating with researchers in literature, film, and immersive storytelling, as well as a wide range of partner organisations, creatives, and research professionals, including the Thackray Museum of Medicine.

My most recent major publication – The Cult of Youth – was published by Cambridge University Press in March 2020. This examined the emergence of myriad strategies of rejuvenation in interwar Britain, including diet, exercise, and skincare regimes, and hormone and vitamin therapies. Supported by a major AHRC Leadership Fellowship the project underpinning this, Endless Possibilities of Rejuvenation (2016–18), built on a Wellcome Seed Award which brought together for the first time a cohort of researchers from across the arts and humanities to investigate the concept and practices of regeneration in medicine.

My other research interests include the role of patenting and ownership in medicine and healthcare, the history of medical technologies and the history of infectious disease and public health. I was Co-investigator on the UKRI project Emerging Minds: Action for Child Mental Health (2018-22), being closely involved in the development and support of new interdisciplinary research to enhance support for young people and children’s mental health. Since 2021 I have been part of an interdisciplinary White Rose Collaboration Project – Vital Circulations – with colleagues from the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and York. This explores the cultural meanings associated with tissue donation, genetic exchange, and transmission of infectious agents in contemporary and historical society and medical practice.

My first monograph, The Making of Modern Anthrax, 1875–1920 (2013), examined the appearance and social role of this deadly disease at the local, national and global levels, focusing on the international wool trade and exchange of materials, ideas and practices. I have also edited a special issue of the British Journal for the History of Science and published in field-leading journals including Medical History, Cultural & Social HistorySocial History of MedicineStudies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical SciencesMuseum and Society, and Heritage and Society.

As well as specialist journals in historical studies, I have also published in a range of other outlets, including recent papers in Visual Communication and Journal of Tissue Viability. My work has been featured in New Scientist and I have also written articles for History and PolicyThe Conversation and The Lancet.

I have recently completed a pilot digital humanities project - Eating Yourself Young - funded by the British Academy and JISC, exploring perceptions and practices of nutrition before the advent of vitamin science. I also led the historical strand of an AHRC-funded interdisciplinary project - Lifting the Lid - which used historical germ imagery to inspire new co-created graphic interventions to encourage handwashing amongst primary school children. 

I was co-investigator on an AHRC network, Exploring Histories and Futures of Innovation in Advanced Wound Care, which brought together researchers from diverse disciplines to explore the development and history of advanced wound care. I led a collaborative project with the Science Museum as a strand of Digital Tools in the Service of Difficult Heritage, working with groups of veterans to explore how the use of digital tools can reimagine our relationship with challenging histories of physical and mental impairment.

I have held grants as Principal Investigator from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Leeds Social Sciences Institute, Scientific Instrument Society, and the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. I have also collaborated extensively with the Thackray Medical Museum and a diverse range of other non-academic partners, including the Science MuseumBootsNational TrustLeeds Museums and Galleries, and Marks & Spencer.

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


  • PhD History of Medicine (University of Leeds)
  • MSc History of Science, Technology and Medicine (University of Manchester)
  • MA Natural Sciences (University of Cambridge)

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Student education

I am passionate about student education and am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. My teaching activities span the history of science, technology and medicine from the sixteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, including courses on the introduction to history of science and the role of objects in historical enquiry. I currently supervise seven doctoral students whose research covers a wide range of topics related to medicine and science from around 1850 to the present, including the histories of sexual health, vitamins and nutrition, BSE, and polar exploration.

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for History and Philosophy of Science
  • Centre for Medical Humanities
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute

Current postgraduate researchers

<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="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>