My intellectual home

Today is my last day as Wellcome Trust Fellow at the PHRC, de Montfort University.

It took me several months to actually believe that I had got the fellowship. Seeing my first payslip, putting the Wellcome logo in a power point slide or having professional cards became small celebratory acts that reminded me that it wasn’t my imagination -I had been awarded THE fellowship!

It took me so long to convince myself that it was happening that now it feels weird it’s over.

Sounds like a cliché, but really: I don’t have words to express the gratitude that I feel today towards the Wellcome and my colleagues at the PHRC.

Being funded by the Wellcome Trust has probably been the best academic thing that could happen to me. They are not only extremely generous in their funding -fellowship, research expenses and open access fees – but they truly care about what they do. This is what makes them unique, and what really makes me want to work with them again. I have felt very supported by all the staff all along the way -can’t count how many times I have emailed Lauren! The workshops for grantholders where we discussed the issues that directly affects us were also very helpful and inspiring. Sharing problems with other ECR is always good, but having someone willing and able to listen and make changes is amazing.

They were enough brave to fund my crazy project in a department which had never worked with the Wellcome before: the Photographic History Research Centre, at DMU. Like the Gaulish, this small department in Leicester is struggling to do photographic history in a different, interdisciplinary in way. And medical humanities seemed the right place to experiment.

Elizabeth Edwards, previous director of the PHRC and my sponsor, said two weeks ago that I had found my intellectual home -and I agree. After years of going from one disciplinary field to the other, I finally found people who deeply understand what I’m saying. Such a relief! Of course, I don’t mean that other people don’t understand me -I’m not a French philosopher after all. But here they know where I’m going to, why I’m asking such and such questions. They see all the background thoughts in my head, even the ones that are not articulated yet. This hasn’t made me lazier, quite the contrary. With their help, their sharp minds and their incisive questions, I can dig deeper. I think better.

Two years at the PHRC have definitely made me a better scholar. I obviously learned a lot about photographic history -Elizabeth, Kelley and Gil are simply the best. But most important for me, they have showed me the kind of academic that I want to be. The one who cares about the job, but also about the others. The one who always has a kind word of support for PhDs and ECRs -even when they’re not at their best. The one who is generous and shares what she knows, because we’re all here to learn. The one who celebrates collective success besides personal promotions. The one who is happy when is surrounded by intelligent people -the one who doesn’t see them as a threat. The academic who cares about the politics of education, diversity and gender issues. The one who works to bring out the best in the students.

And the future? Still a mystery. But we always say that once a PHRC, always a PHRC. Wherever I go next, I know where home is.


Farewell seminar: B Pichel & E Edwards, de Montfort University, Jan 12, 2016

This month is my last month as a Wellome fellow at the PHRC. It’s been two amazing years, in which I have learnt a lot and I have met the best colleagues in the world -seriously, they’re incredible. I’ll still be around for some months, but it won’t be the same. Moreover, Elizabeth Edwards, current Director of the PHRC, is retiring this month. I don’t exaggerate if I say that Elizabeth’s work has changed the field. She’s also been the most supportive and brilliant director, and she will be missed a lot. This is why our colleagues have kindly decided to organise a celebratory seminar, where we will present our work. But we all know the lectures are just the excuse for having a wine all together.

God, I’ll miss that.

The seminar will take place next Tuesday 12th of January at de Montfort University (Hugh Aston building, room 2.86)

Captura de pantalla 2016-01-08 a la(s) 18.48.55.png

You’re all welcome. You can download a pdf with abstracts, etc here: PHRCfarewellseminar

It will be fun -and there will probably be some tears too.

What I learnt in 2015 -and my 2016 resolution

It’s the last day of 2015, and like many of you, I’m thinking about how 2016 will look like.

But 2016 is a complete mystery. All I know is that, during the first months, I’ll still be in Leicester doing some teaching.  My contract ends in February, so I’m basically applying for everything. This means that I don’t know what I’m going to do, but also where I’m going to be. Will I  stay in the UK? Will I have to come back to Madrid? Will I go to a different country? Will I be able to find a job?

Uncertainty is not my favorite thing in the world, so I have decided to face 2016 having in mind a few things that I learnt during 2015.

  1. I work better after a night out dancing -or even a bit of dancing in my living room. Dancing stimulates my body but also my brain: following a Swing tune makes me feel the same kind of excitement that having a new idea or making a discovery in my sources. That puts me in the best mood to write.
  2. I can work on several projects at the same time. I know this may seem as a basic skill for a researcher, but up until this year I have always tried to work in packages: one after the other. In 2015 I have been writing different articles/projects on the same day and it was not the end of the world!
  3. Deadlines are important, but sometimes we miss them -and it’s ok. We are all overwhelmed and overworked, and sometimes we’re also late.
  4. ‘Merit’ is a very ambiguous term. Some months ago I reflected on the challenges of being a ECR, and I got an amazing response, particularly from women. That taught me not only that we all have the same insecurities, but also that sharing them in a community might have effects well beyond consoling each other -which is important too. Changing our daily practices can make a difference.
  5. Rejections are part of the job. Not getting a job still frustrates me, but my work has been accepted in many other places, so relax. We’re all rejected many times.
  6. Having a break is important. As I have reckoned before, I still struggle with my English. From time to time, my brain decides to stop, and I just can’t make a whole sentence right. Then, suddenly, it resets and I’m back to normal. I guess I have to listen more to these signs.
  7. [Bonus track] I love what I do: the joy, enthusiasm and excitement that makes me feel sometimes are just amazing.

Reading this list again, I guess my resolution for 2016 is to step back when I’m stressed, look at the big picture, beath and enjoy.

And dance.



‘From facial expressions to bodily gestures’: my article is now online!

2015 has been an amazing year, and has ended with great news: History of the Human Sciences has just published my article ‘From facial expressions to bodily gestures: passions, photography and movement in French 19thC- sciences’.

I’m particularly happy with this because it’s the first article that comes up from my Wellcome project, and thanks to the support of the Wellcome Trust, it’s been published on Open Access, which means that everyone can download it -no paywall!

Here is the abstract:

This article aims to determine to what extent photographic practices in psychology, psychiatry and physiology contributed to the definition of the external bodily signs of passions and emotions in the second half of the 19th century in France. Bridging the gap between recent research in the history of emotions and photographic history, the following analyses focus on the photographic production of scientists and photographers who made significant contributions to the study of expressions and gestures, namely Duchenne de Boulogne, Charles Darwin, Paul Richer and Albert Londe. This article argues that photography became a key technology in their works due to the adequateness of the exposure time of different cameras to the duration of the bodily manifestations to be recorded, and that these uses constituted facial expressions and bodily gestures as particular objects for the scientific study


Enjoy and happy 2016!

Seminar: ‘Photographing the Emotional Body’, University of Warwick, 1st Dec

I have been invited to present my work at the research seminars of the Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, tomorrow (1st of December)…and I can’t be more excited!

Photographing the Emotional Body

Practices of Psychology and Theatre at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century in France

5pm – 7pm, Tue, 01 Dec ’15
Location: R0.14 Ramphal building
Seminar with Dr Beatriz Pichel, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in Medical Humanities at the Photographic History Research Centre, de Montfort University, Leicester.

Refreshments and informal discussion. All are welcome.

In 1891, the photographer of La Salpêtrière Albert Londe recorded the experiments that Georges Guinon and Sophie Woltke carried out on the face of hysterical women under hypnosis. In line with other experiments, Guinon and Woltke aimed to test the influence of different sensorial excitations over gestures and facial expressions. Four years later, Londe collaborated with Paul Richer in the production of chronophotographic series on the physiology of movement. Three of these series portrayed the “expressive gait”, that is, the external manifestations of the passions in the moving muscles. Also during these years, Londe started taking photographs of actors rehearsing and on stage. Most of the times, the pictures were part of his experiments with artificial lighting in indoor theatres. His aim was to seize, in poor light conditions, the natural gestures of actors –a real challenge at the time.

This presentation will revolve around these photographs, examining how different photographic practices in the sciences and the popular arts shaped the expression of emotions. As many works have pointed out, the body gained relevance in both the sciences and the spectacle arts, and thereby gestures and expressions became objects of scientific and cultural inquiry. These emotional expressions were often documented in photographs, but this aspect has been overlooked by most of the scholarship.

Following recent research in photographic history, this presentation will examine the complex relations between images, objects and performances generated in the abovementioned photographic acts. I argue here that, at the turn of the nineteenth century, photography served to multiple purposes beyond the mere representation of bodies. Besides the images it provided, the repetitive performances in front of the camera, in which gestures had to be enacted, created a repertoire or emotional expressions and helped facilitate the understanding of psychological ideas on the bodily roots of gestures.

Review: Sander Gilman, Illness & Image (2014) in Visual Studies

So happy that my review of Sander Gilman’s new book Illness & Image. Case Studies in the Medical Humanities is now available in Visual Studies!

This is not the first time that Gilman tackles visual culture in his work. He has published works on the origins of psychiatric photography (The Face of Madness. Hugh Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography, Vermont: Echo Point Books & Media, c2014 -new edition) as well as the classic Health and Illness. Images of Difference (London: Reaktion Books, 1995). But this new book opens up a new path, as it is not about a particular subject. It shows how a broad arrange of images have shaped medical knowledge since Antiquity.

Aimed at both medical and humanities students, it is a great resource to teach medical humanities. Enjoy!


Thoughts on being an #ECR: personal stories and privilege

I never blog about ERC (early career researcher for the non academics) problems and job instability. There are many others who have done it great, and have expressed far better than I can what I think -and what I feel. But, within three months of the end of my fellowship, I wanted to share my experience to say, to anyone who can relate to it, that hey! you’re not alone in this! And that this precarity it’s not your fault. NOT YOUR FAULT.

Like most of my women colleagues, I’m not particularly good at thinking high of me. Even if I love what I do, and I think that the stuff I research is the most amazing thing in the world, I always have this constant insecurity about what I do -about what others are going to think of what I do, to be more precise. Like my girl friends, I will only self indulge myself thinking that, at least, I’m doing my best. That I’m trying to do my best.

Of course, comparing myself to others does not particularly help in this.

But one morning I had like a “click” in my mind, and something changed. Let’s change the perspective for a while. Do I lack skills that others have? Yes, of course. I don’t have a degree from Oxbridge. I didn’t do my PhD in a top university. Nobody in my current network knows my supervisor. For god’s sake, I don’t even speak English properly.

But these things are not my weaknesses. These are my strengths. In spite of all this, I made it. I got an amazing fellowship and I’m working with the best colleagues ever -both intellectual and personally. I came from nowhere, and now I’m here.

I don’t want to turn this into a ‘self-made’ myth. That’s neoliberal crap and it’s usually a lie -working hard does not guarantee success, in the same way that ‘success’ does not mean having worked hard. Besides, any story is the story of *one* individual.

But I do believe that we have to take into account privilege when thinking about ‘success’ and opportunities in academia. Caroline Magennis recognised in a fantastic blog post that “I don’t have that relaxed confidence that people have when they’ve been to certain institutions or have never had to worry about rent.” Nailed.

But again, as I read in twitter other day -and sorry but can’t find where!-, I won’t admire someone who have never had to think about making dinner. That’s the point. Our concept of ‘merit’ has to change. If success comes from having someone taking care of your daily needs, sorry, but I’m not impressed. If you have been struggling to take care of children or relatives while doing research, or just needed a paid job to survive -impressed.

So let’s change the perspective. If, in spite of all this, we have made it through here -we can do it. This is not positive thinking, it’s  just self love. Of course being positive does not change the fact that there are very few jobs -to change that we need political action. But I find much easier to deal with the whole job application process if I remember that I came from nowhere, and now I’m here.

Call for Papers: Panel on Photographic History at SHS Conference (Lancaster University, 21-23 March 2016)

Call for Papers

Photographic History: A New Direction for Social History?

Panel Proposal “40th Anniversary Open Strand: New Directions”

Social History Society Conference, Lancaster University, 21-23 March 2016

Panel chair: Dr Beatriz Pichel, PHRC, De Montfort University

L0056449 A Manchu lady having her hair dressed by her servant girl Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images China: a Manchu lady having her hair dressed by her servant girl, Beijing. Photograph by John Thomson, 1869. 1869 By: J. ThomsonPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

L0056449 A Manchu lady having her hair dressed by her servant girl
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Photograph by John Thomson, 1869.
CC BY 4.0

Photography has changed the way in which the past is represented and remembered. Let’s take the example of the key role that photographs of the liberation of concentration camps have played in the formation of the collective memory of the Holocaust. However, photographs remain a rather marginalized historical material. They usually belong to the realm of art and visual culture, and when they enter into general histories is usually as illustrations or anecdotes.

Following recent approaches to photographic history, this panel interrogates what happens when we situate photography at the centre of historical analyses. How can we do social history by examining photographic sources –photographs, cameras, illustrated journals, albums and photographic manuals, to name but a few? What are the main challenges of visual history? And what are the main advantages?

This panel invites contributions that tackle how photographic history can contribute to develop further questions traditionally explored in cultural and social history. Based on particular case studies, papers will show different methodologies and research strategies to use photography as a historical source. With this aim, they will explore questions such as how the use of photographic sources has brought to light new problems or has changed the way in which a particular event is related. The aim of the panel is to demonstrate that photographic history is not (only) the history of photographs, but rather a new historical approach.

I invite contributions on a wide range of topics –politics, economy, medicine and science, emotions, family, space and time, folklore and dance, among others. Panels at the SHS Conference are a collection of 3-4 papers, delivered within 20 minutes. Please, send me an abstract of about 250 words to before the 9th of November, to allow enough time for submission –conference deadline is the 16th of November. More details about the SHS Conference here

You can download a pdf version here CfP Photographic History SHS Conference 16

Photographing Gestures (V): Chronophotography and the Passions in Movement

As I was explaining in the last post of the series , the collaboration between the photographer Albert Londe and the physiologists and clinicians at La Salpêtrière led to a new conception of emotional expressions. The need to capture the signs of hysteria shifted the focus from the face to the body: facial expressions were meaningful as much as they were accompanied by bodily gestures. But this apparently minor shift also had repercussions on the use of photography. While instantaneous photography seemed the perfect technology to freeze the otherwise fleeting expressions, it had limitations to capture gestures. How could one single image summarize the whole choreography of gestures that patients did under hypnosis?

Londe took very seriously this question. The issue for him was not to reduce exposure times so to capture the ‘instant’ – the key of Darwin’s photographic project- but how to record movement. During the first years at the Salpêrtrière, his solution was the making of photographic series, putting together several photographs that captured the different stages of an hysterical attack -photographs that actually corresponded to several attacks suffered by the same person. This system, similar to the examples examined in the previous post, gave the impressions of movement. However, as Londe explained in his treatise La photographie médicale, the photographs still captured ‘random’ moments:

“It is possible to capture the patient and to immobilize him by means of the instantaneous photography. However, these pictures taken randomly only represent one of the phases of the movement, a phase that our eye might not even perceive because of its rapidity. We will obtain a document, but we cannot accept that this document alone is able to show what we have perceived (Londe, 1893: 96-97)”

The solution of this should be “a special device that allows taking a certain number of pictures within particular intervals as close or apart from each other as we want them to be” (Londe, 1883: 127)”. I think these quotations are key to understand the scientific use of photography in this context. For Londe, it wasn’t enough to capture several instants, but the intervals between instants had to be regulated too, so the movement could be effectively analysed.

Of course, Londe was talking about chronophotography. First developed by Eadweard Muybridge in San Francisco in 1878 and then adopted and developed by others such as Étienne-Jules Marey, Jules Janssen and Georges Demenÿ, chronophotography was the taking of a succession of images in a particular period of time. Therefore, at the time that Londe was working at La Salpêtrière, this technique was already known in Parisian scientific circles. But he still invented his own chronophotographic device. There are several reasons to justify this -including Londe’s ability to invent photographic mechanisms. But, as Londe repeated time after time, each system should be adapted to the movement it had to capture, and the kind of scientific knowledge they were expecting to obtain. His analysis of the physiology of movement, both in healthy and pathological conditions, could not be done through the same means as Marey analysed the direction of movement. Basically, the chronophotography at La Salpêtrière had to fulfill two conditions: both the intervals between shots and the shutters’ speed should be manipulable, so they could be adapted to different kinds of movements (irregular but slow movements, almost imperceptible but very fast movements like tremblings, etc.) The camera that Londe invented with this aim captured 12 images in the same plate (three rows of four).

Among the movements that Londe examined with Paul Richer, there was the “expressive gait”. This was a particular kind of walk, in which the passions of the man were translated in the way in which he moved. Richer put as an example the ‘enthusiastic gait’, the one “of the warrior coming back home” or “the common man singing La Marselleise” (Richer, 1895).

“demarche enthusiaste”, Richer, Physiologie artistique de l’homme en mouvement, p. 3.
Made available under Creative Commons, Public Domain Mark by Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

The book did not reproduced the whole chronophotographic series, but only the illustration that Richer made after the most representative shot. As Richer explained, the most characteristic features of this gait were not on the face of the model, but in the way in which he stepped into the ground. It was through his legs that the passions were expressed. This whole experience challenged the very principles established by the great masters, Darwin and Duchenne. The passions -this school of thought did not use the word ’emotions’- were not mainly expressed through the combination of the facial muscles, but in the movements of the whole body -the arms, the legs, the chest. Therefore, instantaneous photography was not enough: movements had to recorded rather than ‘captured’.

These chronophotographs were taken in 1895 -at the dawn of film. Londe himself made some films, and other chronophotographers such as Demenÿ played a key role in the development of this technique. However, very few studies continued the physiological analysis of movement and the passions in this direction.

Why? We’ll see in the next post!