Carsten Timmermann, MSc, MA, PhD

Prof

  • Room 2.36, Simon Building, The University of Manchestr

    M13 9PL Manchester

Personal profile

Biography

I am a historian of recent biology and biomedical science and currently Director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology & Medicine (CHSTM). Please see the section on Research Interests further down on this page for more details on my research, including links to selected publications.

You can download my recent monograph here: Moonshots at Cancer: The Roche Story [open access pdf]

Like many other historians of science and medicine, I have a science background. When I was studying for my first degree in Biochemistry at the Freie Universität Berlin, however, I took a succession of history courses in addition to my compulsory units in the natural sciences. Wondering how I could possibly combine my interest in science with my fascination with history, the humanities and the social sciences, I accidentally came across the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (HSTM), which did not have a strong presence at German universities. After graduating from FUB, I was offered a job as a research technician at the Scripps Research Institute and spent two years in La Jolla, California, practising high resolution cryo electron microscopy. While there, I audited several course units in the Science Studies Programme at University of California, San Diego (I now realise that I probably gate crashed the programme). I then enrolled for an MA in History and Social Anthropology of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester (supported by a Wellcome Trust Studentship) and in 1999 completed a PhD, also at the University of Manchester, on Weimar Medical Culture: Doctors, Healers and the 'Crisis of Medicine' in Interwar Germany (again supported by a Wellcome Trust Studentship).

Since 1999, I have worked at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, initially as a Research Fellow and later a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Professor. In January 2022 I was appointed as Director of the Centre.

Throughout my career I have built strong international collaborations, especially with STS scholars and historians in continental Europe, the United States and Canada, but increasingly also in the Global South. In the early 2000s I was a frequent visitor at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Since 2000 I have taught a variety of course units in history of medicine, history of the life sciences, and history of psychiatry and mental health. I have also taught course units dealing with the historiography of science, technology and medicine for undergraduate and postgraduate students (please see the section on Teaching further down on this page for details of my current teaching).

I currently supervise the following PhD students:

  • Iain Sturges (with Dr Robert Kirk)
  • Eleanor Shaw (with Professor Stephanie Snow)
  • Krittapak Ngamvaseenont (with Dr Robert Kirk)
  • Megan Bridgeland (with Dr Robert Kirk)
  • Jane Whittaker (with Dr Harriet Palfreyman)
  • Sally Cross (with Dr Cinzia Greco)

Past PhD students:

I was the Academic Lead for the University's Museum of Medicine and Health from 2017 to 2023.

In 2015 Dr Elizabeth Toon and I founded the Medical Humanities Laboratory to create a virtual home for interdisciplinary activities around health and medicine.

Jointly with Professor Mick Worboys, I edit the Palgrave book series Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Modern History.

I am a member of the Editorial Boards of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Social History of Medicine,  Notes & Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, and the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. I am also a member of the Editorial Committee of Manchester University Press, the Steering Committee of the John Rylands Research Institute, and an elected member representing academic staff on the FBMH Faculty Committee.

I was Co-Director of the MSc in Medical Humanities until 2020 (with Dr Sarah Collins).

I was Chair of the Executive Committee of the Society for Social History of Medicine from 2015 to 2018, and Treasurer from 2004 to 2015.

Research interests

I am a historian of science and medicine specialising on medicine, biology, and mental health in the 19th and 20th centuries. My research vision focuses on exploring the increasingly central place of a materialist and mechanistic engineering ethos in the sciences of the human body and mind. Following a PhD dissertation on the 'Crisis of Medicine' in Weimar Germany, I have published on the histories of lung cancer and other conditions that have been characterised as diseases of civilisation. This has involved studying the interplay of epidemiology, laboratory research and clinical medicine, and in the history of the central paradigm of modern biomedicine: that investment in basic research sooner or later will bear fruit, in the shape of effective therapies. I teach modules in the history of biology and medicine (including psychiatry and mental health).

I am interested in interdisciplinary approaches to the history of science, technology and medicine that demonstrate the relevance of this fascinating subject for the present: how have science, technology and medicine shaped the world we live in? This includes science communication and the material and visual cultures of science and medicine.

History of Cancer

Since 2003 I have been involved (initially with John Pickstone, Emm Barnes, Elizabeth Toon and Helen Valier) in a collaborative reasearch project on the history of cancer research and cancer services, originally funded by a Wellcome Trust Programme Award. We focused on exploring the history of cancer as a disease that has come to epitomise modernity, comparing different cancers and their meanings. Books by members of the project team have dealt with the histories of prostate cancer, childhood cancers, lung cancer, and patient experiences. Journal articles, have appeared, among others, in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Medical History, and Chronic Illness.

In collaboration with the the Historical Archive of the Hoffmann-La Roche AG I researched and wrote a monograph on the history of chemotherapy and more recent biological cancer treatments, commonly characterised as personalised medicine and based on monoclonal antibody technology. The book can be downloaded here for free, as an open-access pdf.

History of Mental Illness

I have been teaching our Centre's unit on 'Madness and Society in the Modern Age' in the past few years, and this has led to new collaborations in research. Jointly with Fritz Handerer, Peter Kinderman and Sara Tai I published an article on how the structure of mental hospital records has changed since the nineteenth century.

Before Translational Medicine

From 2011 to 2018 I worked  on a research project on the prehistory of what today is framed as translational research in medicine, funded by Wellcome Trust Programme Award, together with Rob Kirk, Stephanie Snow, Duncan Wilson, Michael Worboys and David Thompson.

History of Chronic Illness

My interest in the history of chronic illness builds on earlier work on the histories of cancer and cardiovascular disease. I contributed the chapter on chronic illness in the Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine edited by Mark Jackson (2011). In 2010 I organised a workshop here in Manchester on the history of chronic illness, as part of an ESF-funded network on drugs and standardisation in medicine.

History of Hypertension

I have written on the history of cardiovascular research, especially high blood pressure, in post-war Britain and both German states, looking at novel drug therapies since the 1940s and the transformation of essential hypertension into what we now know as a 'risk factor'. I published on cardiovascular research in Socialist East Germany, the uptake of the risk factor approach in East and West Germany, and the application of American models in West German cardiovascular research.

Material Culture of Science and Medicine

I also have a lively interest in the material and visual cultures of science of medicine, informed by my role as Academic Lead for the Museum of Medicine and Health and as supervisor of postgraduate dissertations with material culture focus. I published a short chapter on the MMH's leucotome.

Books

Reviewed in: Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, British Journal for the History of Science, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Isis, Lancet Oncology, Social History of Medicine, Sociology of Health and Illness, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Teaching

I coordinate the following undergraduate and postgraduate course units:

  • BIOL10381 - A History of Biology in 20 Objects
  • HSTM30832 · HSTM40332 · UCIL30332 · UCIL30832 - Madness and Society in the Modern Age [check out the reading list]
  • HSTM60692 - Madness and Society in the Modern Age (MSc)

I have supervised a range of PhD, MSc and undergraduate dissertations and research projects in the history of medicine and biology.

I was nominated for Student Union's Manchester Teaching Awards in 2013 (Best Life Sciences Lecturer) and 2014 (Best Personal/Academic Advisor).

In 2020/21 I received a commendation in the 'Pandemic Teaching Awards'.

I was winner of a Manchester Doctoral College Excellence Award as PhD Supervisor of the Year in the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health in 2021/22

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Areas of expertise

  • D204 Modern History
  • History of Medicine
  • History of Science
  • Cancer
  • Psychiatry
  • Chronic Disease
  • Biology
  • Biomedical Research
  • Risk Factors
  • Lung Cancer
  • Hypertension
  • DD Germany
  • History of Medicine
  • Biomedical Research
  • Crisis of Medicine
  • Weimar Republic
  • GDR
  • D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
  • History of Medicine
  • Cancer
  • Biomedical Research
  • Lung Cancer
  • Pharmaceutical Research
  • H Social Sciences (General)
  • Science and Society
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Social Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine

Keywords

  • History of Medicine
  • History of Cancer
  • Lung Cancer
  • History of Science
  • Science and Technology Studies Studies
  • STS
  • STM
  • Science as Culture

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