Elizabeth Toon

Elizabeth Toon, BA, MA, PhD


Personal profile


My teaching and research focuses on how everyday people experience, understand, and communicate around health, medicine, and science.  My chief work here at Manchester is as Programme Director for Manchester's MSc Science and Health Communication, but I also contribute to UG, PG, and professional teaching and supervision in SMS, SBS, and SALC.   My research on this began with an interest in public health communication and the history of cancer, and I continue to research and write about these subjects as well as others related to history of medicine, science and health communication, medical sociology, and medical humanities.

I encourage anyone interested in the MSc Science and Health Communication to contact me by email at elizabeth.toon [at] manchester.ac.uk

BACKGROUND: I received my BA in History with honors from Northwestern University, Evanston IL, USA, as well as a certificate from the Science in Human Culture program.  My postgraduate degrees are from the University of Pennsylvania's History and Sociology of Science Department, where I earned an MA and a PhD.  After teaching at Penn and then at Cornell University, I moved to the UK, where I have taught and researched at the University of Manchester and University of Durham.

TEACHING: Currently I am programme director for CHSTM's MSc Science and Health Communication programme. I teach several modules on that programme, such as Introduction to Science Communication and the options module Health Communication, as well as supervising many mentored projects and research dissertations for our SHC students. I also teach on and contribute to CHSTM's other UG and PGT teaching, including leading a postgrad module Risk: Science, Society, and Culture; in 2024-2025, Harriet Palfreyman and I are introducing a new UCIL unit titled Medicine and the Media, aimed at undergraduates from across the university.  I contribute to teaching elsewhere in the University, having contributed lectures and seminar sessions in SALC and SHS offering and I also frequently serve as a PBL tutor and a TPPD tutor for the MBChB Y1 and Y2. Finally, I am joint supervisor for several excellent PGR projects here in CHSTM, in Nursing, and elsewhere in the University. I also currently serve as External Examiner for Newcastle's MA in History of Medicine.

RESEARCH: I research and write about a number of aspects of the history of medicine, public health, and health care, and am especially interested in the social and cultural dynamics that inform expert-lay relationships around medical knowledge.  One ongoing focus has been the history of women's cancer prevention, treatment, and experience, but I also have participated in a number of research projects related to the history and social studies of STM. Most recently I co-authored papers on the history of arthritis treatment with Prof. Michael Worboys. I have also been involved in digital humanities projects as well as with medical humanities teaching and projects.  Previously, I also acted as chair for the steering committee of the Medical Humanities Laboratory, a Manchester-wide network of practitioners, scholars and teachers interested in the medical humanities, broadly construed.  Recently, I've become interested in how health professionals and everyday people interact on YouTube and other platforms, and have begun new projects around this.


Currently I am Programme Director for the MSc in Science and Health Communication, which is offered through the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM).  Modules I lead or co-lead include: Introduction to Science Communication; Introduction to Contemporary Science and Medicine; Science, Media, and Journalism; and Health Communication; and I contribute to Communicating Ideas.  I also, with deputy director Dr Harriet Palfreyman, organise the Mentored Project and Research Project/Dissertation components of the programme. 

I lecture, run seminars and advise for CHSTM's other PGT offering, the MA in HSTM; I give lectures and seminars for the modules Major Themes in HSTM and Historiography, and run a spring options module, Risk, as well as supervising MA dissertations.

I also currently serve as External Examiner for Newcastle's MA in History of Medicine.

In the past I have convened and taught several undergraduate modules for CHSTM, as well as postgraduate units.  Previous undergraduate teaching includes Madness and Society (Semester 2), Bodies in History (Sem 2), From Cholera to AIDS (Sem 1), From Baker St to CSI (Sem 1), Bioethics (Sem 2), and the Science and Society RSM (Sem 2).  At the postgrad level, I have previously convened Major Themes in Medical Humanities (Sem 1), and lectured on HSTM Skills (Sem 1); Medicine, Science and Modernity (Sem 2); and Making Modern Technology (Sem 2).

In 2024-2025, Harriet Palfreyman and I will be introducing a new UCIL module aimed at students from across the University, Medicine and the Media.

I regularly supervise 2YDs and FYPs for the School of Biological Sciences, and welcome self-arranged projects relating to history of women's health, history of patient experience, and science and health communication broadly construed.

I have contributed to several SALC modules in the Faculty of Humanities, and am happy to co-supervise MA and PhD students.

In the Manchester Medical School, I have been a Y1S2 PBL Tutor, a Y2S4 PBL Tutor and a PPD tutor.  I also supervise Y2 PEPs on a variety of subjects, as well as MSc dissertations in Medical Microbiology.

In previous years I was co-creator and co-director, with Dr Sarah Collins of the Manchester Medical School, of CHSTM's MSc pathway in Medical Humanities; this pathway has now been integrated into our MSc HSTM and MSc Sci & Health Comm programmes.

Research interests

I research and write about a number of aspects of the history of medicine, public health, and health care, and am especially interested in the social and cultural dynamics that inform expert-lay relationships around medical knowledge.

My earlier work has examined why and how British treatment for breast cancer changed from the 1920s to the 1980s, and what those changes meant to and for the women treated for the disease and the health care system that provided their treatment.  In particular, I have been interested in case studies illuminating the social, institutional, political, and cultural trends that shaped breast cancer treatment and public debates about it in post-war Britain. How were these debates of new medical research cultures, new health care structures, new ideas about patients’ rights and state obligations, new forms of illness identity, and new expressions of women’s political agency?  At the same time, I considered how changing patterns of treatment and the changing public profile of breast cancer have framed women’s everyday experiences of this disease.

My next project, Making Screening Work: The Smear, The Mammogram and Women’s Health in the UK, 1960-2000, was funded by the Wellcome Trust. This study examines how the cervical smear and the mammogram become routine health interventions for UK women.  I have been especially interested in how cervical and breast screening has become a female domain within UK medicine and public health, with the day-to-day labour generally performed by women technicians, paraprofessionals, and professionals.  I also consider how women’s cancer screening advocates, policymakers, and organizers drew on previous prevention programmes (such as tuberculosis screening) as both rhetorical analogy and practical model.  Finally, my study scrutinizes how health professionals, social scientists, and women’s organizations convinced (most) UK women that screening was not only worthwhile but necessary, and how both screening programs and screening technologies changed as a result of the participation, response, and demands of those everyday women.  I have given several invited presentations as well as conference papers on this research, and continue to work on articles related to this project.

In addition to these, I have researched and written about arthritis treatment in the mid-20th century UK with Prof. Michael Worboys, as well as on the research uses of text-mining with history of medicine materials.

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
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures
  • Christabel Pankhurst Institute


  • History of Medicine
  • History of Cancer
  • Cancer screening
  • Health communication
  • Patient experience
  • Health and lifestyle
  • Public health
  • Science communication


Dive into the research topics where Elizabeth Toon is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • 1 Similar Profiles