Neil Pemberton

Neil Pemberton, BA, MA, PGCE


Personal profile



It was during my undergraduate degree in history at the University of Warwick where I first encountered the potential of the medical humanities for reflecting on the relationship between health, wellbeing and culture. After a brief spell as a secondary school teacher teaching history, I then enrolled for a MA in History and Anthropology of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester.  In 2005, I completed a PhD, also at the University of Manchester. 

Since 2005, I have worked at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, as a postdoctoral researcher. Here, I have worked independently and collaboratively on several externally funded projects, work that has culminated in a number of books, journal articles, edited volumes and public engagement activities. During this period my research developed into two main research streams. The first one explored the historical development of trace-based forensic science and medicine and their reshaping of the investigative practices and protocols of murder investigations in twentieth-century Britain. One of the main highlights of this research was my reconstruction of the forensic investigations into but also the wider cultural meanings and politics surrounding the killing spree of John Christie murders at 10 Rillington Place in 1950s Britain; a case complexly entangled with the end of the death penality and the backstreet abortion trade.  My second research stream examined the social and cultural history of canine-human relations in nineteenth-century Britain, during which I used the disease rabies, the ascendance of the pedigree dog show and hunting practices and blood sports as lenses with which to interrogate Victorian culture and society. In more recent years, this research stream has extended into the twentieth century to explore the politics of dog-walking and dog dirt in post-war Britain.

In January 2017, I joined a Wellcome Trust funded interdisciplinary project and research team led by Robert Kirk. Entitled "Multispecies Medicine" this project critically explores the different ways in which medicine have formed partnerships with nonhuman animals to enhance wellbeing and health. My main contribution to this project is a historical study of the emergence of the guide-dog human partnership.  



Research interests


At the moment I have two core, on-going research projects.

1. Cultures of Interdependence and the Making of the Guide-Dog-Human Partnership

I am writing a transatlantic history of guide-dog-human partnership in twentieth century America and Britain through a close analysis of the practices and processes for produciing the constructive partnership between the blind user and the guide dog. It is my foundational premise that this interdependent relationship emerged and 'co-evolved' through specific, historical engagements between dogs and humans, sighted and non-sighted. It explores how over time these engagements became embodied in institutional practices, in training and breeding regimes developed by guide dog organisations, communicated in literary and televisual culture (for example, Blue Peter!), and of course in the private and public lives of blind people themselves. The project tracks how the guide-dog-human partnershp was assembled, performed and re/imaged over the course of the twentieth century at four principal sites: the guide dog school, the breeding colony, the public imagination and at the level of the individual.

This is an ambitous study. It draws upon cultural history, animal studies, disability studies, medical humanities and historical ethnography. As a further part of this project, I am drawing upon techniques from visual anthropology to explore the interpretative possibilities of film in capturing and analysisng the role of nonverbal communication and affect in guide-dog-human partnerships.

2. The Affective Politics of Dog Dirt and Disgust in Modern Britain

You could be forgiven to think that dog fouling and dog walking have no history. Yet over the past eighty years the rules and ettiquette governing this aspect of the human-dog dyad and their access to public space has changed considerably over time.

This project explores historical and recent shifts in the perceptions and management of dogs' toiletry habits to provide a lens upon significant changes in Birtish environments, social, culural and political life, and human-dog companion relations. It critically examines when, why, how and the different ways in which dog faeces came to be understood as 'dirt'  (i.e. as 'matter-out-of-place'), the contexts in which the recent practice of 'scooping the poop' sprang from, and how dogs' association with dirt is mediated by the affect of disgust.

History reminds us that debates over dog faeces belong or who should clean-up are really the tip of a mostly submerged argument about power: who has the right to determine accepatble uses of public space and who has the right to determine what constitute risk and danger.  

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 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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