Medical and public understanding of alcohol and the liver in the twentieth century


Professor Phil Withington (History), Professor Dermot Gleeson (Medicine), and Dr Richard Cooper (School of Health and Related Research)

The Project

Although first suggested as early as the seventeenth century, the idea that excessive alcohol consumption could cause liver disease developed slowly during the 20th century. Alcoholic related liver disease or ALD (meaning here the serious diseases alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis) is still incompletely understood. Also, although little studied, public understanding of alcohol and the liver appears to be limited – as illustrated by the common assumption that everyone with liver cirrhosis is a heavy drinker (they are not). This studentship will trace developments since 1900 regarding the understanding and perceptions of alcohol and the liver. It will consider the changing nature of knowledge amongst the biomedical community, including views on whether alcohol indeed damages the liver and how it does so; it will explore popular attitudes and assumptions about alcohol and liver disease; and it will examine the communication – and miscommunication – of ideas and information between the medical community and society at large. This work will accordingly shed light on the complex, ambivalent and sometimes self-contradictory attitudes amongst the biomedical community and the general public to alcohol excess and one of its major health consequences.

The Network

This project is one of three in a University-funded network studying the impact of shame and stigma in a variety of diseases. All projects are interdisciplinary collaborative projects coordinated by Medical Humanities Sheffield. The projects will run in a network with regular meetings, providing cross-discipline insights into clinically relevant problems, with a translational humanities perspective.

Entry Requirements

Candidates must have a relevant first or upper second class honors degree or significant research experience.


Interested candidates should in the first instance contact Professor Phil Withington.

How to apply

Please send your cover letter, CV, references and transcripts to Ms Jodie Burnham (

Closing date

18 April 2014