Enthralling Interdisciplinarity at the Inaugural Congress of the NNMHR (blog post by Diana Beljaars, Cardiff University)

Diana Beljaars is PhD Researcher at the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University, and her project situates on the intersection of human geography, medical humanities, health and disability geography, and the medical and clinical sciences of Tourette syndrome.

Arriving in a beautiful late summer Durham, I made my way to Van Mildert College passing through its stunning historic centre and sun-kissed parks. Its quiet grandeur would come to set the tone for the conference, as it would turn out to be one of the most interesting and inspiring ones I’ve attended to date.

Its interdisciplinary character was one of its greatest appeals, but as an early career human geographer being relatively new to the medical humanities, I wasn’t quite sure how to contribute. Nonetheless, from the start it became clear that the debates were very open and accessible, and taking part came very naturally. Indeed, the ease with which people from different disciplinary backgrounds engaged in stimulating discussions was apparent at every stage of the varied programme. In particular the Open Space sessions, self-organised and attended by people with an interest in a similar topic, worked very well for me. The session on social and biological models of illness was enthralling, and I found myself working through what was said many days after.

One highlight was the ‘Market place’, during which research projects were exhibited by the people involved. It was a great set-up for easily starting conversations, and it helped me a lot in overcoming any nerves associated with networking. It gave me the opportunity to meet people who are part of fascinating projects, finding shared passions, and having brilliant conversations!

Another absolute favourite was the provocations panel. This session offered opportunities to get your ideas out there in a short and snappy way. I had fully embraced the invitation to be provocative, which challenged me to push the message just that much further. Humbled by the work of my fellow panellists, I learned a lot about art practice involving DNA, new materialism and abortion, academic working conditions, and critical theory and cognitive sciences. The discussions afterward were very enjoyable, and they extended deep into the evening.

The conference was truly one of a kind, and it helped me develop my voice beyond human geography in such a profound way. I’ve met some amazingly interesting people beyond my immediate disciplinary scope, and I will certainly keep following their work closely. I particularly appreciated the freedom to share and discuss concerns that wouldn’t be articulated to such extents in disciplinary conferences.

I’d like to extend my gratitude to the conference organisers for doing such a great job, the Centre for Medical Humanities for hosting it, and the NNMHR for granting me a bursary. I’m looking forward to next year’s edition, but hope to continue conversations before then!

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