Melissa Dickson – Principal Investigator, UK team

Melissa Dickson is currently an Associate Professor in Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of Birmingham, with an interest in circuits of communication, and the transfer of ideas across literary, scientific, and medical fields of inquiry in the nineteenth century. Her first book, Cultural Encounters with the Arabian Nights in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2010), explored the ways that the stories travelled across time, place, and culture, to offer new resonances and become meaningful in different contexts. Her more recent work investigates nineteenth-century cultural, literary, and medical understandings of stress, overwork, and other disorders associated in the period with the problems of modernity. With Amelia Bonea, Jennifer Wallis and Sally Shuttleworth, she is a co-author of Anxious Times: Medicine and Modernity in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2019), and she also co-edited the volume Progress and Pathology: Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century (2020) with Sally Shuttleworth and Emilie Taylor-Pirie. She is currently completing a monograph on explorations of the body’s physiological and psychological responses to sound and music in the nineteenth century, tentatively titled The Other Side of Silence and in July 2023, she will be joining the University of Queensland as a Senior Lecturer in Literature.

As part of MEDEP, Melissa and her team will be analysing media as well as broader literary and cultural responses to influenza pandemics of the past as counterparts to the current pandemic. Work will focus on the so-called ‘Russian Flu’ of 1889-90, the now topical ‘Spanish’ flu of 1918, and the subsequent, milder influenza pandemics in 1957-8 (the ‘Asian Flu’) and 1968 (the ‘Hong Kong Flu’). Research will draw on public debates and reports in the medical and general press as to the cause, spread, and treatment of influenza, including adverts for home remedies and treatments, as well as fictional representations of influenza sufferers and their families. Tracking the interplay between literary and medical discourses, it will also consider the debates connecting influenza to the social and cultural anxieties of each moment, such as mental illness, morality, sexual deviance, increased suicide rates and immigration.