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Does pain have a history?

It’s easy to assume that we know what pain is. We’ve all experienced pain, from scraped knees and toothaches to migraines and heart attacks. When people suffer around us, or we witness a loved one in pain, we can also begin to ‘feel’ with them. But is this the end of the story?

In the three videos below Joanna Bourke, author of The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers, talks about her fascination with pain from a historical perspective. She argues that the ways in which people respond to what they describe as ‘painful’ have changed drastically since the eighteenth century, moving from a belief that it served a specific (and positive) function to seeing pain as an unremitting evil to be ‘fought’. She also looks at the interesting attitudes towards women and pain relief, and how they still exist today.

On the history of pain

How have our attitudes to pain changed?

On women and pain relief

Joanna Bourke is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is the prize-winning author of nine books, including histories of modern warfare, military medicine, psychology and psychiatry, the emotions, and rape. Her book An Intimate History of Killing (1999) won the Wolfson Prize and the Fraenkel Prize, and ‘Eyewitness’. She is also a frequent contributor to TV and radio shows, and a regular newspaper correspondent. Her latest book is The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers.

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