Sleep in Historical Perspective
The aim of this project is to put current scientific and medical research on sleep into dialogue with work in the humanities exploring the history of cultural concerns with the disruption of sleep. Although sleep is a physiological process, it is very much bound by social and cultural norms and assumptions. By offering a broad historical perspective on current issues, the project aims to cast new light on some of the challenges in contemporary research.
The work arose out of the ERC project, ‘Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives’ (2014-19), led by Professor Sally Shuttleworth in the English Faculty at Oxford. This research focused on the perceived stresses and strains of modern life, as experienced in the late nineteenth-century, with sleeplessness being one of the prime indicators of this modern ‘diseased’ state.
Moving outwards from this period, the team ran, with Russell Foster, a conference at the Royal Society exploring the relationship between sleep and stress from the medieval period to current times. A selection of the papers, from both humanities scholars and scientists, has been published as a special issue of the Royal Society journal, Sleep and Stress, Past and Present, Interface Focus 10:3 (June 2020), eds. Catherine Charlwood, Sally Shuttleworth and Russell Foster.