Wednesday 15 May 2019

Facing the future by Fay Bound Alberti

This will be my last History Girls blogpost, at least for now.

I was recently awarded a UK Research and Innovation Fellowship to study the emotional and cultural history of face transplants - not yet a reality in the UK but since 2005 a method of surgically treating severe facial trauma in many countries. You can learn more about that news here.

Although most of the ethical and experimental groundwork had been carried out in the UK, France was the first country to undertake a face transplant - on Isabelle Dinoire, who had been savaged by her own dog. America, Spain, Mexico and China have all contributed to the “face race”, with varying degrees of success. 

From the vantage point of a historian of emotion, what is striking is the lack of coherent, psychological understanding of the global impact of face transplants. We have no long term data on their emotional effects, or the challenge they might post to the idea of the self.

And how much more problematic are questions of identity, appearance and emotional wellbeing in the age of the selfie, when looks seem to be everything?

Which is where my project comes in. I will be working with people living with disfigurement (as a legal term though not a comfortable one), surgeons, nurses, face transplant recipients and donor families. And thinking about what face transplants mean at a cultural level - working with artists, writers (including History Girls' own Louisa Young) - ethicists and philosophers.

This is a transformative opportunity for me, and a chance to make an impact in a complex but critical field. It's also a major time commitment, which is why I have to say farewell for now.

There is always a silver lining: taking my place will be the historian Susan Vincent. Sue was my PhD contemporary at the University of York, and she has written wonderful books on the histories of clothing, hair and fashion. I interviewed her for this blog back in November 2018.

Thanks for everything, fellow History Girls and readers! Keep in touch. 


abigail brieson said...

Your work will certainly be interesting, perhaps a bit difficult at times, and probably beneficial to many. Best of luck and you will be missed!

Sue Purkiss said...

This sounds fascinating and important - good luck!

Fay Bound Alberti said...

Thank you Abigail and Sue