John Pickstone

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John Pickstone

John Pickstone (29 May 1944 – 12 February 2014) was a British historian of science and the Wellcome Research Professor in the Centre for the History of science, Technology and Medicine, in the Faculty of Life Sciences of the University of Manchester. [1] [2]

History of science study of the historical development of science and scientific knowledge

The history of science is the study of the development of science and scientific knowledge, including both the natural and social sciences. Science is a body of empirical, theoretical, and practical knowledge about the natural world, produced by scientists who emphasize the observation, explanation, and prediction of real-world phenomena. Historiography of science, in contrast, studies the methods employed by historians of science.

Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their physical structure, chemical processes, molecular interactions, physiological mechanisms, development and evolution. Despite the complexity of the science, there are certain unifying concepts that consolidate it into a single, coherent field. Biology recognizes the cell as the basic unit of life, genes as the basic unit of heredity, and evolution as the engine that propels the creation and extinction of species. Living organisms are open systems that survive by transforming energy and decreasing their local entropy to maintain a stable and vital condition defined as homeostasis.

University of Manchester public research university in Manchester, England

The University of Manchester is a public research university in Manchester, England, formed in 2004 by the merger of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the Victoria University of Manchester. The University of Manchester is a red brick university, a product of the civic university movement of the late 19th century.


Early years

Pickstone was born and raised in Burnley, Lancashire, England. After attending Burnley Grammar School, he studied Natural sciences, especially physiology, at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. After his degree he took an MSc in History and philosophy of science at University College London, 1969, and completed his PhD at Chelsea College London, 1974 (on general physiology in early 19th-century France, especially the work of Dutrochet on osmosis). He has held fellowships in History of medicine at the University of Minnesota (1971–73) and at University College London (1974), before moving in 1974 to the Department of History of science and technology, UMIST, Manchester, to work on the history of hospitals in the Manchester region (Lecturer, 1977, later Senior Lecturer). [2]

Burnley market town in Lancashire, England

Burnley is a town in Lancashire, England, with a 2001 population of 73,021. It is 21 miles (34 km) north of Manchester and 20 miles (32 km) east of Preston, at the confluence of the River Calder and River Brun.

Burnley Grammar School was latterly, a state-funded selective boys grammar School, situated in Byron Street in Burnley, England. However, during its long history, it moved between a number of sites in the town.

Natural science branch of science about the natural world

Natural science is a branch of science concerned with the description, prediction, and understanding of natural phenomena, based on empirical evidence from observation and experimentation. Mechanisms such as peer review and repeatability of findings are used to try to ensure the validity of scientific advances.

The middle years

In 1985–86, as part of a rationalisation, he moved to the Victoria University of Manchester and established the Centre for the History of Science and Technology (CHSTM), including the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine and the National Archive for the History of computing before directing the Centre until 2002 when he became a Research Professor. [3]

Victoria University of Manchester British university (1851-2004)

The former Victoria University of Manchester, now the University of Manchester, was founded in 1851 as Owens College. In 1880, the college joined the federal Victoria University, gaining an independent university charter in 1904 as the Victoria University of Manchester after the collapse of the federal university.

The history of computing is longer than the history of computing hardware and modern computing technology and includes the history of methods intended for pen and paper or for chalk and slate, with or without the aid of tables.

Latterly, Pickstone published mainly on modern medical history, e.g. cancer and medical technology; but also on regional history of STM, on which he edited two journal numbers in 2007. With Roberta Bivins, he edited a volume in honour of the late Roy Porter (Palgrave, 2007) and with Peter Bowler, edited the Cambridge University Press History of Science volume on Modern Earth and Life Sciences (2008). 'Ways of Knowing' [4] continues to attract attention, including a special session at the American history of science conference in Washington, DC, 2007, and an invitation to produce an Osiris volume. With his work on recent medical history, it attracted international invitations; in 2007–2008, this included visits to Yale University, Pennsylvania, Paris, Maastricht, Berlin and Mexico.

Roy Sydney Porter, FBA was a British historian known for his important work on the history of medicine. He retired in 2001 from the director of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine at University College, London (UCL).

For the University of Manchester, he initiated a series of 'Interfaculty Lectures', and with friends in Manchester Metropolitan University and the City, planned a major local history festival for 2009.[ citation needed ][ needs update ]

Manchester Metropolitan University university in Manchester, England

Manchester Metropolitan University is a public university located in Manchester, England. The university traces its origins to the Manchester Mechanics Institute and the Manchester School of Design, which formed Manchester Polytechnic in 1970. Manchester Polytechnic then gained university status under the government's Further and Higher Education Act, becoming the Manchester Metropolitan University in 1992. Today, it is headquartered in the city of Manchester, with additional facilities in Cheshire.

Local history is the study of history in a geographically local context and it often concentrates on the local community. It incorporates cultural and social aspects of history. Local history is not merely national history writ small but a study of past events in a given geographical but one that is based on a wide variety of documentary evidence and placed in a comparative context that is both regional and national. Historic plaques are one form of documentation of significant occurrences in the past and oral histories are another.

Research interests

Pickstone's research interests mostly included aspects of recent medicine, such as the Wellcome project on the history of cancer in Britain, work on medical technology, the history of mental health services, and a collaborative project with the NCRDPC on recent changes in the NHS. He is increasingly interested in the uses of history for health policy. [3]

Mental health Describes a level of psychological well-being, or an absence of a mental disorder

Mental health is a level of psychological well-being or an absence of mental illness - the state of someone who is "functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment". From the perspectives of positive psychology or of holism, mental health may include an individual's ability to enjoy life, and to create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes "subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence, and self-actualization of one's intellectual and emotional potential, among others." The WHO further states that the well-being of an individual is encompassed in the realization of their abilities, coping with normal stresses of life, productive work and contribution to their community. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how one defines "mental health".

His wider work on 'Big Pictures' and 'Ways of Knowing' grew from a conviction that through some of the hundreds of excellent papers produced in history of science, technology and medicine since the 1960s, we might develop new and better frames for understanding long-term history. He explored these themes in relation to medical technologies, science-art relations, science-technology relations, and the display of HSTM in museums. [3]


(Some of his writings have his name as 'John V. Pickstone'.)






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  1. "Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (The University of Manchester)". Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  2. 1 2 Michael Worboys. "John Pickstone obituary". Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 ": Contact Details (Faculty of Life Sciences – The University of Manchester)". Archived from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  4. "Ways of Knowing: A New History of Science, Technology, and Medicine – John V. Pickstone – Google Books". Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  5. "Imaging: revealing the world within – Thomas and Pickstone 334 (1): s12 – BMJ". Retrieved 3 September 2013.