Dr Rebecca Whiteley BA MA PhD

Department of History
British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

Contact details

Department of History
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Rebecca Whiteley is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History. She is researching the history of medicine and sex in nineteenth-century Britain, through a study of printed visual culture across genres: medical illustration; satirical and ‘popular’ print; and pornography. Rebecca works on the intersections of visual and material culture, the history of medicine, and social history. She has published widely on the visual culture of early modern midwifery, and more recently has moved to study the nineteenth century, material cultures of medical education, and medicine and sex.


  • PhD, History of Art, University College London (2018)
  • MA, History of Art, University College London (2013)
  • BA, English Literature, University of Oxford (2008)


Having studied English Literature as an undergraduate, Rebecca moved to Art History for postgraduate study. Following her MA at UCL, Rebecca worked for a year as a curatorial intern at the Royal Library, Royal Collection, before returning to academic study. Her PhD was also undertaken in the History of Art Department, UCL, supervised by Professor Mechthild Fend and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. During her studies Rebecca won the Roy Porter Essay Prize administered by the Society for the Social History of Medicine, won an IPS research scholarship to the Huntington Library, California, edited the 2017 issue of the departmental journal Object, taught on various undergraduate courses including her own museums-based course on histories of print and knowledge, and worked as a curatorial assistant at the UCL Art Museum.

Following her PhD, Rebecca worked briefly as a cataloguer of prints at the British Library before being awarded the Shreeve Fellowship in the History of Medicine at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, University of Manchester. Alongside her research into the printed and medical collections at the library, Rebecca ran an academic conference and numerous public events, taught on courses in material culture, introductory art history and the history of the book, and wrote her own course on visual histories of the early modern body. She has also supervised research projects for the BSc in Humanities, Philosophy & Law, Imperial College London.

Her current postdoctoral fellowship, begun in 2023, is funded by the British Academy.


Rebecca works on the intersections of visual and material culture, the history of medicine, and social history. She has expertise in working with books as material objects and, in particular, with book illustrations. She has also worked with printed images, paper mobiles such as flap prints and models, and medical teaching collections in various media. As a PhD candidate, Rebecca worked on early modern visual cultures of pregnancy, drawing connections between medical book illustrations and wider cultures of medicine, the body, and gender.

As a postdoc, Rebecca has moved to explore the nineteenth century and has developed an interest in material culture methodologies. Looking at different kinds of objects: from flap prints to obstetric models to medical paintings, Rebecca has been exploring what a study of objects can tell us about histories of medicine, the body and education. In particular, Rebecca has been working on using such objects to focus on histories of under-studied groups, including midwives, pregnant people and women medical students.

Rebecca’s current project draws together different bodies of visual culture: medical illustrations, satirical print, and pornography, to trace a history of medicine and sex in the nineteenth century. Through visual and material analysis of these sources in conversation, she seeks to understand how both medical professionals and lay people managed the problematics of medicine as a profession that was constantly slipping into the improper or the sexually suspect.


Recent publications


Whiteley, R 2023, Birth Figures: Early Modern Prints and the Pregnant Body. Chicago University Press. <https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/B/bo183633353.html>


Whiteley, R 2021, 'Spratt’s Flaps: Midwifery, Creativity, and Sexuality in Early Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture', British Art Studies, no. 19. https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-19/rwhiteley

Whiteley, R 2017, 'Figuring Pictures and Picturing Figures: Images of the Pregnant Body and the Unborn Child in England, 1540–c.1680', Social History of Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1093/shm/hkx082

Whiteley, R 2017, 'The Limits of Seeing and Knowing: Early Modern Anatomy and the Uterine Membranes', Object. https://doi.org/10.14324/111.2396-9008.026

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Whiteley, R 2024, Book Illustrations: Jane Sharp’s The Midwives Book. in O Weisser (ed.), Early Modern Medicine: An Introduction to Source Analysis. 1 edn, Routledge, Oxford, pp. 297-323. <https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9781003094876-22/book-illustrations-rebecca-whiteley>


Whiteley, R 2022, The Radford Collection: Exploring and Experiencing the Mid Ninteenth-Century Midwifery Lecture. in J Nott & A Harris (eds), Making Sense of Medicine: Material Culture and the Reproduction of Medical Knowledge. Global Health Humanities, Intellect. <https://www.intellectbooks.com/making-sense-of-medicine>

Whiteley, R 2021, Prayer, Pregnancy and Print. in C Bowden, E Vine & T Whitehouse (eds), Religion and Life Cycles in Early Modern England. Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Studies, Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp. 40–64. https://doi.org/10.7765/9781526149244.00009

Book/Film/Article review

Whiteley, R 2024, 'Kathleen M. Crowther, Policing Pregnant Bodies from Ancient Greece to Post-Roe America Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2023. Pp. 288. ISBN 978-1-4214-4763-6. $29.95 (hardcover).', The British Journal for the History of Science. https://doi.org/10.1017/S000708742400030X

Other contribution

Whiteley, R 2019, Medical Images..

Whiteley, R 2019, Printing Images..

View all publications in research portal