CHHS + History Department Research Seminar: Professor Brian Ward

In April the Centre for Health,  Humanities and Science hosted a joint research seminar with the History Department at the University of Bristol. We were joined by Professor Brian Ward who spoke on ‘Sex, Drugs and Country Music: Loretta Lynn and the Health Environment in Mid-20th Century Kentucky’.

Born in Kentucky in 1932, Loretta Lynn is one of post-World War Two country music’s biggest female stars, boasting a slew of hit records and awards, and three best-selling autobiographies, one of which (Coal Miner’s Daughter) spawned a successful, Oscar-winning feature film. Although critics have long applauded Lynn for her realistic depictions of female rural working-class life, few have paid attention to how much her art and life-story have to tell us about the changing health environment in rural Kentucky in the mid-to-late 20th Century.

Ward’s talk explored how Lynn’s personal experience of many of the most pressing health concerns in her home state, including ‘black lung’ (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis), TB, congenital colour blindness, stroke, and mental illness, informed her songs and life-writings. In particular, the talk focused on how her songs and life-writings provide intimate, sometimes unusually candid, personal insights into issues surrounding women’s reproductive health, sex education and the domestic consequences of alcoholism, and maps them against important changes in health care policies and practices, and the development of medical knowledge, in Kentucky and the broader US during the mid-20th Century.


Contact: Brian Ward

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