By Sam Campbell |

I recently attended the Beyond Lepers and Leeches: Medieval and Early Modern Medicine conference* at the University of Edinburgh. My own subject area is what you might term ‘gay history’ – but I shan’t spend time here explaining the anachronistic and paradoxical complexities of the term (you’ll have to invite me to another conference for that!)- which is one of those subject that crosses into many areas of history. My research centres on court records, popular print, and sexual discourse, so it was more a coincidence that I happened to recently discover some medical texts at the time the call for papers was sent out. I sent in a proposal, my abstract was accepted, and I found myself putting together a paper on ‘Sexuality and Science: Sodomy and Early Modern Gay Cures’ (another anachronism, but one that is catchier than ‘Early Modern medicinal means of overcoming same-sex sexual attraction amongst men’!).

By the time of the conference a lot had changed. My partner and I were moving to London, and as he was starting a new job so it turned out that the only possible moving date was the day immediately after the conference. Prior to the conference I had been sent about five emails about my annual review (I didn’t know what this entailed, and I remain only a shadow of my former self since finding out) and was also due to meet my supervisor the same day my parents were visiting. As I am moving I also had to clear out my office and pack all of my things, whilst trying to finish the paper, make the most of the final week in (what was at the time) sunny Cumbria, sell a fridge-freezer and finish a pile of marking.

I had a feeling it was going to be busier than average week. Unfortunately my supervisor meeting went well, lulling me into a false sense of security. The next day the unspeakable happened; my partner and I went to the park! As I sat in the blazing sunshine overlooking Morecambe Bay I began to wonder about my paper. The beauty of the countryside was lost on me, too concerned with the horrific abomination my paper was surely becoming with every moment spent outside being a person. Fortunately it became overcast and we started to freeze, so hurried home where I could start hacking at my creation until it resembled a logical, easy to follow account of seventeenth century medicine.

In typical PhD student style my self-confidence and sense of worth oscillated with my mood and once a buyer contacted me about buying my fridge I suddenly felt as though the paper before me was a masterpiece. This good mood was maintained (with the help of some chocolate and productive writing) for another two days until Thursday evening. By this time, we were mostly packed, I had managed to remove any trace of review-related anxiety from my mind, I had picked up my train tickets (bank holiday trains meant a six hour return journey) and I generally felt quite positive about the conference, the move, and the fridge. It was then that I learnt the hard way that you cannot rely on a person who puts asterisks in their username, because the buyer pulled out.

Friday came, I had my paper printed and my bag packed for Edinburgh. By this point I had managed to stop worrying about the conference. The train to Edinburgh was pleasant, and felt very short. I am good friends with a PhD student at the university so was looking forward to seeing her and relaxing a little. After an Italian and a bottle of Prosecco it was conference day, thanks to a mixture of speaking in the afternoon and being distracted by some very interesting papers, I was able to stave off any nerves until I sat down with my panel. Both of them turned to me and said they were really looking forward to hearing me speak, as it sounded like an interesting paper. I was encouraged by their kind words, and didn’t really feel the nerves until I stood up to talk. Once I was in the swing of things, I don’t think anyone could tell I was nervous – or at least I hoped they couldn’t and I was reassured by a sea of interested looking faces.

Samuel Campbell on Sodomy and Gay Cures


Because of my travel arrangements I had to leave the conference before the final panel, but I was able to stay for the Q&A and was encouraged by the range and number of good and thoughtful questions people had about my paper. Afterwards I retreated to the break room for some brain cake (you read that correctly) and was quite overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to my paper – I was struck between not wanting to miss my train and being approached by people with compliments and questions about my research.

For anyone who like me, found themselves doubting their research, getting to a conference and sharing it will show you how interested and enthusiastic people are about what you have to share. Clearly the stars had aligned themselves in my favour that day, as I finished the marking on the train and when I got back to Lancaster at about ten to midnight found the van had been packed up, and by some strange miracle the fridge gone. So in true Aesopian manner, I would like to finish with a quote: ‘You don’t drown by falling in the water.  You drown by staying there.’

(Still worrying about my annual review – but the move went well!)

Sam Campbell is a first year PhD student at the University of Lancaster studying the interpretation of sodomy and pre-modern sexual identity in England. Follow him on Twitter @Samochist. 

*Beyond Leeches and Lepers was funded by The British Society for the History of Science, The Society for Renaissance Studies and the University of Edinburgh Student Lead Initiative Fund.

(Image 1:; Image 2: © Helen Smith)