Dr Maria Vaccarella

MA(Naples), PhD(Rome)

  • BS8 1TB

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Personal profile

Research interests

I work on the intersection of literature and medicine, and I am a member of the steering committee of the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science. My current research explores the genre of illness narratives, with a special focus on non-linear and non-triumphalistic plots. I am also interested in narrative medicine, critical disability studies, narrative bioethics, comparative literature, and graphic storytelling.

I am currently writing a monograph, Biomedicine in Contemporary Western Literature. Doctoring Stories (Palgrave), on what narrative theory can learn from illness narratives. It is a work of narratological criticism, which explores how biomedicine spurred the creation of illness narratives and what a better understanding of these narratives from different cultural contexts can contribute to literary and biomedical studies.

I have recently completed the project Illness as Fiction: Textual Afflictions in Print and Online, funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant. Drawing on research in literary criticism, psychiatry, and psychology, it illustrates how fake illness autobiographies are created, whether in the form of published books or in the realm of online peer-support communities (e.g. cases of Munchausen by Internet). I plan to continue my investigation of autofictional illness narratives (I currently have two journal articles on this topic under review) in a future project with pedagogical implications for medical education. 

Chronic conditions are a recurring theme in my research and its applications. I have collaborated with colleagues from the School of Clinical Sciences and the Bristol Heart Institute to implement a narrative approach to cardiology, while together with Dr Andrew Blades, I have co-organised academic and public events to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS (also in collaboration with Bristol-based charity The Brigstowe Project). You can read a clinically-relevant appreciation of my previous research on epilepsy here.

I joined the Department of English at the University of Bristol in September 2015, after conducting postdoctoral research at the Centre for the Humanities and Health, King’s College London, first as a Marie Curie Intra-European Postdoctoral Research Fellow, then funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes. Before joining the medical humanistic adventure, I moved my first academic steps in postcolonial and Irish studies with my PhD dissertation on the cultural politics of Anglo-Irish comedy. I have merged my early and recent research interests in minor projects, e.g. a medical humanistic reading of James Joyce’s 'The Sisters' and an exploration of William Wilde’s work to preserve Irish folk medicine.


Research supervision

I would welcome enquiries from students interested in pursuing doctoral and postdoctoral work on contemporary literature and medicine.



I teach or have taught on the following units:

  • (Y1) Critical Issues
  • (Y1) Texts in a Global Context
  • (Y2) Introduction to Medical Humanities
  • (Y2) Literature 1900 – Present
  • (Y3) Illness Narratives
  • (Y3) Literature and Medicine
  • (Y3) Literature 4
  • (MA) Introduction to Literary Research

I became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in 2013.

Structured keywords and research groupings

  • Centre for Humanities Health and Science
  • medical humanities
  • literature and medicine
  • narrative medicine
  • critical disability studies
  • narrative bioethics
  • comparative literature
  • graphic storytelling
  • autofiction
  • narratological criticism


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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