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, Doctoring Stories. Biomedicine in Contemporary Western Literature, on what narrative theory can learn from illness narratives. Starting from an exploration of biomedicine as a unifying, yet problematic transnational context, the book delves into the formal details of health-related contemporary writing across nations and languages.

I am also working on 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 will illustrate 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).

In TB2 2018-2019, I will take on an Institute of Advanced Studies Research Fellowship here at Bristol to work on my project Diversity in Ageing and Disability: An Intersectional Approach to Bodily Change in Later Life, which will look at how contemporary literature can help us understand what it means to grow old and disabled in a globalized world.

Chronic conditions are a recurring theme in my research and its applications. I collaborate 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 co-organise 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 work on any topic related to my research interests.



In AY 2018-2019 I will be on research leave. I have taught on the following units:

  • (Y1) Critical Issues

  • (Y1) Texts in a Global Context
  • (Y2) Introduction to Medical Humanities

  • (Y3) Illness Narratives

  • (Y3) Literature and Medicine

  • (Y3) Literature 4

  • (MA) Introduction to Literary Research

  • (MA) Literature 1940-1970: Writing after the War

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


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