Storytelling, Health and Illness

Throughout history, people have felt a need to tell each other stories about the ordinary as well as the surprising experiences of being alive, particularly in relation to health, wellbeing, illness, disease and death. Telling stories was – and still is – a way of recording and grappling with the origins, causes and prevention of illnesses and disease that surrounded them in everyday life.

These stories are increasingly being uncovered in historic diaries, journals, records and manuscripts, and now take their place alongside contemporary forms of storytelling such as blogs, vlogs, medical texts and online research. What we are discovering is that health, illness, disease and dying have and continue to be documented in all sorts of fascinating ways and using a plethora of diverse forms.

Literature offers us poetry, prose, plays, autobiographies. Art brings visual power, both moving and still, in the form of paintings, pictures, illustrations, cartoons, street art and even graffiti. From its inception, photography has told the tale of bodies recovering from war, from giving of birth, from the taking of life and all points in between. Moving pictures, film, cinematography, theatre, ballet bring dramatic performances of health and illness to public life. Music, from opera to metal, punk to electronica remembers and retells stories of just how intense the experience of health and illness can be.

Today is a great day to be sick!  Huge numbers of resources are available for people to do research, to learn about illnesses affecting others, to aid people who are calling for help or to document one’s own illness or the illnesses of others. Today is also a great time to stay healthy. Stories uncover facts about fad diets, how something as simple as washing one’s hands can cut back on the spread of influenza; that walking, fortunately, can be as healthy as running with less strain on one’s body; the avoidance of foods which cause allergies, the wider availability of nutritional foods and ingredients.

Medical ‘literacy’ is now within easy reach. Yet with it there has also been a rise of online self-diagnosis, hypochondria, the ignore-ance or bypassing of expertise and the spread of dubious or even cynical forms of information. The rise of the health ‘industry’ has spawned both helpful and dangerous influences in relation to our thirst for well being.

This inclusive interdisciplinary conference is about sharing stories and documentation of health and illness with a view to forming a selective innovative publication to engender further collaboration and discussion.


Once Upon a Time There Was a Virus….
Storytelling, Health and Illness
Saturday 31st August 2019 – Sunday 1st September 2019
Lisbon, Portugal

Due to unforeseen logistical conflicts, the conference has unfortunately been postponed to 2020. New dates to be released shortly.