Biography and Research Interests
I am primarily a historian of the mind sciences. I am interested in what happens when disciplines like anthropology and psychiatry come together and produce new knowledge about human subjects. In 2013 I obtained an MA in history from the University of Sydney. My thesis examined the work of Australian psychiatrist John Ewart Cawte. Beginning in the early 1960s Cawte led pioneering expeditions to Australian Aboriginal communities to survey the nature and prevalence of mental illness and what he termed "social disintegration." I situated Cawte's hypotheses about "the Aboriginal mind" within the contemporary political context of assimilation. Since then, my research interests have extended well beyond the boundaries of Australia.
At the moment my research is focused on the formation of the World Health Organization and the rise of global epidemiological psychiatry in the years following the Second World War. In particular, I am researching the WHO's studies on schizophrenia across cultural boundaries. I want to demonstrate the processes through which concepts such as "culture" were absorbed and appropriated by the WHO and other actors in this period. I plan on undertaking extensive archival research in Geneva beginning in September of 2017.
In the Spring of 2017 I completed general examinations with professors in the following fields:
Professor Keith Wailoo: The History of Medicine and Public Health.
Professor Katja Guenther: The History of Psychiatry.
Professor Erika Milam: The History of the Human Sciences.
Professor Gyan Prakash: Colonial Knowledge.
I am formally affiliated with the Department of History at the University of Sydney and was also affiliated with Professor Warwick Anderson's collective project Race and Ethnicity in the Global South. My profile for the latter can be found at: http://sydney.edu.au/arts/regs/people/postgrads.shtml. In the past I have acted as a peer reviewer for the journal Health and History.
Alongside an MA in history, I have a BA (History) and a Masters in Development Studies (Department of Anthropology), both from the University of Sydney.
- David Robertson, Raymond L. Specht and Barry Nurcombe, ‘Assessment of Mental Health in Indigenous Australians: The Role of John Ewart Cawte, a Pioneer in Transcultural Research’, Health and History, vol. 16, no. 2, (2014), pp. 107-114.