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Durham University

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Dr Ruben Verwaal

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Member of the Department of History

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Ruben studied history of the sciences and humanities at Utrecht University and wrote a MA thesis on the reception and dissemination of Chinese medicine in early modern Europe. He worked at the University Museum and Dutch Railway Museum before starting a PhD within the NWO Vidi project ‘Vital Matters’ at Groningen University. His PhD project ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ investigated how the chemistry of bodily fluids helped establish a new medical system in eighteenth-century Europe.

Since 2018 Ruben works as curator of the medical collections at Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam. Now he has joined the Institute for Medical Humanities, Durham University, to conduct his NWO Rubicon postdoc project (2019-2022) on deafness and hearing difference.


The aim of my new research project ‘Deafness in Transition’ is to uncover cultural experiences and medical perceptions of deafness in early modern Europe. I focus on both social and medical perceptions of deafness, which includes both the profoundly deaf and those with hearing difficulty as the result of disease, accident, old age, or changing social and cultural requirements. This provides a new and more inclusive vintage-point to look at deaf history.

In conversation with deaf or hard-of-hearing people and audiologists today, the project seeks to present an eighteenth-century model of deafness as a helpful alternative to reconsider today’s challenge of inclusion. I will set up private-public partnerships to develop a permanent exhibition in the Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam. This critical space will be designed to stimulate reflection and push for discussion among patients, clinicians, and students.

Research Groups

Department of History

Research Interests

  • Bodily fluids
  • Critical medical humanities
  • Deafness and hearing
  • History of science and medicine
  • Medical heritage

Selected Publications

Authored book

Chapter in book

Journal Article

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Selected Grants

  • 2019: NWO Rubicon grant