Professor Gayle Davis (MA (hons), MPhil, PhD)

Professor of the History of Medicine


Born and bred in 'the other place' - Glasgow - I graduated with MA (honours) in History (1996) and MPhil in History and Computing (1997) from the University of Glasgow. I then made the dramatic journey to Edinburgh to complete my doctorate in the then Economic & Social History department (2001). I was deeply fortunate to be adopted by two tremendous social historians, acting as Research Associate to Professor Roger Davidson at the University of Edinburgh (2001-4) and Professor Anne Crowther at the University of Glasgow (2004-6). In 2007 I had the great fortune to return to the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh in a permanent capacity, upon receiving a Wellcome Trust University Award.

Undergraduate teaching

  • The Making of the Modern Body (pre-honours)
  • Historical Skills and Methods I pathway (honours)
  • Historical Skills and Methods II pathway (honours)
  • Sex and Society in Britain since c.1830 (honours)
  • Madness and Society in Britain since c.1830 (honours)
  • Disease, Medicine and Society in Britain since 1750 (honours)
  • Supervise MA dissertations (honours)

Postgraduate teaching

  • Medicine and Society in Modern Britain (MSc)
  • Historical Methodology pathway (MSc)
  • Economic and Social Theory for Historical Analysis (MSc)
  • Directed Reading and Research (MSc)
  • Supervise MSc, MScR & PhD dissertations

Current PhD students supervised

Name - Degree - Thesis topic -Supervision type

Jessica Campbell - PhD - Alternative Therapies in British Psychiatry since c. 1840 - Primary

Abigail Fletcher - PhD - From Partition to Decriminalisation: Homosexuality in Northern Ireland, 1921-82 - Joint

Barbara Gabeler - PhD - A Conspiracy of Silence: Abortion, Birth Control and Eugenics in Early Twentieth-Century Scotland - Primary

Laura Scobie - PhD - Material Spirits: Objects, Past and Landscape in Contemporary Scottish Whisky - Secondary

Past PhD students supervised

Name - Degree - Thesis topic -Supervision type - Completion Year

Vesna Curlic - PhD - The Other on Britain's Doorstep: Medicine, Immigration and Ethnicity in Britain, 1880-1914 - Primary - 2023

Megan Turner - MScR - The Impact of Cotton Textile Factories on Women’s Workplace, Occupational and Reproductive Health Experiences (c.1930-1970) - Primary - 2023

Moritz Kaiser - PhD - The Life Course of the Inmates of Anglican Magdalen Homes in England, c.1850-1914 - Secondary - 2023

Joan Fraser - MScR - Elevating the Poor: The Origins, Activities and Evolution of the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor, c,1868-1919 - Primary - 2021

Axelle Champion - PhD - Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in France and Scotland, c.1870-1914 - Primary - 2021

Giulia Accorsi - PhD visiting - General Paralysis of the Insane in Brazil and its Impact on the Psychiatric Profession, 1860-1924 -  Secondary - 2020

Rian Sutton - PhD - The Narrative Agency of Women Accused of Homicide: New York City and London, 1880-1914 - Secondary - 2020

Petra Ukota - MScR - Queering Gender in Eighteenth-Century Britain: The Construction of Non-Binary Gender - Secondary - 2020

Daisy Cunynghame - PhD - The Role of the Edinburgh, Kelso, and Newcastle Dispensaries in Charitable Relief, 1776-1810 Secondary - 2020

Campbell, Jessica - MScR - A Hidden History? Exploring and Evaluating the Use of Oral History to Uncover Staff Perspectives of Dingleton Hospital's Therapeutic Community from c.1962 - Primary - 2019

Haward, Barbara - PhD - Telegraphists' Cramp: The Emergence and Disappearance of an Occupational Disease between 1875 and 1930 - Secondary - 2019

Campbell, Jessica - MScR - Exploring Space and Identity Through an Examination of Scottish Asylum Magazines Since c.1845 - Primary - 2018

O'Neill, Jane - PhD - Youth, Sexuality and Courtship in Scotland, 1945-80 - Primary - 2017

Woods, Kathryn - PhD - The Display of the Body in Eighteenth-Century Britain - Joint - 2015

Palacz, Michal - PhD - The Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, 1941-1949 - Secondary - 2015

Settle, Louise - PhD - Policing the ‘Social Evil’: Prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow, 1892-1939 - Secondary - 2013

Wood, James - PhD - Alcohol, Degeneracy, and Racial Poisoning in Scottish Psychiatry, 1860-1920 - Secondary - 2011

Woods, Kathryn - MScR - The Development of the Authority of Science and the Body, 1700-1900: The Naturalisation of Difference. - Secondary - 2010

Settle, Louise - MScR - Confronting the Social Evil - Secondary - 2009

Research summary


  • Britain & Ireland
  • Scotland


  • Culture
  • Medicine, Science & Technology
  • Society


  • Nineteenth Century
  • Twentieth Century & After

Research interests

My general research interest is the social history of medicine over the last two centuries. I am particularly fascinated by the uplifting histories of reproductive health and sexuality, madness and psychiatry, and death. 

Current research interests

I mainly explore the interface between reproductive health, clinical practice and the law in post-World War II Britain. Having embarked upon previous case studies on stillbirth, abortion, contraception, infertility and menstruation, I recently wrote up a more sustained research project on the history of abortion with the seriously magnificent Professor Sally Sheldon (University of Bristol Law School). 'The Abortion Act (1967): A Biography' offers a fundamental reevaluation of the 1967 legislation, from the fierce contestation that dogged its formative first two decades through to its current venerable position as one of the oldest extant pieces of statute to govern modern medical practice.

Project activity

  • The Abortion Act (1967): A Biography (AHRC funded)
  • The Social, Medical and Political Response to Infertility in Later Twentieth-Century Scotland (Wellcome Trust funded)
  • The Scottish Way of Birth and Death: Vital Statistics, the Medical Profession and the State, 1854-1970 (Wellcome Trust funded)
  • Health, Sexuality and the State in Scotland, 1950-1980 (Wellcome Trust funded)

The list below is a subset of the information held on the University of Edinburgh PURE system, and includes Books, Chapters, Articles and Conference contributions. For a full list, including details of other publication types (e.g. reviews), please see the Edinburgh Research Explorer page for Professor Gayle Davis.

Books - Authored

Sheldon, S., Davis, G., O'Neill, J. and Parker, C. (2022) The Abortion Act 1967: A Biography of a UK Law. Cambridge University PressDOI:

Davidson, R. and Davis, G. (2012) The Sexual State: Sexuality and Scottish Governance 1950-80. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University PressDOI:

Davis, G. (2008) 'The Cruel Madness of Love': Sex, Syphilis and Psychiatry in Scotland, 1880-1930. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi

Books - Edited

Sethna, C. and Davis, G. (eds.) (2019) Abortion Across Borders: Transnational Travel and Access to Abortion Services. Johns Hopkins University Press

Davis, G. and Loughran, T. (eds.) (2017) The Palgrave Handbook of Infertility in History: Approaches, Contexts and Perspectives. London: Palgrave MacmillanDOI:


Campbell, J. and Davis, G. (2022) “A Crisis of Transition”: Menstruation and the psychiatrisation of the female lifecycle in nineteenth-century Edinburgh. Open Library of Humanities, 8(1)DOI:

Sheldon, S., O'Neill, J., Parker, C. and Davis, G. (2020) 'Too much, too indigestible, too fast'?: The decades of struggle for abortion law reform in Northern Ireland. Modern Law Review, 83(4), pp. 761-796DOI:

Sheldon, S., Davis, G., O'Neill, J. and Parker, C. (2019) The Abortion Act (1967): A biography. Legal Studies, 39(1), pp. 18-35DOI:

Davis, G. (2013) Concluding Thoughts: Abortion, Reproductive 'Health', and the History of Female Sexuality. Women's History Magazine, 73, pp. 38-40

Davis, G. (2012) The most deadly disease of asylumdom: General paralysis of the insane and Scottish psychiatry, c.1840–1940. Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 42(3), pp. 266-273DOI:

Davis, G. (2012) Sexual snapshots: Departmental committees and their value to the historian of sexuality. Scottish Archives, 18, pp. 25-37

Davis, G. (2009) Stillbirth Registration and Perceptions of Infant Death, 1900-60: The Scottish Case in National Context. The Economic History Review, 62(3), pp. 629-654DOI:

Davidson, R. and Davis, G. (2007) Sexuality and the State: The campaign for Scottish Homosexual Law Reform, 1967-80. Contemporary British History, 20 (4), pp. 533 - 558DOI:

Davis, G. and Davidson, R. (2006) 'A Fifth Freedom' or 'Hideous, Atheistic Expediency'? The Medical Profession and Abortion Law Reform in Scotland, c. 1960 - 1975. Medical History, 50(1), pp. 29 - 48

Davidson, R. and Davis, G. (2005) 'This Thorniest of Problems': School Sex Education Policy in Scotland, 1939-80. The Scottish Historical Review, 84(2), pp. 221-46DOI:

Davis, G. and Davidson, R. (2005) 'Big White Chief', 'Pontius Pilate', and the 'Plumber': The impact of the 1967 Abortion Act on the Scottish Medical Community, c. 1967 - 80. Social History of Medicine, 18(2), pp. 283 - 306DOI:

Davidson, R. and Davis, G. (2005) A festering sore on the body of society: The Wolfenden Committee and female prostitution in mid-20th century Scotland. Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 24(1), pp. 80-98DOI:

Davis, G. (2005) Some Historical Uses of Clincial Psychiatric Records. Scottish Archives, 11, pp. 26-36

Davidson, R. and Davis, G. (2004) "A field for Private Members": The Wolfenden Committee & Scottish Homosexual Law Reform, 1950-67. Twentieth Century British History, 15(2), pp. 174-201DOI:


Davis, G., O'Neill, J., Parker, C. and Sheldon, S. (2019) All aboard the Abortion Express: A historical geography of the 1967 Abortion Act. In: Sethna, C. and Davis, G. (eds.) Abortion Across Borders: Transnational Travel and Access to Abortion Services. Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 118-145

Davis, G. (2017) 'A tragedy as old as history': Medical responses to infertility and artificial insemination by donor in 1950s Britain. In: Davis, G. and Loughran, T. (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Infertility in History: Approaches, Contexts and Perspectives. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 359-382DOI:

Loughran, T. and Davis, G. (2017) Introduction: Infertility in history: Approaches, contexts and perspectives. In: Davis, G. and Loughran, T. (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Infertility in History: Approaches, Contexts and Perspectives . London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-25DOI:

Davis, G. (2013) Test Tubes and Turpitude: Medical Responses to the Infertile Patient in Mid-Twentieth-Century Scotland. In: Greenlees, J. and Bryder, L. (eds.) Western Maternity and Medicine, 1880-1990. Pickering & Chatto, pp. 113-128

Davis, G. and Elliot, R. (2011) Public Information, private lives: Dr James Craufurd Dunlop and the collection of vital statistics in Scotland, 1904–30. In: Freeman, M., Gordon, E. and Maglen, K. (eds.) Medicine, Law and Public Policy in Scotland, c.1850-1990: Essays Presented to Anne Crowther. Edinburgh University Press, pp. 105-124DOI:

Davis, G. (2011) Health and Sexuality. In: Jackson, M. (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 503-523

Davis, G. (2009) The Medical Community and Abortion Law Reform: Scotland in National Context, c. 1960-80. In: Goold, I. and Kelly, C. (eds.) Lawyers' Medicine: The Legislature,The Courts and Medical Practice, 1760-2000. Hart Publishing, pp. 143-165