The Story Behind Epidemic Belfast.

Epidemic Belfast is a podcast and website from developed by researchers from Ulster University’s School of History that raises difficult and challenging questions about Northern Ireland’s medical history.

During the COVID pandemic, the team set out to uncover Belfast’s medical past, hoping to gain a better understanding of how disease (physical and mental) has been experienced and managed in the city since the 19th century.

Through podcast episodes and original articles, the project furthers our understandings of illness, public health, vaccination, nutrition, mental health, medical provision during the Troubles, thalidomide and many other topics in the unique environment of Belfast.

It also looks to the future as Ulster University opened its new medical school in 2021.

Among other topics, this resource covers: 

  • health problems in Belfast including epidemic outbreaks, mental health crises, under-nutrition and poor public health management.
  • the role of doctors and local health authorities (positive and negative) in managing disease over time.
  • the health prospects and experiences of specific communities such as LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities, women, children and specific occupational groups (e.g. cotton mill workers).
  • the complex ethical issues posed by modern medicine (e.g. the development of inadequately tested drugs, anti-vaxxers, etc…)
  • barriers to providing ‘neutral’ physical and mental health care during 30 years of civil conflict.

Meet Your Hosts


Ian Miller

Lecturer in Medical History (Ulster University)
Ian Miller

Ian has authored 6 book length publications on topics including the controversial decisions made to force-feed hunger strikers, how the Irish diet changed (mostly for the worse) in the decades following the Irish Famine and the surprisingly interesting history of stomachs, guts and the microbiome. Ian is Book Review Editor for Social History of Medicine journal. In 2020, Ian was the recipient of Ulster University’s Distinguished Research Fellowship. Ian has held visiting fellowships at the Max Planck Centre for the History of Emotions (Berlin), Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, INSERM (Paris) and the Institute for General Practice and Community Medicine (Oslo). In 2022, Ian will be Visiting Research Fellow at HEX (Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experience). Ian makes regular media and festival appearances. He once co-organised a major exhibition at Kilmainham Gaol (Dublin) and acted as a historical consultant on the movie Suffragette, Bobby Sands: 1981 (Fine Point Films), as well as various BBC television shows. He presents research widely across UK, Ireland, America and Australasia.


Rhianne Morgan

Postdoctoral Researcher (Ulster University)
Rhianne Morgan

Rhianne has recently submitted her PhD in history at Queen’s University Belfast. Her research uses the Templemore Avenue Baths in east Belfast as a case study to demonstrate how different factors such as gender, generation, class and ethno-national identity impact upon people’s experiences and memories of leisure in post-war Belfast. Her research also looks at how these components impacted upon local communities’ views of heritage within the area and the regeneration of the Templemore Baths. To be able to explore this understudied area, Rhianne used oral history interviews as her primary methodology. She has done an array of public history initiatives including but not limited to her pop-up exhibition titled ‘Making a splash at the Templemore Baths’, led oral history workshops with local community groups, given public lectures, been a guest on an episode of History Now and is a member of the Centre for Public History at Queen’s University. Rhianne obtained her BA (Hons) History degree from Plymouth University in 2015 and MA degree, also in History, at Queens University in 2017.


Eugenie Scott

Department of Public Health and Research Associate (Ulster University)
Eugenie Scott

Eugenie works at the Department of Public Health and completed her PhD on the history of cancer in Ireland at Ulster University in 2022.  Her project focuses on the disease during the nineteenth century, a time period in which this disease remains understudied. It considers the provision of medical services and relief available to the nineteenth-century cancer patient in Ireland, and the experience of cancer sufferers. Eugenie obtained her BA(Hons) History degree and MA degree, also in History, at Ulster University.


Rebecca Watterson

PhD Researcher in Medical History (Ulster University)
Rebecca Watterson

Rebecca is currently pursuing a PhD in history at Ulster University. Her research focuses on psychosurgery in the UK between the years 1940-1986. She holds a BA in history from the Open University and a MA in history from Ulster University. Her MA research examined why the enzyme, cholinesterase, was a major focus of psychiatric medical research in the UK during the 1950s. For this work she was awarded ‘The Birley Prize for the Best MA Thesis in Social History 2020’. She is also the book review editor assistant for the journal, Social History of Medicine.


Michael Kinsella

PhD Researcher in Medical History (Ulster University)

Michael is a PhD Researcher at Ulster University. His research focuses on the migration of individuals from the north of Ireland to Scotland where they sought asylum care, and their reasons for doing so.


Hannah Brown

PhD Researcher in Medical History (Ulster University)
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Hannah is a PhD Researcher at Ulster University. Her PhD focuses on poliomyelitis in the United Kingdom between 1947 to 1984. She obtained her BA (Hons) in history in 2020 and her MA in history in 2022, both from Ulster University. Hannah’s MA focused on polio and its survivors in twentieth-century Belfast. Professionally, Hannah works as a museum guide at the Museum of Free Derry, conducting presentations and guided tours to students, cross-community groups and tour groups.


Rebecca Brown

PhD Researcher in Medical History (Ulster University)
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Rebecca is a PhD Researcher at Ulster University. After graduating from Ulster University in 2020 with a BA in History, she completed her MA in 2022. Rebecca’s PhD research will delve into the experience of blind citizens across Ireland from 1918-2000. The project will focus on the perspectives and experiences of blind individuals, tracking legislative changes, with an emphasis on state welfare, citizenship, charity, healthcare, employment, and education. Additionally, examining the impact of the end of World War I, Partition, World War II, the Troubles and the disability rights movement on blind people. Professionally, Rebecca is the Social Media Coordinator for the Museum of Free Derry and Bloody Sunday Trust.


Tom Thorpe


Tom is a tour guide and public historian after working as a communications professional. His special research interest is in modern British and Irish social history with a specialist focus on the experience, motivation, productivity and endurance of soldiers, sailors and aviators in modern and retrospective conventional and asymmetric conflicts. In 2017, he was awarded a PhD from King’s College London that examined the extent, nature and impact of military group cohesion in London Regiment infantry battalions during the Great War. Prior to commencing his doctorate, he was a public relations practitioner and policy analyst in the health and social care sector with 20 years’ experience working as a conference organiser, speechwriter, media trainer and spokesperson. Tom is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Trustee of Western Front Association and host/executive producer of the Mentioned in Dispatches and Combat Morale podcasts.


This project is generously supported by AHRC Impact Acceleration (Rapid Impact) funding as well as Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland) Research Recovery funding.


Get in touch via contact form or email: engage@epidemic-belfast.com

What People Say

In my class “Great Cities: Belfast,” taught in Spring 2022 at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, United States, my students listened to 8 different podcast episodes after listening to multiple lectures on the social and economic history of 19th century industrial Belfast. In pairs, they prepared presentations on their respective podcast episode topics and shared them with me and the class. The Epidemic Belfast Podcast was an invaluable resource for my students as they were able to learn a part of urban and economic history of which they had no prior knowledge. Additionally, many students drew connections between what they learned in the podcasts in terms of vaccinations, quarantines, and other public health measures to their own lived experiences as students during the COVID-19 Epidemic. Later in the semester, students listened to the episodes on polio and thalidomide. Hearing the actual voices of survivors made this history more real and more moving than any reading I could have assigned. I 100% will use Epidemic Belfast in my future classes and its creators and contributors should be congratulated for making such a resource available to researchers and educators around the world.

Daniella McCahey, Assistant Professor in Modern British History
Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, United States

Listen to Epidemic Belfast