Betsy Lewis-Holmes


Telephone: 07540655126 

College: College of Humanities
Research Centre/Unit: Centre for Medical History

Provisionally titled 'From health to leisure? Girlhood and exercise in England 1874-1914' my AHRC funded thesis analyses how middle-class girls interacted with exercise in various settings and through different media – at schools and colleges, in medical contexts and through and with print and material culture. The thesis aims to investigate the ways in which exercise was used as both as a curative for health problems and a leisure pursuit, and how its role changed and moved between these two areas through the period. The focus on girls allows the project to reflect on current trends in the field as well as explore a particularly potent moment in the history of ‘first wave’ feminism.

Archival research will be analysed alongside contemporary European thought about exercise, fatigue, willpower and energy. By directing a new generation of girls towards active leisure, the thesis claims that exercise culture impacted upon and shaped new idealisations of femininity, beauty, physical identity and sexuality.

This research was inspired by my MA thesis which explored Victorian exercise machines and the physical culture movement. The PhD develops an unexplored angle of this work – that of gender. I graduated from the MA in History of Design at the RCA/V&A in 2012, supported by an RCA student bursary. Previously, my BA in History of Art was completed at UCL in 2007.

I am a founding member and treasurer of Fig. 9 – the experimental design history collective, formed through the RCA course. In 2014, through Fig. 9 I joined 'Making Enhanced' a group of four pairings of historians working in close collaboration with designers. I worked with ceramicist Tamsin Van Essen for over a year on a joint project exploring 'The Fetish of Health.' Making Enhanced exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery in May 2015 as part of the Craft Council's COLLECT OPEN.

I was elected to be the Student Representative for the Design History Society in 2014 and hold this position for three years.

I co-organised the 2015 Postgraduate Medical Humanities Conference, and 'Exewhirr' - a public engagement event for artists and academics interested in the human-technology relationship. Both these projects were co-organised with Ryan Sweet, fellow Medical Humanities Researcher based in the English Department at Exeter.