Spices and Medicine


2013 Conference Report

To download a copy of the full conference report, please click here.

On Friday 24 May 2013, University College London (UCL)'s School of Pharmacy hosted a one-day conference entitled 'Spices and Medicine: From Historical Obsession to Research of the Future', sponsored by the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) and London BioNat. The purpose of the conference was to discuss how Europe's fascination with spices as both food and medicine has contributed to the global exchange and advancement of medical knowledge, from ancient times to today. This was an interdisciplinary event organised by UCL SoP Centre for Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy (Biodiversity and Medicines Research Cluster) in association with the UCL School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS). It was held in the Maplethorpe Lecture Theatre, 29-39 Brunswick Square, London.

With 145+ registered attendees, the conference proved a fantastic opportunity for academics, researchers and practitioners from across multiple disciplines to engage with one another and learn about other perspectives through the conference's eight lectures and two Q&A panel sessions. The expertise of our invited speakers ranged from archaeology and medieval history to food studies, health regulations and pharmaceutical research. This variety provided multiple angles to the topic of spices and its role in the history of science into the modern day, and created a truly interdisciplinary and lively discussion amongst both speakers and attendees, during both the panel sessions and the three breaks.

Lectures were given by (in order of presentation) Professor Paul Freedman, Department of History at Yale University, USA (opening keynote speaker), whose 2008 book Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination was an inspiration for this conference; Professor Marijke van der Veen, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, UK; Dr. Stefan Halikowski Smith, Department of History and Classics, Swansea University, Wales; Professor Sabine Anagnostou, Department for the History of Pharmacy, University of Marburg, Germany; Tony Booker, UCL School of Pharmacy and the Leverhulme Centre for Agriculture and Health, UK; Dr. Vivienne Lo, UCL Centre for the History of Medicine and China Centre for Health and Humanity, UK; Professor Monique Simmonds, Head of the Sustainable Uses of Plants Group, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK; and Professor Michael Heinrich, Head of the Centre for Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy, UCL School of Pharmacy, UK (closing keynote speaker). Students and independent researchers were able to showcase their work through a research poster exhibit held in the Square Lounge throughout the day.

Feedback by attendees after the conference praised the diversity of the approaches to spices and medicine presented by the conference. A seminar series is now being planned based on the overwhelming amount of positive feedback of registered attendees who expressed keen interest in participating in and contributing to future spices-themed events. This series will aim to showcase interdisciplinary research relating the history of science in Europe and the 'Orient' to the present day and its relevance across different academic fields, and to foster collaborations within UCL and between institutions around the world. This will also address suggestions for improvement by engaging non-academics more directly in a workshop or seminar format.

Conference organisers:

  • Marianne Jennifer Datiles
  • Prof. Michael Heinrich

UCL students/staff who assisted during the conference:

  • Aljawharah Alqathami
  • M. Joyce Datiles
  • Dr. Sarah Edwards
  • Amaka Ezuruike
  • Hannah Jennings
  • Fon Lumlerdkij
  • Andre Mazzari
  • Johanna Michl
  • Dr. Ines Rocha
  • and Francesca Scotti