Matthew Smith


  • United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

Personal profile

Personal Statement

I joined the University of Strathclyde and the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare (CSHHH) in 2011, after completing a PhD and post-doctoral work at the University of Exeter's Centre for Medical History.  My research and teaching have focussed on three primary areas within the history of health and medicine: mental health and psychiatry; allergy and immunology; and food and nutrition. Thanks to generous funding from the Wellcome Trust, this research has contributed to one edited volume: Proteins, Pathologies and Politics: Dietary Innovation and Disease from the Nineteenth Century (Bloomsbury, 2018, co-edited by David Gentilcore); and three monographs: An Alternative History of Hyperactivity: Food Additives and the Feingold Diet (Rutgers University Press, 2011); Hyperactive: The Controversial History of ADHD (Reaktion, 2012); and Another Person's Poison: A History of Food Allergy (Columbia University Press, 2015), which was reviewed in the New York Times and given honourable mention in the Association of American Publishers' Prose Awards for 2016. 

My most recent book, The First Resort: The History of Social Psychiatry in the United States, was published by Columbia University Press in January 2023.  Funded by an AHRC Early Career Fellowship, the project investigates how American psychiatrists and social scientists viewed the connection between mental illness and social deprivation during the decades that followed the Second World War. This funding has resulted in a special issue of Humanities and Social Sciences Communications (co-edited with Lucas Richert) and two edited volumes, Deinstitutionalisation and After: Post-War Psychiatry in the Western World (2016) and Preventing Mental Illness: Past, Present and Future (2018), both co-edited by Despo Kritsotaki and Vicky Long, and published in the Palgrave series I co-edit with Catharine Coleborne: Mental Health in Historical Perspective.  

My social psychiatry project has spurred an interest in Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a preventive mental health policy.  I recently co-led (with Mike Danton) a Scottish Universities Insight Initiative project called Peace of Mind: Exploring Universal Basic Income's Potential to Improve Mental Health. 

In future, I would like to research the history of hydrotherapy in psychiatric practice.

I believe strongly that historical research can have a significant impact on public policy and decision making.  As such, I have tried to engage with the public as much as I can through broadcasting, public lecturing, blogging and speaking to health and education professionals.  My efforts in these areas were enhanced in 2012 when I was named an AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker.  I have written for medical publications, such as The Lancet and the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), presented my research to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and work closely with a range of medical and educational professionals.  My book Hyperactive, for example, was used by novelist William Sutcliffe as inspiration and research for his novel Concentr8 (Bloomsbury, 2015).

I previously served as Vice-Dean of Research for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HaSS), following stints as Co-Director of the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare, the Director of Research for History and Deputy Head of the School of Humanities.  I have also served on the Executive Committee of the Society for the Social History of Medicine and the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Young Academy of Scotland.  I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Teaching Interests

I am happy to supervise a variety of MRes and PhD projects in the history of health and medicine. These include mental health and psychiatry, food and nutrition, allergy and immunology and child health.  I am also happy to consider supervision of other topics examining the history of health and medicine in Canada, the United States and Scotland. Please get in touch if you have a research idea!

I teach on a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate classes, focussing primarily on the history of medicine, but also North American history.  My specialist courses include Madness and Society from Ancient Times to the Present; The Price of Health: The UK, US and Canada since 1800; and Food and Health in the West in the Twentieth Century.  In addition, I have taught on Disease and Society, History of the USA, Historiography, Cultures of Empire, Glasgow: History, Culture and Identity and other classes.


Research Interests

When do certain behavioural characteristics become a psychiatric disorder? How do we know what foods are healthy for us? Why have rates of food allergy and intolerance escalated in recent years? What are the root causes of mental illness?  My research involves analysing questions such as these from a historical perspective not only in the interest of charting our past, but also in the hopes of informing our future.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, University of Exeter

Award Date: 1 Jan 2009

Master of Arts, University of Alberta

Award Date: 1 Jan 2004

Bachelor of Education, University of Alberta

Award Date: 1 Jan 1999

Bachelor of Arts, University of Alberta

Award Date: 1 Jan 1997


  • ADHD
  • food allergy
  • social psychiatry
  • children
  • universal basic income
  • mental health
  • public health


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