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BA, MA, PhD (York)
Alexander is a historian of visual culture, specialising in public health and medicine, marketing, and transport in the twentieth century, with a particular interest in the history of photography. His research currently focuses on how organisations used mass marketing techniques to persuade people to care about their health and that of others, on the 2016 Wellcome Trust Seed Award interdisciplinary project ‘Community health workers in Brazil and the global movement for universal health coverage’, and the C2D2 project ‘Chronic diseases through the lens’.
Alexander is the Assistant Editor of Medical History.
From 2012-2016 Alexander was the Centre for Global Health Histories' Outreach Historian chiefly involved in co-editing a series of public engagement-oriented books relating to the annual World Health Organisation/Global Health Histories seminars and the 'Local Bases of Global Health' project (more about the seminar series is available via www.york.ac.uk/history/global-health-histories/seminars/). These books include ‘Leprosy: A Short History’ (2016), ‘Tropical Diseases: Lessons from History’ (2014), and ‘Tuberculosis: A Short History’ (2013). All of these books are available open access, with further information available via www.york.ac.uk/history/global-health-histories/publications-outreach/.
Alexander completed his PhD, 'Picturing the Passenger as Customer in Britain: The Great Western Railway, 1906-1939' in 2012. This research formed part of the larger AHRC-funded project, 'The Commercial Cultures of Britain's Railways, 1872-1977'. His thesis used photographic sources to examine the corporate culture of the GWR. So far, elements of this research have appeared as a book chapter and refereed article (see publications section). In 2011 Alexander won the John Scholes Transport History Research Prize for an essay based on this research, titled '"The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Pays The Bills": Marketing the Family Holiday on the GWR'.
Alexander is currently working on a Wellcome Trust Seed Award interdisciplinary project ‘Community health workers in Brazil and the global movement for universal health coverage’ with Dr João Nunes (Department of Politics). Together, Medcalf and Nunes use the case of community health workers (CHWs) as an entry-point into an investigation of past and present obstacles to, as well as existing potential for, the implementation of universal health coverage. Dr Medcalf will study how CHWs were represented by the World Health Organization (WHO) through film and photographs in the run up to Alma Ata and afterwards. Focusing initially on Brazil and the PAHO region – but with a remit to compare with other regions – Medcalf will utilise photographic negatives, contact sheets, field notes, correspondence between editors and mission reports. More information is available at www.york.ac.uk/history/global-health-histories/news/seed-award-project/.
Alexander has just finished another interdisciplinary project, ‘Chronic diseases through the lens’, run with Professor Karl Atkin (Health Sciences). The drive to direct more attention at chronic diseases has a long history, and there is a pressing need to know more about how campaigns were structured and initiatives advocated in the past. This research project sought to uncover part of this history by focussing on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) photographic archive. Taking different chronic conditions in turn, the project explored the measures taken to conceptualise, photograph and publicise them as part of advocacy efforts, and the attendant shifts over time. More information is available at www.york.ac.uk/c2d2/projects/priming/issf2/medcalf-images/.
In 2012, Alexander completed his PhD entitled 'Picturing the Passenger as Customer in Britain: The Great Western Railway, 1906-1939'. This research formed part of the wider AHRC-funded project, 'The Commercial Cultures of Britain's Railways, 1872-1977'. His thesis used photographic sources to examine emerging corporate cultures within the GWR, and found that this company was fully conversant in a range of marketing techniques including customer research, market segmentation and aspirational advertising.