Event Review: Hematopolitics International Symposium: The Politics of Blood, Body and Health (Day 1 – 23rd May 2022)

An image of the Hematopolitics symposium programme
The Symposium programme, including a diverse selection of presentations, and opportunities to network

In May we were lucky enough to welcome colleagues and collaborators from across the globe for a stimulating two day symposium at the University of Leeds. Following months of online workshops, meetings and conferences, it felt like an incredible privilege that Covid didn’t prevent anyone from travelling, with us being able to welcome guests from as far as the US and Korea!

We began with an energising Keynote delivered by Professor Jacob Copeman , considering the space-time dimensions of blood economies. Detailing the diverse ways in which blood invokes temporal discourse, from its material status as a highly perishable resource, to its historical connections to political violence and loss of life, Prof. Copeman sought to explore the role of blood donation within the current political climate of India.

The Symposium took place as a fully hybrid event, with speakers from our first session ‘Contagion and Blood Grouping in the Twentieth Century’, all being online. The first presentation from Isaac C.K. Tan  covered the emergence of blood type analysis in Japanese military medical research, followed by a presentation from Toyoko Kozai  looking at the role of blood transfusions in first spreading, and then detecting, contagious diseases in Japan. Whilst there are no guarantees that online and hybrid events will be able to stimulate the same depth of conversation that can be achieved in person, we were pleasantly surprised with how connected in person attendees felt to those online. We were able to field questions from the room for the online presenters, using a roving camera to ensure that everyone could see who they were talking to.

The second session, ‘Politics and Governance of Blood and Inheritance’, firstly explored the contested and racialised nature of inherited blood disorders such as Sickle Cell Anaemia through presentations from Sangeeta Chattoo  and Samiksha Bhan. They both considered how tribe, cast, race, and ethnicity influenced perception of such disorders in India. The final presentation from Rasik Rahman reflected on some of the themes drawn out in the Keynote presentation, looking at how political parties utilise blood donation as a political tool in India.

We closed the first day with an opportunity to learn more about the work of Leigh Bowser, a Leeds based textile artist and collaborator of the Hematopolitics Project. As well as reflecting on the potential of textiles for communicating stories, we were able to hear more about ‘The Blood Bag Project’, which she founded a decade ago. The project sought to raise awareness of the rare blood disorder Diamond Blackfan Anaemia, by inviting participants to craft their own textile blood bag, starting conversations about blood donation, and ultimately hoping to encourage people to donate blood and sign up to be a bone marrow donor. You can find out more about the Blood Bag Project here.

An image of some of the blood bags created as part of the Blood Bag Project. They are made of a diverse selection of materials, many of them are clear plastic blood bags with materials such as red string or red pieces of paper inside them to resemble blood, others are more abstract, some contain images of red hearts on. They are sat on an world map, to indicate the many places across the world that blood bags have been made for the project.
Photo taken from thebloodbagproject.com

Event Review/Reflection: Blood and Othering in Medical History, a Workshop in collaboration with Thackray Medical Museum (12th Jan 2022)

Whilst we are still winding down from the excitement of our recent International Symposium: ‘The Politics of Blood, Body and Health’, we have yet to take the time to reflect on the success of our event much earlier in the year, held in collaboration with Thackray Museum of Medicine. Initially set to take place within the beautiful and stimulating setting of the Museum, with its vast physical collection of over 70,000 pieces of history relating to medicine and healthcare, Covid meant we had to adapt to an online setting. Despite this, we were still able to host some excellent presentations and discussion.

An image of an introductory powerpoint slide, text reads: 'Blood and Othering in Medical History. Workshop on Thackray Museum of Medicine's Collections. 12 January 2022. Jieun Kim (j.e.kim@leeds.ac.uk) University of Leeds. Hematopolitics Project (hematopolitics.org)'. On the left is an image of yellow blood reagent bottles, on a turquoise background. The caption reads 'Bottles of reagent (1968, by Phizer & Knickerbocker Blood Bank New York)  at Thackray Medical Museum'
How have imaginaries of blood informed medical treatments and health governance across time and space?

Opening with the Hematopolitics Project PI Dr. Jieun Kim’s research looking at the quest for ‘pure blood’ in blood donation.  The presentation first reflected on the symbolic role of blood within Japanese and Korean history, making connections to modern attitudes towards blood, and the implications for blood donation practices.

Dr. Ros Williams then presented their research on blood stem cells, considering ‘material infrastructures’ racialised rarity’.



The presentation detailed how active targeting of underrepresented stem cell blood types takes place in UK maternity wards, specifically in target areas known for high concentrations of ethnic minority communities. It was interesting to learn how the healthcare messaging around this placed the burden of securing a vital healthcare resource – stem cell blood – on the shoulders of ethnic minority women.

The penultimate presentation came from Dr. Sangeeta Chattoo, ‘Metaphors and Materialities of Blood: Migrants, Mutant Genes and the Contagious’.


It included a thorough dissection of how genetic disorders like sickle-cell anemia and thalassaemia came to be mapped on to marginalised ethnic groups (race/tribe/caste) in the post-WWII global health regime. Now genes have overtaken infectious diseases in global imaginations of ‘contagious (immigrant) communities’, giving rise to rhetorics framing inherited blood disorders as ‘genetically determined time bomb’, which is preventable through genetic screening.

Finally, members of the Thackray team gave us some insights into their work, and some of the key questions faced when trying to catalogue and preserve such a large collection. We were treated to a look at some of the items in their collection, including transfusion kits which were recognisably similar to their modern counterparts, alongside less recognisable ornate bleeding bowls.



It was at this point many attendees expressed their regret at not being able to be physically present to inspect these delicate and beautiful pieces of history. Rather than feeling frustrating, this was a great way to close the workshop as it left many with a sense of anticipation for future collaborations.

A white person with red hair is wearing protective gloves to hold an ornate gold blood transfusion set, which they are displaying towards the camera, with the workshops online participants able to see
Thackray’s collections manager, Louise Crossley showing the ornate Ferguson blood transfusion set (c.1850)
A detailed image of the Ferguson blood transfusion set, a cream bowl with gold patterned detailing is in the middle, with accompanying gold implements for withdrawing blood, all seated within a hinge top wooden box with deep red velvet lining.
The Ferguson blood transfusion set, as shown in Thackray’s online catalogue https://collections.thackraymuseum.co.uk/object-825-001
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Event Review: BLOODSUCKERS! at Thackray Medical Museum

Throughout the last week of October visitors to Thackray Medical Museum were able to enjoy a host of special activities and talks as part of their Halloween themed ‘BLOODSUCKERS’ event, a collaboration with the Hematopolitics Project.

One of the highlights of the event was the Blood Tour, where a member of Thackray’s education team took visitors on a tour of the museum, sharing fascinating stories of the cultural impact of blood throughout the ages. The history of the term ‘blue-blooded’ was explained, prompting reflection on the upper-classes use of blood as a way to racially and socially distinguish themselves, and there was a discussion on how blood features prominently in historical Chinese medicine as an indicator of overall health.

Elsewhere in the Museum, there was the opportunity to take part in a blood trail, guiding you through the blood related items in Thackray’s permanent collection by answering questions and following clues. You learnt about the importance of bloodletting throughout history, seeing traditional bleeding bowls, as well as meeting Thackray’s resident live leeches! Moving into the 20th Century, you learnt about the establishment of the modern blood transfusion service during WWII, revolutionising the surgical field, and establishing blood banks as vital public health resources. This was emphasised by a wonderful display of blood donation posters from across the world (pictured).

Two blood donation posters side by side. The first shows two people with brown skin clasping hands, they are both wearing red and the text 'be a hero' is shown over a blue background. The second image shows a cartoon panda with a red heart on its back within a white circle on a red background, with foreign language text above the panda.

Taking place during the autumn half term, many of the activities were kid-friendly, including making ‘blood bracelets’, Origami characters, and the ‘Beat the Bloodsucker’ game (pictured), where families had to decide whether facts about blood were true or false to avoid getting bitten by the Bloodsucker!

Two images side by side of tables laid out with materials and equipment for children's activities.

Whilst a family friendly event, it also prompted serious reflection on how medical and cultural meanings of blood have always been interwoven throughout history. An example of this being the letting and drinking of blood, historically believed to offer a range of medical benefits, but also a key feature of pre-battle rituals, with royalty and prominent public figures often taking part, giving blood a much wider political meaning.

To stay informed about our upcoming collaborations with Thackray Medical Museum, and receive updates on our ongoing research, follow our twitter page @hematopolitics and email hematopolitics@leeds.ac.uk to join our mailing list.