Nina Holmes

Research Group: Visual & Material Culture Research Centre
Award studied: PhD

Project title

Irish government health ephemera (1970s-1990s)


My research centres on collections of health pamphlets issued by the Irish Department of Health dating from 1970 to circa 1997, held at Trinity College library and The National Library of Ireland. Examples produced by non-government organisations, such as activist and lobby groups, and religious bodies are also examined.
During this period the volume of material, the range of subject matter, and the variety of design styles and aesthetic influences all increased significantly in contrast to the preceding decades, which saw a far smaller output of health promotion material and a less diverse range of visual influences. This increase in the production of health material and the widening parameters of design influence follows similar trends throughout Europe and America in the late 20th century (Helfand, p: 139), and is also reflective of the multi-faceted visual culture of postmodernism, which was marked in its difference to the homogenous style of modern design.
Comparative studies of health material produced in Britain, the United States and Europe facilitate a study of particular visual nuances and social and political ideals. This has allowed for a more comprehensive understanding of the issues and hegemonic influences which were specific to Ireland in the late twentieth century.
Several key themes and ideas arise when examining government health material, namely, the body, power, and state involvement in health. When analysing material issued by an authoritative force, in this case the Irish government, it is necessary to consider the devices employed by hegemonic institutions to obtain and retain power and social control. David Serlin describes the emergence of 'modern communication's reliance on sophisticated media to fulfil particular institutional or ideological goals' within visual culture of public health (Serlin, 2010, p: xxii). An examination of the tone, design style, and subject matter of Government health material provides an insight into the changing nature of state power and influence. Several theoretical frameworks provide insight into these areas, namely, Michel Foucault's 'biopower' theory, and Louis Althusser's writing on ideological state apparatuses and 'interpellation'. Some of the key areas that my research focuses on are; representations of women in maternal roles; attitudes to, and information about AIDS and HIV; the development and categorisation of 'healthy lifestyle' guidelines by government departments.



NUI Galway, 2015
Research paper at A Peculiar Society: Ireland 1970s-1990s Conference

NUI Galway, 2014
Research paper at New Voices 2014: Multidisciplinary Postgraduate and Early Career Scholars’ Conference

Research paper at the National Gallery, Dublin

Funding received

Awarded Graduate Research School Conference Fund from Kingston University

Public Health Menace, Cardinal O'Connor