The under-used resource of historical research
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The under-used resource of historical research

Janet Hargreaves Associate dean, learning and teaching, University of Huddersfield, UK

Nurse educationalists in Britain face the charge that the system is no longer producing nurses who are competent when they qualify. Research into these issues led to an historical approach, using life story and documentary analysis, to understanding how nurses from the 1940s and 1950s talked about nursing. This article by Janet Hargreaves considers the value of such an approach and argues that an understanding of how nursing was crafted in the past illuminates the present

A Complete System of Nursing (Ashdown 1934) describes the strongly held view of the ‘good nurse’ as a capable, respectable, vocationally oriented and even-tempered woman. However, a feature of nursing is that it is associated with powerful and often contradictory discourses. Ashdown continues by describing nursing as ‘delicate’ and ‘refined’ work, but this belies the core functions of nursing, which entail close contact with the bodies of strangers, bodily excretions, illness, pain and death – usually private acts and described by Lawler and others as ‘dirty work’ (Lawler 1991). The moral and physical ambiguity implicit in nursing work is a major factor in trying to determine what it is that good nursing entails.

Nurse Researcher. 15, 3, 32-44. doi: 10.7748/nr2008.

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