Shelley McKellar

- The Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine
- Associate Professor (Joint Appointment with the Department of Surgery)

PhD, University of Toronto, 1999
Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 84990
Office: Lawson Hall 2227
Office Hours: Mondays 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. and by appointment
History of Medicine at Western

Research Interests

Professor McKellar studies the history of medicine and disease, with a special interest in the history of medical technology, instruments and devices, the history of surgery, and medical biography.

Teaching Experience

Professor McKellar teaches the history of medicine, the medical profession, and related historical aspects of 'doctoring' to medical students in the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry as well as teaches the history of disease and society, including public health initiatives, epidemic outbreaks and social response to undergraduate and graduate history students in the Faculty of Social Science. She advises a number of graduate students, and welcomes inquiries from MA and PhD students interested in the history of medicine and disease.

Major Research Projects

Professor McKellar is currently working on two book projects. (1) In collaboration with Dr David Kenny, DDS and member of the first graduating class of the Western dental program, McKellar is documenting the history of the dental school program at Western University in honour of its 50th anniversary. (2) McKellar is in the early stages of a new project, “Cutting to Cure,” which is an object-centred study exploring how instruments and the act of cutting have shaped our approach to disease.

Professor McKellar also curates the Medical Artifact Collection, which is a university study collection under ongoing development as a teaching and research source. The collection contains approximately 1,200 objects, ranging from bloodletting instruments and surgical sets to microscopes and pharmaceuticals, representative of late 19th- and early to mid-20th century practice and teaching of health and medicine in southwestern Ontario. It can be viewed online at

Select Publications

Books Authored

Book Cover

Artificial Hearts:  The Allure and Ambivalence of a Controversial Medical Technology (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).  384 pp.

  •  This book explores the controversial history of the development and clinical use of artificial hearts, from the 1950s to the present day, offering a fascinating case study of an imperfect technology that speaks to questions of expectations, limitations and uncertainty in a high-technology medical world.
Book Cover

 Medicine and Technology in Canada, 1900-1950. with Allison Kirk-Montgomery. Transformation Series #16 (Ottawa: Canada Science and Technology Museum, 2008). 171 pp.

  • This volume examines the various technological developments in Canadian medicine from 1900 to 1950, highlighting larger patterns in medicine, identifying Canadian contributions, and considering the impact of these innovations on Canadian society.
Book Cover

Surgical Limits: The Life of Gordon Murray (University of Toronto Press, 2003). 270 pp.

  • This biography chronicles the life of one of Canada's most prominent and controversial surgeons, Gordon Murray (1894-1976), discussing Murray’s surgical ingenuity and skill, and how he saved numerous lives through his advances in heart and vascular surgery, his experimental cancer treatment, and his development of a kidney dialysis machine while also engaging in larger issues relating to the limits of surgery, the modern medical research endeavour, and the rising power and authority of the surgeon.

Books Edited

Book Cover

Essays in Honour of Michael Bliss: Figuring the Social. Co-edited with Alison Li, Elsbeth Heaman. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008). 491 pp.

  • A collection of essays, predominantly written by former doctoral students of Canadian historian Michael Bliss, discuss his career, his impact on the study of history, and the writing of social and medical history in Canada in the late twentieth century.

Chapters in Books

Journal Articles

  • “Atomic Hearts: A Decade of U.S. Government-Sponsored Development, 1967-1977,” Physics Today 69, 5 (May 2016): 38-44.

  • “Dr William Waugh (1851-1936): Promoter of Change in 19th C Medical Education and Practice,” Canadian Journal of Surgery 59, 2 (April 2016): 143-4.

  • “Repairing Hearts: Innovations in Cardiac Surgery, Heritage Matters 14, 1 (Feb 2016): 13-15.

Media Speaking Events

  • Nov 10, 2016 -- "Surgical Transgressions? Michael DeBakey, Denton Cooley and the Controversial Artificial Heart Implant Case of 1969," History of the Health Sciences Lecture Series, Augustus C. Long Library, Columbia University Medical Center, New York NY

  • Apr 26, 2016 -- "Instruments and Devices: Exploring Past Medical Practices Through the Material Culture of Medicine ...  A 'Hidden' History?" The Reynolds-Finlay Lecture, University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • Jan 22, 2016 -- "A Silent Epidemic? Says Who? Heart Disease and Chronic Epidemiology," Dept of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Western University

  • April 10, 2015 -- “The Medical Artifact Collection at Western:  Exploring Past Medical Practices through the Doctor’s Instruments and Diaries,” The Harvey Oration, Harvey Club of London, Ontario, London, ON

  • Mar 28, 2015 -- “Surgical Transgressions?  Michael DeBakey, Denton Cooley and the Controversial Artificial Heart Implant Case of 1969,” AMS Guest Speaker, A Day for the History of Medicine at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Medicine, U of Alberta

  • Mar 27, 2015 -- “Heart Failure and the Role of Artificial Hearts:  The Dracula of Medical Technology … Still?” Grand Medical Rounds, Faculty of Medicine, U of Alberta

  • Mar 5, 2015 -- "Tonsillotomes and Toothkeys: Exploring Past Medical and Dental Practices in London," Founder’s Day Talk, Western University

  • Feb 9, 2015 -- "TAHs and LVADs:  The Dracula of Medical Technology … Still?” Cardiovascular Grand Rounds, Cardiology Division, Department of Surgery, Western University

  • Jan 21, 2015 – “The Resiliency of the Triumphant Narrative: Artificial Heart Technology and the Patient Perspective from Barney Clark to Dick Cheney,” Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST), U of Toronto

Displays & Workshops

  • Artifact Collection at Doors Open London "Phrenology," "Nurse's Uniform," "Quack Medicine Treatments," Object Profile displays, Lawson Hall, Western U (2015)

  • "Wounded! Front-line Medical Care in the First World War," Case display, Lawson Hall and Medical Sciences Building, Western U (2014)

  • "Childbirth: Tools of the Physician," Dept of History, 2nd floor Lawson Hall (2013)

  • "Behind the Display," Touring the Medical Artifact Collection at Western, Doors Open London (2012)

  • "Instruments and Devices: The Material Culture of Medicine," showcasing the Medical Artifact Collection, D.B. Weldon Library, Western (2011)

  • “Toothkeys and Forceps: Tools of the Dentist,” “Teaching Anatomy and Microscopy at Western,” “Scalpels and Stethoscopes: The Doctor’s Instruments,” Case displays celebrating the 130th anniversary of Western's Medical School, Medical Sciences Building, Western (2011)

In The News

Awards & Distinctions

  • 2010-11, 2012-13 - USC Teaching Honour Roll
    Award of Excellence in Teaching, Western University