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 1970, who was a member of the first graduating class of the Western dental program, McKellar is documenting the history of the dental school program at Western University. (2) McKellar is in the early stages of a new project, “Cutting as Cure: Objects and Stories in the History of Surgery,” 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, 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.
    • JHU Press guest blog "Dissecting Artificial Hearts" available here.
    • CBC London Morning interview on Artificial Hearts available here.
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

  • “Clinical Firsts: Christiaan Barnard and Heart Transplantation,” New England Journal of Medicine 377, 23 (Dec 7, 2017): 2211-3.
  • “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.
  • "Negotiating Risk: The Failed Development of Atomic Hearts in America, 1967-1977," Technology and Culture 54,1 (Jan 2013): 1-39.

Invited Lectures

  • May 7, 2018 -- "Artificial Hearts: A Controversial Medical Technology," Dalhousie Medical History Society, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS
  • Apr 3, 2018 – “Artificial Hearts: A Controversial Medical Technology,” 30th Annual Mark M. Ravitch History of Medicine Lecture, C.F. Reynolds Medical History Society, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Mar 22, 2018 – “Artificial Hearts: Bioengineering Challenges, Daresay Limits?” Seminars in Mechanical Engineering, Polytechnic Montreal, Montreal, QC
  • Mar 16, 2018 – “Artificial Hearts: Boundaries Broken?” Keynote Lecture, Western Research Forum, Western University
  • Feb 7, 2018 – “Artificial Hearts: A Controversial Medical Technology,” The Hannah History of Medicine and Medical Humanities Speaker Series, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON
  • Oct 11, 2017 – “Artificial Hearts: A History of an Imperfect Technology and its Role in the Fight against Heart Failure,” Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Ottawa, ON
  • Aug 12, 2017 – “Dr Gordon Murray (1894-1976): An Extraordinary Life in Medicine and Surgery,” The Harrington & Area Community Association, Harrington, ON
  • May 23, 2017 – "Spare Parts Hope, Drama and Dispute: Heart Transplantation and Total Artificial Heart Implant Cases during the 1960s," The J. Worth Estes History of Medicine Lecture, Boston Medical Library, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA
  • 2017-03-21 McKellar George Noon NLM Director Dr Patricia Flatley Brennan Mar 21, 2017 – “Intentional Impact: The Legacy of Michael E. DeBakey beyond the O.R.,” Inaugural Michael E. DeBakey Lecture in the History of Medicine, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

    See event coverage at:

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