Shelley McKellar

- The Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine
- Professor (Joint Appointment with the Department of Surgery)
- Western Faculty Scholar, 2019-2021

image of Shelley McKellar
PhD, University of Toronto, 1999
Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 84990
Office: Lawson Hall 2227
Office Hours: By Zoom 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, she is co-author of Transforming Dentistry: The Rise and Demise (Almost) of Academic Dentistry at Western University, 1947 to the Present (under contract at UTP). (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

Invited Lectures

  • Dec 1, 2021 – “’Last Resort' Sentiments and Implications: Cutting, Instruments, and Technology in the History of Surgery” 2021-2 MacLean Interdisciplinary Lecture Series, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago Medicine [virtual talk]
  • Aug 9, 2021 – “Lady Medicos: Dr. Jennie Kidd Trout and the Audacious Feats of Women in Medicine” University Women’s Club of Toronto [virtual talk]  
  • Apr 6, 2021 – “Cutting as Cure,” New Histories of Medical Technology—A Molina Symposium on the History of Medicine hosted by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the University of Delaware [virtual talk] 
  • Feb 25, 2021 – “‘The operation occasions so little suffering …’: The Tonsil Guillotine, Tonsil Excision and Surgical Knowledge in the 19th Century,”  Medical History Collective, University of Ottawa, Ontario [virtual talk] 
  • Feb 11, 2021 – “Culture Shock! The Impact of Pandemics” Panelist, Heritage Fair 2021, London Heritage Council [virtual panel] 
  • Jan 12, 2021 – “Knives, Guillotines or Scissors? Tonsil ‘Cutting’ and Surgical Knowledge in the 19th Century,” Northern Ontario History of Health & Medicine Group and NOSM Surgical Interest Group, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Thunder Bay, Ontario [virtual talk] 
  • Nov 23, 2020 – “The Decision to Cut: Removing Hearts and Tonsils in the History of Surgery,” Calgary History of Medicine Society (CHoMS), University of Calgary, Alberta [virtual talk] 
  • Oct 28, 2020 – “Cutting and Pain: The Excision of Tonsils before & after Anaesthesia,” The Ether Day Celebration Lecture, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax NS [virtual talk] 
  • Oct 15, 2019 -- “Artificial Hearts:  Haskell Karp, Dick Cheney and other Sensational Patient Cases,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC
  • Sept 24, 2019 -- " 'Lady Medicos': Dr Jennie Kidd Trout and the Audacious Feats of Women in Medicine,"   Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Stratford, ON
  • Apr 12, 2019 -- “Artificial Hearts:  A Controversial Medical Technology and Its Sensational Patient Cases from Barney Clark to Dick Cheney,” Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

Displays & Workshops

  • Artifact Collection at Doors Open London Teaching Anatomy and Microscopy at Western, Dept of History, 2nd floor Lawson Hall  (2019)
  • "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

  • 2019-2021 - Western Faculty Scholar
    Award recognizes significant recent scholarly achievements in teaching or research, Office of the President, Western University
  • 2010-11, 2012-13 - USC Teaching Honour Roll
    Award of Excellence in Teaching, Western University