Personal profile

Research overview

I began my PhD in Environmental History at St Andrews in September 2021, under the supervision of Dr John Clark

My thesis examines how Californian medical and civilian reactions to the 1918-19 influenza pandemic were framed by the state’s unique attitudes towards nature and health. Nearly 30,000 Californians died of flu between October 1918 and March 1920, yet there has been only limited historical engagement with California’s pandemic experiences, and none which consider how the state’s environmental context influenced perceptions of the flu. My project fills this historiographical gap and provides commentary on attitudes towards the state’s medical establishment and its early public health measures between 1900 and 1920.

In an October 1918 ‘Medical Meeting on Influenza’ the Los Angeles County chapter of the California State Medical Society confidently stated that despite the flu’s myriad serious symptoms, ‘in California the prognosis is good’. My project investigates how legacies of the late-19th century ‘health rush’ alongside pre-pandemic encounters with plague and TB shaped Californian understandings of health and identity and thus created the atmosphere in which such a belief (repeated in multiple medical and newspaper articles) manifested. This will include chapters on the 1905 Plague Epidemic’s role in generating longstanding distrust in Californian medical institutions; on the contentious relationships between doctors, newspapers, and the general public in the medical field’s fight against quacks and charlatan flu cures; and my current chapter on Californian tuberculosis experiences and their impact on state, medical and civilian reactions to influenzal contagion.

In light of the recent pandemic and attendant narratives of distrust in the medical and scientific professions, multiple facets of this project are intellectually urgent.

Prior to my time at St Andrews, I gained a BA with first class honours in Modern and Contemporary History from Queen Mary, University of London and an MRes with distinction in Historical Research from the Institute of Historical Research. 

Alongside my PhD, I am the Events And Media Assistant for the ERC-funded ‘Everyday Dictatorship’ Project which includes the production of the Project's podcast, 'Miniatures'. I am also a Writing Retreat Coordinator with CEED and a Sub-Honours Tutor for MO1008: Themes in Late Modern History (c.1776-2001). Outside of St Andrews I am the Website Officer for the Northern Environmental History Network.

Academic/Professional Qualification

MRes Historical Research (Distinction) - Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London.

BA Modern and Contemporary History (First Class Honours) - Queen Mary, University of London.

Teaching activity

MO1008: Themes in Late Modern History (c.1776-2001)

Academic Skills Programme 2022, School of History: Editing and Proofreading

CEED Writing Retreat Coordinator



Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


Dive into the research topics where Islay Grace Shelbourne is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
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