'A shudder of terror': HIV/AIDS nursing, oral history and the politics of emotion

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In July 1983, Australia announced its first (official) AIDS related death: a forty-three-year-old Melbourne man who died at Prince Henry hospital. It was not until 1996 with the introduction of Highly Active Antiretroviral therapy that there was effective treatment for the virus. Between 1983-1996, nurses were at the frontline of care. Whilst the medical profession floundered, desperately trying to catch up with the mysterious virus, nurses provided the intimate physical and emotional care desperately needed by people facing untimely and often painful deaths. This paper is based on oral testimony collected in 2017 from nurses who worked in Australian HIV wards and clinics during the crisis. It considers the testimony of three nurses, Tom, Jackie and Katharine*. Paying close attention to the narratives of these three nurses enables a detailed investigation into how they negotiated complex and difficult emotions. In An Archive of Feelings, cultural theorist Ann Cvetkovich argues for a 'reconsideration of the conventional distinctions between political and emotional life', a blurring of the line between politics and emotion. Barbara Rosenwein likewise draws attention to the dynamic connection between emotional and political life in Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages. This paper will explore the 'affective life of politics' by considering how Tom's, Jackie's and Katharine's memories of fear, discomfort and grief were inflected by the broader politics of the AIDS crisis, as well as their particular personal and geographic contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-56
Number of pages7
JournalStudies in Oral History: the journal of Oral History Australia
Issue number41
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


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