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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Barbara Haward

 Telegraphers' Cramp: The first modern office disease

Telegraphers’ Cramp emerged as a result of the introduction of new technology into the perceived “safe office environments” of Post Offices and other telegraph companies and the numbers of workers affected escalated rapidly (from about 700 affected workers in 1908 to about 8000 workers in 1911).

Telegraphers cramp, and the earlier reporting of "writers cramps" were new occupational disorders  with a range of symptoms e.g. pain, stiffness, nerve tenderness and paralysis in the hands and wrists. This led to diagnosis difficulties for those affected, their employers and medical practitioners .

The overarching aim of the research is to provide a historical account of the characteristics and meaning of Telegraphers’ Cramp, and to describe the historical factors that led to its emergence, rise and fall in the period between 1850 and 1930. Telegraphers’ Cramp will be located in the socio-political context of the emergence, during this time period, of new approaches to occupational health involving the growing power of the workforce, their employers, medical and science professionals and the state.

Whilst Telegraphers’ Cramp has been paid little attention by social historians and references to it in occupational health history are scarce, this was an occupational disease that affected a large number of Post Office workers  in its life time. The relevance of it to today's world is that musculoskeletal disorders continue to proliferate with the introduction of new and mobile technologies.  Similar issues that affected the Telegraphers are still being discussed today by the same network of actors (i.e. the workers, employers, trade unions, medical and scientific professionals). In the present day, musculoskeletal ill health and disabling disease resulting from work still occurs, as evidenced by the large numbers of lost working days each year.


Dr Steven Sturdy 

Dr Gayle Davis


 I am a part time student. My previous work experience was working as an industry professional in the area of occupational health and human factors, so I have many years knowledge and experience of  current work related health issues and the impacts of new technologies on humans and their work.


BSc Biological Sciences(Microbiology) - University of Edinburgh

MSc Applied Microbiology - University of Portsmouth 

MSc Health Ergonomics - University of Surrey 

PgC Learning and Teaching in Higher Education  

Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors 

Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health