Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Exploring Wellcome Collection: A Social History of Madness in Europe

What did it mean to suffer mental health problems in the past? How was madness understood and how were patients treated? Drawing on the rich holdings both in the Library and Wellcome Collection, this short course looks at the history of madness in Europe.

Operated in conjunction with our colleagues at Birkbeck College, the course will focus on different ways of classifying and treating insanity, as well as looking at the difference that gender and class made to treatment and diagnosis.

Topics explored include madness in medieval and early modern Europe; 'moral treatment' in the eighteenth century; the asylum age; hysteria and neurasthenia, degeneration and mental deficiency. This module also includes a special case study on alcoholism and madness.

More details can be found on the Birkbeck website.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wellcome Library Insight: Facing Up to the Past

This week's free Wellcome Library session - on Thursday 1st April - offers both a chance to explore face reading through the collections of the Wellcome Library and also to learn about the life and death masks collected by Sir Francis Galton, and which are now part of the Galton Collection, UCL.

Natasha McEnroe, Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy
Danny Rees, Assistant Librarian, Wellcome Library

This Thursday's session is from 6pm-7.30pm, and tickets are available on the day from the Wellcome Collection Information Desk from 4.30pm onwards.

For more details, see the Wellcome Collection website.

(Image shown: Life mask of Sir Henry Wellcome, c.1902).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Wellcome Library online subscriptions

The Wellcome Library has recently taken out a subscription to Oxford Art Online, which offers the ability to access and search the vast content of Grove Art Online and Oxford art reference works in one location. The resource covers all aspects of the visual arts from prehistory to the present day, from art and architecture to ceramics and photography, and is available to readers through PCs in the Wellcome Library.

In other subscription news, the following resources are now available remotely to Wellcome Library readers:

John Johnson Collection
(Provides access to thousands of items selected from the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera at the Bodleian Library, and offers unique insights into the changing nature of everyday life in Britain in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries).

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers
(Provides access to over 200,000 House of Commons sessional papers from 1715 to the present day, with supplementary material back to 1688. HCPP delivers page images and searchable full text for each paper, along with a detailed subject index).

British Periodicals, Collections I & II
(Provides access to the searchable full text of hundreds of periodicals from the late seventeenth century to the early twentieth).

Peridicals Archive Online: JISC Collections selection
(An archive of hundreds of digitised journals published in the arts, humanities and social sciences, dating from 1891 to 2000).

These titles add to the other resources to which our readers already have remote access, a complete list of which is available on the Library’s website.

"The doctor's dream"

Engraving by Albrecht Dürer. Wellcome Library no. 570763i.
Albrecht Dürer's engraving traditionally called "The doctor's dream" is thought to be an early work, dating from his late twenties, i.e. circa 1497-1498. It shows a man sleeping by a hot stove as a devil blows evil thoughts into his ear. His thoughts are perhaps visualised in the figure of Venus, who gestures towards the stove, and Cupid, who learns to walk on stilts in the foreground. The print was already known in 1609 as "Der traümende Doctor" (The dreaming doctor). The man is certainly sleeping and he does look somewhat like the traditional representation of the scholar.

The subject has been compared (by Erwin Panofsky) with the description of the sin of sloth in Sebastian Brandt's Ship of fools (1494), which, as Panofsky says, "might well serve as a caption to Dürer's engraving":

A sluggard is no use except to be a hibernating dormouse and to be allowed a full measure of sleep. To sit by the stove is his delight … But the Evil One takes advantage of laziness and soon sows his seeds therein. Laziness is the root of all sin. It caused the children of Israel to grumble. David committed adultery and murder because he lolled in idleness [1]

Some of the ingredients of the composition, such as the costume of the man and the ceramic stove, are recognizable features of material life in Germany around 1500, but almost every item shown has some connotations over and above what it literally represents. The apple resting on a ledge of the stove, for instance, is both an apple and the cause of the Fall of Man. In the same room as the "real" sleeping man we see Venus and Cupid, who are imagined entities (deities), based on human woman and children but seen only in the mind's eye. In the same room again as those nude pagan deities is the half-hidden monstrous Devil of Christian lore, described in the Apocalypse. When beings from at least three different worlds are brought together in one composition, the resulting mixture of object and connotation, realism and allegory, was calculated to spark off a rich array of thoughts and feelings in the prepared mind. [2]

Left: the elements, qualities, humours, seasons, and ages of man. Airbrush by Lois Hague, 1991. Wellcome Library no. 114i.

For instance sloth (acedia) is one of the seven cardinal sins, but Galen says in chapter XXII of his Art of medicine that people whose brains are of a wet and cold temperament are inclined to heavy sleep and drop off easily; the humours that correspond to the quality cold are phlegm and melancholy; melancholy is an occupational disease of scholars (as in Dürer's print Melencolia I); scholars are acquainted with the supernatural beings described in ancient literatures ... and so on. The unified thought-systems of the time permitted and encouraged such leisurely mental promenades.

Nowadays impressions of this print come on to the market with increasing rarity. Already in 1803 it was described by the connoisseur Adam Bartsch as "du nombre des rares". A very fine impression belonging to a collector called Robert Balmanno and sold by him at Sotheby's in 1830 (yes, 1830) was re-sold at Sotheby's in London on 6 July 2001 (lot 20) for £33,850, which probably seemed a large sum at the time, and even more so a couple of months later. However the same impression was re-resold at Christie's in London on 5 December 2006 (lot 36) for £66,000.

Now, by coincidence, two somewhat less fine impressions than Balmanno's are being offered by Sotheby's and Christie's in London on two successive days in 2010. Sotheby's sale on 30 March (lot 18) has what they describe as "a good impression" with an estimate of £4,000-£6,000 (€4,550-6,900), while in Christie's sale on 31 March, lot 17, described as a Meder d/e impression, with some defects, has an estimate of £7,000-£10,000 ($11,000-15,000). Not a huge amount for a five hundred year old work by a man considered to be Germany's greatest visual artist. However, given the unpredictability of auctions, anything could happen. Whoever bids will not be competing against the Wellcome Library, as the Library already has a respectable impression.

[1] Erwin Panofsky, The life and art of Albrecht Dürer, Princeton 1955, pp. 71-72

[2] Jeroen Stumpel, 'The foul fowler found out: on a key motif in Dürer's Four witches', Simiolus, 2003, 30: 143-160 (citing some of the earlier literature)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sir James Black (1924-2010)

Sir James Black, Nobel-Prize winning pharmacologist, died on Sunday at the age of 85.

Between 1978 and 1984, Black was Director of Thereapeutic Research at the Wellcome Research Laboratories (these laboratories being part of the research wing of the Wellcome Foundation, the pharmaceutical business co-founded by Sir Henry Wellcome).

His Nobel Prize - awarded in 1988 for Physiology or Medicine - was shared with Gertrude B. Elion and George H. Hitchings, for their work on drug development (Elion and Hitchings also had strong ties to the Wellcome Foundation, working for almost all of their professional careers for the American wing of the business).

Obituaries have hailed Sir James Black's achievements, particularly his work on beta-blocker drugs (Black is credited with discovering them in 1962). Such drugs now play in a vital role in the treatment of heart attacks and angina.

The Wellcome Library holds a number of items relating to Black. The Wellcome Foundation Archive contains a selected amount of material, with editions of Foundation News (the organisation's in-house publication) contextualising Black's work during his 6 years with the Foundation.

Black also contributed to two Wellcome Witness seminars: Peptic Ulcer: Rise and Fall (Vol. 14) and Clinical Pharmacology in the UK, c. 1950–2000: Influences and institutions (Vol. 33), (these being seminars at which "...significant figures in twentieth-century medicine are invited to discuss specific discoveries or events in recent medical history"). Copies of these works are held by the Wellcome Library and are also freely available online.

Sterilization and murder of psychiatric patients 1934-1945

The Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg has opened a small exhibition of "Pictures of a forced sterilization" which were acquired in 2008. They are a series of pictures by Wilhelm Werner (1898-1940) who lived from 1919 in the asylum at Werneck in Bavaria.

The Nazi eugenic regulations came into force on 1 January 1934, and Werner was one of those forcibly sterilized as a result. From then until 1938 he made drawings of his experience, including one of a "Sterilization bus" flying the swastika flag. In the words of the Prinzhorn's publicity, "He transformed the experience of the degrading intervention into a series of imaginative and original pictures." In 1940 he was put to death as part of the Nazi "euthanasia" programme.

In addition, other works are on show by psychiatric patients who were also put to death between 1940 and 1945 because they were considered to be "lebensunwert" (unworthy of life).

Kabinettausstellung: Bilder einer Zwangssterilisierung. Wilhelm Werner (1898-1940) is at the Sammlung Prinzhorn, Heidelberg, 18 March-6 June 2010.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wellcome Library Insight: Francis Galton and Francis Crick: Cases of mistaken identity?

This week's free Wellcome Library Insight session - on Thursday 25th March - seeks to reassess the intellectual worlds of two controversial scientists, Francis Galton and Francis Crick, and discuss how their work continues to impact upon our understanding of science today.

Natasha McEnroe, Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy
Helen Wakely, Archivist, Wellcome Library

Our Insight sessions give visitors to the Wellcome Library an opportunity to explore the variety of our holdings. Sessions are thematic in style and offer a chance to learn about our collections and wider themes in the history of science.

This Thursday's session is from 3.00pm-4.30pm, and tickets are available from the Wellcome Collection Information Desk from 1.30pm onwards. For more details, see the Wellcome Collection website.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Item of the Month, March: Spring comes in 1807

Today, officially, marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere: the point from which days are longer than nights, and the long winter is finally behind us. Of course, this is an artificial date: spring is not something that is switched on on a particular day, but a gradual process, a slow awakening that takes place at different times at different latitudes. There is strong variation even within the United Kingdom: the same flowers may be in full bloom in Cornwall, whilst Scotland will not see them for weeks yet. For each part of the country, however, there will be a rough average date at which, year on year, the different markers of spring appear: the first snowdrops, the first catkins, and – famously the subject of competitive letters to the Times – the first cuckoo.

Would you know, however, when those rough dates are for the place you live? Could you tell if the daffodils came out a week later than usual? And, faced with the recent news reports that spring is coming earlier each year, would you be able to judge their accuracy against your own experience?

And could you do it without using your eyes?

March’s item of the month gives us a fascinating look at a man who could have said Yes to all those questions: the scientist, mathematician and all-round “natural philosopher” John Gough (1757-1825). Gough was born in Kendal, in the Lake District, and lived in the area all his life. Like many contemporary significant figures in science, he was a Quaker. He was the son of a prosperous dyer in the town, and thus came from a social stratum that would not normally expect at that time to go to university. His father Nathan Gough, unusually, was prepared to pay for him to remain in full-time education longer than was customary at this time, and Gough was still studying in his early twenties. To this extent, we could see him as having had an advantage over his peers. However, although his father could contribute to Gough overcoming social barriers, there was one difficulty Gough faced that could not be remedied: he had been blind since contracting smallpox at the age of three.

Gough’s disability did not prevent him pursuing his scientific interests. As a teenager, for instance, he set up a botanical club at school, in which he would subject a plant to minute analysis with his fingers whilst another boy would read out its description; and he carried out experiments in his father’s dye-house. As a young man he studied mathematics and collaborated with a fellow Lakeland Quaker, John Dalton (father of the modern atomic theory): Dalton would help Gough with his scientific works and in exchange Gough would tutor Dalton in Latin and Greek. Gough corresponded with the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Societey, and published papers on a wide range of topics, his core interest being in the physics and perception of sound – research in which he drew, of course, upon his own experience in using sound to compensate for his lost sight.

In the spring of 1807, Gough had just turned fifty years old. Our item of the month finds him in correspondence with another independent Quaker scientist, the chemist and meteorologist Luke Howard (1772-1864). Howard worked as a manufacturing chemist but his real interest was in meteorology: he subjected the weather and climate to long-term close examination and lives on today as the man who devised the classification scheme for clouds – stratus, cumulus and cirrus, and their various sub-categories. This classification – which revolutionised the way we look at the sky, delighted Goethe and has been cited as an influence on Constable and Turner – was first proposed in 1803. Four years later, when he and Gough corresponded, Howard was engaged in a long-term project to record the climate of London (which bore fruit in his book The Climate of London, originally published in two volumes in 1818-1820 and later reissued and enlarged in 1833).

For Howard, Gough provides a detailed breakdown, day by day, of the spring of 1807: the weather and the changes in the natural world. The large manuscript sheets on which this is recorded are now held at the Wellcome Library as part of the papers of the Hodgkin and Howard families under the reference PP/HO/K/A14.

Gough gives us an account of natural phenomena minutely observed. There is weather, of course, both general description and also precise measurements of wind direction and speed, atmospheric pressure, maximum and minimum temperatures, and precipitation. But there is also the naturalist’s perspective, recording birdsong and the way that plants are opening out in their appointed sequence, a close engagement with a landscape that can no longer be seen but can be heard and touched. Some sample entries give the flavour of what seems to have been, like this year, a cold March, but one in which there is a perceptible gathering of pace as the days pass:
March 2: Sambucus nigra, Elder, leafing
March 4: Slight snow showers A.M.: the three preceding days fine
March 17: Snow from 5 PM to 11 PM. Ewes lamb
March 22. White wagtail sings. Primrose fl[owe]rs.
March 24. Daffodil fl[owe]rs.
March 25. Goos[e]berry leafing.
March 26. Min[imum] of temperature at Kendal 23° [Fahrenheit], occasioned by hoarfrost. Oats sown.
March 30. Sleet. Snipe hums.

April continued intermittently cold, with two inches of snow as late as the 17th, and the fieldfare (a member of the thrush family that typically visits England from Scandinavia in winter) still present on the 20th. By the end of the month, however, he is noting the arrival of swallows (26th), thunder to the south and blackthorn blossom (30th) and – of course – the first cuckoo, on the 27th. All the markers of spring are in place.

On March 21st, incidentally, Gough records: “Wet. Lapwing arrives.” This weekend we invite our readers in northern Europe to walk in the fields – with luck, dry ones – and see if any lapwings have arrived to breed. (Identification details can be found here). For an extra taste of Gough’s work, sighted readers are invited to close their eyes, take a shoot or leaf between their fingers and feel it carefully, then try to work out how many different types of birdsong can be heard; and imagine themselves in the Lake District in 1807, as a long cold spell comes to an end and nature wakes itself.

The top image shows a chromolithograph of a goldfinch amidst cherry blossoms, from the Library's Iconographic Collections. The other images are from Gough's meteorological journal, PP/HO/K/A14.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What's new in Paris--July 1539

In an article in the March 2010 issue of Print quarterly, Kate Heard publishes a rare early reference to a French anatomical fugitive sheet. [1] Even more unexpected: it comes from an Englishman. More about that later. But first, what on earth is an anatomical fugitive sheet?

Woodcut, 15--. Wellcome Library

It is a quaint term used by bibliographers since the 1920s to refer to prints (woodcuts or engravings) that circulated as single sheets from the 1530s to the mid-17th century, and which showed anatomical figures: the organs are cut to outline and pasted on the sheet in layers so that they can be lifted up one layer at a time. [2] It was a publisher's practice that was revived at various times in the 19th century: examples of books containing such sheets are E.W. Tuson's A supplement to myology, (London 1828), Gustave Joseph Witkowski's Anatomie iconoclastique (Paris 1874-1876) and Etienne Rabaud's Anatomie élémentaire du corps humain (Paris 1900). In the 20th century the same principle was used in Dr Jonathan Miller's best-selling pop-up book The human body (London 1983), as well as in books for medical and nursing students.

Lithograph of the thigh by Samuel G. Tovey and E.W. Tuson, 1828. Wellcome Library no. 561005i

Kate Heard's new discovery is a document in the British National Archives. It is a letter from Edmund Bonner, the British ambassador at the court of Francis I in Paris, to Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle (b. before 1472, d. 1542), the deputy of Calais. Bonner was a canon of St Paul's and a future bishop of London. Lisle was the illegitimate son of Edward IV (1442–1483) and therefore the uncle of Henry VIII. In Calais he was responsible for defending and governing the city, and for running spy-rings in north-east France and the Netherlands. His wife Honor accompanied him in Calais. [3]

Bonner wrote to Lisle in late July 1539 sending gifts to both Lisle and his wife. For Lady Lisle Bonner sent a turquoise (jewel), and for Lord Lisle "nothing of noveltie save this present which of late was here emprinting", i.e. a printed novelty of some kind. The subject is further described as follows, in Heard's transcription:

the anatomie of the man is iuged here to be doon exquisytlie, the anatomie of the woman pleaseth me not soo moche how be it mr bekynsall that is married & hath had but oon childe telleth me, that that is the figure of women in their travayl, to whos iugement, because I am ignorant, I leve the matter, thinking that he toke consultacion with some mydwife touchyng his sentence.

(i.e. The anatomy of the man is judged here [in Paris] to be done exquisitely, the anatomy of the woman pleases me not so much. Howbeit, Mr Beckinsall who is married and has had but one child tells me that that is the figure of women in labour; to his judgment, because I am ignorant, I leave the matter, thinking that he consulted some midwife about his opinion.)

What was this print? Given the date, mid-1539, it must surely have been one of the first anatomical fugitive sheets, a pair of woodcuts of a man and a woman which were published in Paris in the very same year of 1539 by Jean Ruelle (Carlino no. 6).

Above left, the man, and above right, the woman, in a pair of anatomical fugitive sheets, Paris 1539. Centre, detail from the woman's print showing the imprint.
Wellcome Library.

The imprint on each print states that it was for sale at the sign of the Fox's Brush in the Rue Saint-Jacques in Paris. Since only two anatomical fugitive sheets from before 1539 are recorded (one from Strasbourg and one from Augsburg), Bonner was well advised to describe his gift as a "noveltie". The full belly of the woman in Ruelle's print could be interpreted as a sign of pregnancy.

A possible alternative mentioned by Heard is a single sheet of a man and a woman which exists with French text pasted on it. It is reproduced above, at the top of this posting. However, no French edition of this print is known from as early as 1539. The paddle held by the woman contains text in Latin and English, and the version which has the French wording refers to "Maistre Andre Vesali" which implies a later date: Andreas Vesalius published his anatomical treatise De humani corporis fabrica in 1543. He had published Tabulae anatomicae sex in 1538, but those tables showed skeletons and viscera, unlike the Ruelle plates.

There has been much discussion of the purpose and audience of anatomical fugitive sheets, which is frustrated by the lack of independent contemporary comment on them. Here in Bonner's letter is a testament to their novelty, their esteem among Parisian connoisseurs, and their suitability as a gift from an ambassador in Paris, not to a medical student or a natural philosopher but to a noble courtier who would appreciate a novel work of art. There is also of course the interesting remark that Mr Beckinsall (John Beckinsall, another English functionary in France known to both Bonner and Lisle) must have consulted a midwife before giving his opinion that the woman would be pregnant. Bonner must be joking here, perhaps provoking his friend to lift the flaps and see whether a foetus is depicted in the womb (it is, as can be seen in the sequence of still images reproduced in the Wellcome Library catalogue).

For other implications of the letter, the reader is referred to the article in Print quarterly.

[1] Kate Heard, 'The gift of a print in 1539', Print quarterly, 2010, 27: 53-54

[2] Andrea Carlino, Paper bodies: a catalogue of anatomical fugitive sheets 1538-1687, London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1999 (Medical History, supplement no. 19)

[3] Oxford dictionary of national biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, articles on "Plantagenet, Arthur, Viscount Lisle" and "Bonner, Edmund"

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bedlam documentary

Tonight at 9pm, the History Channel in the UK will broadcast, 'Bedlam', a new documentary on the history of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, the mental institution from which the word 'bedlam' derives and which became notorious for the treatment of its patients.

Produced by Seneca Productions (and funded by the Wellcome Trust), the documentary uses dramatic reconstructions of scene's from Bedlam's history as well as interviews with experts on the hospital, such as Dr Jonathan Andrews, Catherine Arnold and Mike Jay. It's also illustrated with content drawn from the Wellcome Library's collections.

More details on the documentary are available through the History channel's website and this microsite.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Re-'Revealing the Mind Bender General'

When first broadcast last year, we posted on the BBC Radio 4 documentary, 'Revealing the Mind Bender General', which discussed the controversial career of Dr William Sargant, whose papers are held by the Wellcome Library.

Radio 4 is repeating the documentary tonight (17th March) at 9pm. For those unable to tune in, the documentary is available for listeners in the UK through BBC iPlayer and
can also be listened to through the blog Speechification.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Too big to fail?

Eighteen months ago, the collapse of the Lehman Brothers merchant bank touched off ripples around the world, a disturbance of the financial system whose consequences are still not worked out. In the aftermath of the bank’s collapse (and the run on Northern Rock a year earlier), we have heard a lot about banks that were “too big to fail”, about those which the government could allow to go under and those which needed to be propped up. As Lehman Brothers (and its auditors) re-enter the news, it is topical to look back 150 years to another bank that ultimately was not too big to fail.

In the feverish financial climate of the past few years there have been frequent references to one potential crash or another being “the biggest since the collapse of Overend, Gurney and Company in 1866”. In particular, it was noticed in 2007 that Northern Rock were experiencing the first major run on a British bank since Overend, Gurney and Company. A few documents in the Wellcome Library shed light on this episode, one which until recently was known about chiefly by business historians.

Overend, Gurney and Company was founded in 1800 as Richardson, Overend and Company. In 1807 Samuel Gurney, a member of a well-known Norwich Quaker family (who had founded Gurney’s Bank, now part of Barclay’s) joined the firm, and in 1809 he took it over and gave it its new name. It was a wholesale bank that became known as “the bankers’ banker”, and whose trade was in bills of exchange – in effect, buying and selling debt. It throve in this role and weathered one major financial crisis in 1825, bailing out other bankers at that time. The problems arose after the death of Samuel Gurney in 1856. To buy and sell debt requires considerable cash reserves in order to insulate oneself against the inevitable occasions when someone defaults and a bill of exchange becomes a useless piece of paper. After Gurney’s death, the bank turned more to long-term investments – particularly in railways – as a way of holding its assets: prudent for an individual, perhaps, but ill-suited to a bank whose role requires it suddenly to come up with large amounts of cash to absorb losses. Overend, Gurney and Company found itself in 1865 owing £4 million and with liquid assets of only £1 million – debts outweighing assets by 300%. A stock-market flotation was hit hard by a drop in the value of shares and in 1866 the bank found itself in serious trouble, its offices besieged by panicking crowds. As with Lehman Brothers (but not Northern Rock), there was to be no bail-out: in early May the Bank of England told Overend, Gurney and Company that it would not underwrite them, and that they would have to sink or swim on their own. The end came quickly: on May 10th 1866 the bank suspended payments, owing £11 million (equal at today’s prices to over £900 million) and touching off a financial collapse, in which over 200 companies went under as a result.

It is a familiar story to us now, and the consequences also ring bells. Caught up in the backwash were the executors of Thomas Hodgkin, the pathologist, who had died a little over a month before. Hodgkin was a Quaker and moved in the same circles as many characters in the Overend and Gurney story: his family knew the Gurneys well, and also knew many of the Quaker promoters of railway companies affected by the financial turmoil. His personal connections, ironically, may have made him particularly vulnerable in this collapse, making it likely that the very things worst affected were those in which Hodgkin had invested. In his financial papers, gathered by his executors, are various share certificates in railway companies, from the pioneering Stockton and Darlington onwards: pieces of paper whose value would have diminished substantially after the collapse. His executors would have found themselves dealing with a considerably smaller estate a matter of weeks after his death, and it is doubtless for this reason that the executors’ papers include several newspaper cuttings on the collapse (pictured), which describe the atmosphere in the City of London as the collapse unfolded, the men in dark suits and hats gathering at street-corners to exchange gossip on the latest twist.

Banks trading in debt, banks taking on too much debt relative to their assets, debates as to whether to let them fail, individuals and companies caught in the financial storm seeing their own assets shrink: history may not exactly repeat itself, but it’s not averse to recycling well-worn plot motifs.

The papers of Thomas Hodgkin form part of the Library’s large archive of the Hodgkin and Howard families, whose catalogue is visible on the Library’s archive database.

Archives & Manuscripts Cataloguing – February 2010

We’re introducing a new feature which we hope will become a regular fixture on the Library Blog: a monthly update on the cataloguing of material from our Archives and Manuscripts collections. The aim of these posts being to pass on information on material newly available to researchers.

The cataloguing of the collections listed below was completed in February. Information on our access conditions is available through the Archives and Manuscripts pages on the Wellcome Library’s website:

George Cuthbert Mura M'Gonigle (1888-1939), Medical Officer of Health in Stockton-on-Tees. Papers relating to M'Gonigle's professional career and public health interests in the 1920s and 1930s, including wide-ranging correspondence and subject files from the 1930s. The collection also contains a small amount of biographical material, published and printed material, and papers relating to the Birkett Committee on abortion. The collection is described in more detail in a recent Blog post. (PP/GMG).

Major R.C. Wilmot (RAMC): field ambulance diaries compiled whilst attached to 140th Field Ambulance Unit, 1915-1917 (MS.8730).

Anonymous: “John Hancock's Paper on Sarsaparilla Examined”, a careful discussion of Hancock’s 1829 paper on this particular item of materia medica (a copy of the original treatise is held in the Library) (MS.8731).

Sir Harold Himsworth KCB FRS FRCP (1905-1993), medical scientist and administrator (PP/HPH).

Retroconversion (that is, the process of turning our hard-copy catalogues into online resources): BACUP (British Association of Cancer United Patients and their families and friends): administrative records, publications, cuttings, photographs, and material relating to the organisation’s founder Vicky Clement-Jones. (SA/BAC).

To keep up to date on newly catalogued material from the Library’s other collections (such as Rare Books and Prints, Photographs, Paintings and Drawings), RSS Feeds are available from the Library’s website.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Institute of Historical Research Seminar

Tomorrow evening (Tuesday 16th March), as part of the Spring Term 'Archives and Society' Seminars at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), Senate House, London; the Wellcome Library's Helen Wakely (Archivist) and Julianne Simpson (Rare Books Librarian), will be giving a talk entitled 'The secret ingredient: Hunting early modern recipes and their context in print and manuscript'.

The seminar is free, begins at 5.30pm and for those wishing to attend, more details are available through the IHR's website.

Wellcome Library Insight: Around the World in 100 Years

This week's free Wellcome Library Insight session - on Thursday 18th March - offers the chance learn about the globe-trotting adventures of surgeons, medics, clerics and 'ordinary' tourists whose records have found their way into our collections.

Our Insight sessions give visitors to the Wellcome Library an opportunity to explore the variety of our holdings. Sessions are thematic in style, last around an hour and offer a chance to learn about our collections from a member of Library staff.

This Thursday's session starts at 3.00pm, and tickets are available from the Wellcome Collection Information Desk from 1.30pm onwards. For more details, see the Wellcome Collection website.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Smoking with the 'Family Doctor'

As today is No Smoking Day in the UK, we felt it was a worthwhile opportunity to flag up a few items from the Wellcome Library's collections relating to tobacco. This in itself is no easy feat, given a simple word search on 'tobacco' on our online catalogue brings up nearly 1200 results...

We've decided to focus on two representations of doctors and one real-life epidemiologist. In discussing our Wellcome Film digitization project, we've previously flagged up the unhealthy habits of Nick O'Teen. Today we've turned to Smoking and You, produced by the Ministry of Health in 1963.

In Smoking and You, charts show the increase in cigarette sales between 1910 and 1960, as well as the increase in deaths from lung cancer. A doctor addresses the camera, warning of the risks to health from smoking and adds that he himself smoked until seeing the damage it caused to his patients.

Less than 20 years before, the (albeit fictional) Doctor narrating Family Doctor (1946), offers a very different attitude toward smoking, going as far as to offer a patient a cigarette to calm her nerves. For much of the film, the Doctor is seen puffing away on a pipe: an object as vital to his air of medical familiarity as his three-piece suit and gentlemanly manner.

This change from our smoking doctor of 1946 to one warning of the dangers of cigarettes in 1963 can in great part be put down to the research of Sir Richard Doll, who helped determine the link between smoking and lung cancer, as part of work carried out whilst he was part of the Statistical Research Unit of the Medical Research Council (the findings of which were first published in the British Medical Journal in 1950).

Sir Richard Doll's papers are now part of the Wellcome Library's archives and manuscripts collections (reference PP/DOL), and were drawn upon for Doll's authorised biography, Conrad Keating's Smoking Kills: The Revolutionary Life of Sir Richard Doll, which was published late last year.

Doll was a smoker, but just like our Doctor in Smoking and You, gave up when the evidence in front of him convinced him to change his ways. Doll's research may even have been enough for our Family Doctor to stop sharing cigarettes with his patients, and even put out his pipe.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wellcome Library Workshops

This week’s free Wellcome Library workshops are:

Using historical newspapers online
Discover the world of nineteenth century newspapers. In this workshop you can explore the Times Digital Archive, and learn how to search the text of newspapers from the British Library's newspaper archive online. A wealth of social history for all!
Tuesday 9th March, 2-3pm

Wellcome Images
Do you need a picture? Find what you need from the Wellcome Images catalogue: search 160 000 pictures online, covering the history of medicine and the history of human culture from the earliest periods of civilisation to the present day.
Thursday 11th March, 2-3pm

Our programme of free workshops offer short practical sessions to help you discover and make use of the wealth of information available at the Wellcome Library. Book a place from the library website.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stamp of Approval

Last week, Royal Mail released a set of stamps commemorating the contribution of ten Royal Society Fellows to the scientific world. Among these eminent scientists is the surgeon and pioneer of antisepsis, Joseph Lister, whose portrait was licensed from Wellcome Images to feature on the Special Stamps.

Before Lister's introduction of antisepsis into clinical surgery in 1867, the mortality rate from postoperative infection was around 50 per cent. While a surgical procedure was often deemed 'successful', the same could not be said of the patient's return to health.

Inspired by the newly born germ theory, Lister made a connection between the fermentation process described by Louis Pasteur and the formation of pus in surgical wounds. Pasteur suggested that the exposure of the responsible microorganisms to a chemical solution would destroy them, which led Lister to discover that swabbing wounds with carbolic acid reduced the incidence of gangrene. Adoption of Lister's techniques caused mortality from amputation to drop from 45 to 15 per cent [1].

The rise of antiseptic surgery made possible the development of surgical techniques that have enabled the success of a wide range of procedures today. Wellcome Images holds a comprehensive collection of clinical photographs, accessible to healthcare professionals and for use in healthcare education, some of which show the results of operations that would not have been possible without Joseph Lister's contribution to medical science.

The Wellcome Library has an extensive range of material on Lister's life and achievements, including a collection of manuscripts, which recently inspired 'Exploring the Invisible', a Wellcome Trust-funded project, which culminated in a live installation at the Old Operating Theatre, and which we discussed in depth in previous posts.

(For more on the Royal Society stamps, there's an accompanying photo gallery on the Royal Society's website and an audio slideshow on the series on the BBC's website).

[1] Joseph Lister, On the effects of the antiseptic system of treatment upon the salubrity of a surgical hospital, Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1870

Author: Louise Crane

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wellcome Film End of Project Report online

The Wellcome Library has recently completed a project to digitise around 280 hours (over 500 titles) of historic film and video. In the End of Project Report, recently made publicly available online, we provide an overview of the project's achievements in relation to the goals we set ourselves back in October 2007, when the project started. We also examine the project methodology, the marketing plan, and the success so far of the various delivery methods.

Summary of key deliverables
  • The aim of the project was to digitise 100 hours/450 titles, segmented and supported by rich catalogue records. To date we achieved 215 hours/431 titles with a further 140 titles already digitised that will be added to the web over the next several months. 
  • We anticipated around 50% of these titles would be suitable for open access via the Library's website, but in the end it was possible to make at least 84% of titles openly available. The rest are only available via Film and Sound Online, where users are required to login.
Summary statistics for the delivery methods

Behind the Scenes: The Support Services Team

In this month's installment of Behind the Scenes, we look at one of the most active teams in the Library - the Support Services Team (SST). Lead by Damian Nicolaou, the 6-strong team lies within the Collections Management department at the Wellcome Library providing key core services as well as taking on a number of projects.

The SST carries out all the retrieval and delivery of material for the Library's users - mainly for the public but also for the staff. They have a 90 minute turnaround time, and can be seen moving special collections to and from all areas of the Library building. In fact, some 20,000 items are moved by the SST per annum - that's over 3,000 items per team member - a very active job indeed!

The other core service the SST manages is stock and space maintenance throughout the Library. This includes both the open stacks and the stores, and the Rare Materials Reading Room. The team are vigilant in making sure the Library's materials are stored appropriately - making best use of the space available and minimising risk of damage - and are kept in order so they are easily available to the users. The SST also keep an eye on the physical condition of the material they handle, identifying vulnerable items so they can be properly conserved and maintained.

The SST also participate in a variety of projects, usually to do with managing and organising the Library's physical stocks, such as logistics for large-scale digitisation projects, numbering of Rare Books, and assisting with conservation and preparation, but also other tasks such as web archiving. Overall, the SST interacts with all the other departments in the Library, both in their core work and the project-based work.

The SST's biggest challenge this year is putting into action changes recommended by a recent service review that touches on many aspects of the Library, but particularly on the SST. The recommendations include streamlining some existing tasks, and taking on new tasks. Damian says "It is always a challenge to take on new responsibilities such as service desk work, while maintaining an efficient and high quality service in the core areas."

Although the SST's work may not always be visible to the public, it "underpins many aspects of the service the Library provides to its users and contributes to the overall user experience of the Library" Damian says. Speedy and efficient delivery of requested materials, opening and closing the Library, tidying reading rooms and assisting with the Self Copy Service, for example, all make the Library run smoother, and help give it the relaxed and helpful atmosphere that its users (and its staff) need.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The crust of it!

This week is National Pie Week in Great Britain, celebrating the long history of pies and pasties in British cookery. Although the haggis and the Roast Beef of Old England occur more in song and story, food wrapped in pastry is a running motif in the story of British cookery, eaten by kings and labourers alike. The Wellcome Library’s holdings relating to food are extensive – we have already mentioned, for instance, our large number of manuscript recipe books, of which the seventeenth-century items are now online. Browsing through these, the reader comes across all manner of pies: penny-plain or decorative and fancy, basic and nutritious or figurative and metaphorical, palatable or disgusting. Here we highlight some pastry-wrapped delicacies from our collections.

All manner of recipes for savoury pies occur in the manuscript collection. For the modern reader, used to the dominance of a few types of meat as pie fillings, their variety comes as a surprise: in particular, seafoods are a common filling, with oysters, lobster and shrimps (the last-named being measured in quarts rather than by weight: a heroic quantity) all being used. We, however, will highlight another recipe, one that sheds incidental light on a common turn of phrase. We speak still of someone “eating humble pie” when we mean that they have been humiliated: the expression comes ultimately from a French word for the entrails of a deer, Humble Pie (or Umble Pie, as it was originally) being made from these less choice cuts after the more sought-after parts of the animal had been taken. In our MS.3769, compiled by a Mrs Jane Parker around 1651, we find a pie slightly further down the social scale than this, even: an ersatz Humble Pie to be made from lamb’s meat.

To bake a lams head and portinance [viscera] in a pie to eat like the Umbles of a dear

Take a lambs head and portenance and parboyle it a litell and then Chop it small as you doe for minst [mince] pies with a po[u]nd of beefe suet, a pou[n]d corrance [currants] [and] a few sweet herbs[;] season it with peper and salt and so bake it[.] When it comes out of the oven you may put a litell sack [sherry] with a litell sugar and a litell boter [butter] and warme it and put it into the pie.

How to make the pastry case, in this recipe, is seen as too obvious to bother mentioning. Noticeable also in seventeenth century recipes is the absence of timings or oven temperatures – these are refinements that only come in when items are cooked in predictable gas or electric ovens. Working on an old-fashioned kitchen range, whose temperature would differ from house to house and from day to day, the cook would simply put the item in and let it bake until it was done, testing frequently and adjusting in the way we still do now with items cooked on the top of the stove.

The British pudding, in which beef suet can be used in a sweet dish, often startles people from other countries. It is interesting to see the same combination of suet and fruit in this savoury dish, suggesting that we are misguided in drawing a sharp line between sweet and savoury dishes when looking at these traditional recipes. The recipe book of Hannah Bisaker (née Buchanan), dating from 1692, endorses this view, with the many pies listed in its opening pages including, next to each other, “Veale Pye Savery” and “Veale Pye Sweete”. As we noted in an earlier blog posting, however, Bisaker’s recipe book is of particular interest for the attention it pays to the outside of pies as well as their content. For Jane Parker, the pastry case was something not even worth mentioning in the recipe. Hannah Bisaker, in contrast, gives up several whole pages to templates for elaborate pastry shapes. Whatever the content of her pies – and as well as the two veal recipes mentioned above, she cites hare, venison, mincemeat (using real meat) steak and “stump pie”, a sweet recipe combining meat, sugar and dried fruit, just in the first few pages – they would be housed with appropriate care and ceremony.

From pies literal to pies figurative, and a much less palatable recipe. On the shelves of the Library's Reading Room, Howard W. Haggard's 1929 history of medicine Devils, Drugs and Doctors reproduces a caricature by Robert Cruickshank (brother of the more famous George) in which a corpulent doctor tucks into "Cholera Pie". The image reflects the belief that an epidemic that was disastrous for the public was good financial news for the doctor: his pie here rests on a table labelled "Board of Wealth", a pun on "Board of Health". For the ultimate in unsavoury pies, however, we must go to Fleet Street and the story of Sweeney Todd, the famous barber whose customers reputedly ended up in the products of his neighbour's pie shop. Sweeney Todd: the real story of the demon barber of Fleet Street sits on the Library's shelves at shelfmark KM.43 (and in passing, how many of our readers know that this shelfmark takes them to a long rank of works on famous British murderers?). Mercifully, it contains no recipes.

The image at the head of this posting is an engraving after Hogarth, whose details can be seen here.

All recipes cited here are tried strictly at the cook's own risk; and pies containing human flesh, of course, should not be made at all.

Monday, March 1, 2010

'A Welsh Leech Book'

Of the thousands of manuscripts in the Wellcome Library, only one is written in Welsh. And as it's St David’s Day today – the patron saint of Wales, of course – we thought we would offer a few words on the manuscript.

Purchased for Henry Wellcome’s collection of manuscripts and books in 1907, and now catalogued as MS.417, Lhyfr o fedheginiaeth a physygwriaeth ('Book of remedies and medicine'), was written around 1600.

The language may be different, but the contents are similar to the Wellcome Library’s other medical manuscripts of the period. It is compiled from a host of sources, both local and classical in tradition. Treatments offered in the manuscript include cures for coughs, colic, ague and failing eyesight. Prescriptions include the use of herbs and ointments, but there are also directions for incantations and magical formulas. Indeed, MS.417 shares features with our collection of later 17th century – English - domestic remedy manuscripts.

The main difference between MS.417 and our domestic remedy manuscripts is that this is an item of a medical 'professional', hence the title of a 1924 published transcript of another version of this manuscript as A Welsh Leech-Book (‘Leech’ being an Old English word for Physician).

As indicated on our catalogue entry, authorship of the manuscript is disputed (it may have been the work of Sir Thomas Williams [1550?-1620?]). What MS.417 does offer up is some of its previous owners, the names of which are listed in 18th and 19th century hands. Given the bardic traditions of Wales, the name on this list of ‘Dewi Fardd’ – the poet and antiquary David Jones (1708?-1785) – is an intriguing presence.

The manuscript is deserving of more attention. A recent article in the journal Social History of Medicine argued that Wales in the Early Modern period, was part of a wider medical network than previous historians have accounted for. It would be interesting assess whether MS.417 helps to back up or dispute this claim.

Wellcome Library Insight - William Morris and the Wellcome Library

This week's free Wellcome Library Insight session - on Thursday 4th March - explores the manuscripts and books once owned by William Morris that are now part of the Wellcome Library's collections.

Our Insight sessions offer visitors to the Wellcome Library an opportunity to explore the variety of our holdings. Sessions are thematic in style, last around an hour and offer a chance to learn about our collections from a member of Library staff.

This Thursday's session starts at 3.00pm, and tickets are available from the Wellcome Collection Information Desk from 1.30pm onwards. For more details, see the Wellcome Collection website.

Wellcome Library Workshops

This week’s free Wellcome Library workshops are:

Finding visual resources in the Wellcome Library Collections
An introduction to the wealth of visual resources available in the Wellcome Library collections, and some practical suggestions and tips on how to locate them.
Tuesday 2nd March 2-3pm

Making the most of my library:
the Wellcome Library catalogue and how to personalise it

Learn the most effective way of searching the Wellcome Library catalogue and the best strategies for finding the resources you need. Discover what you can do with your Library Account, and what it can do for you.
Thursday 4th March 2-3pm

Our programme of free workshops offer short practical sessions to help you discover and make use of the wealth of information available at the Wellcome Library. Book a place from the library website.

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