Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another link completed: Sir Ernst Chain's papers made searchable

Our programme to convert all archive catalogues to electronic form passed another milestone this month, with the release to the database of our single largest remaining collection. The papers of the biochemist Sir Ernst Boris Chain (1906-1979) comprise some 67 boxes of widely varied documentation; the catalogue, written in the early 1980s, came to three hefty volumes of typescript.

Chain is best known for his work on penicillin, for which he shared the 1945 Nobel Prize for Medicine with Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey. Fleming had made the initial observation of penicillin’s properties in 1928, noting that it produced substances that killed bacteria; however, its instability had ruled out its use as an antiseptic, his initial hope, and he had not thought of its use to cure bacterial infections.

The turning point came in 1935, when Howard Florey became Professor of Pathology at Oxford: convinced that pathologists and chemists could co-operate fruitfully, he invited Chain to develop a department of biochemistry in the University’s Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. In 1938 the two men decided to turn their researches towards three anti-bacterial substances produced by micro-organisms, one of them penicillin. A third member of the team, Norman Heatley, made crucial practical suggestions as to how the substance could be extracted and purified. (It has been argued that Heatley should also have shared in the Nobel Prize and would have done had not the rules restricted joint recipients to three; his own papers are currently undergoing cataloguing at the Wellcome Library and readers will be able to judge for themselves when this material is released.) In 1940 animal tests showed that small quantities of penicillin could protect against bacteria introduced into the bloodstream, and suddenly a property that had seemed a mere curiosity when spotted by Fleming turned into a crucial weapon of war, with major collaborative efforts put into the manufacture of penicillin by the Allies. Chain worked with British and American scientists on an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to synthesise articificial penicillin; another collaborative effort was the Therapeutic Research Corporation, in which five major pharmaceuticals manufacturers, including the Wellcome Foundation, came together "to accelerate the research and production of pharmaceuticals during the war years and in particular the production of Penicillin" (the records of the Corporation can be seen in the archive catalogue under the reference WF/TRC).

If this were all there was to say about Chain his papers would already be well worth consulting. However, there are many other points of interest in Chain's long and dramatic life, which his papers illustrate. Before starting work with Florey at the age of thirty he had already come through hardship. As his name suggests, he was born in Germany Рhis family were Jewish, and his father, the industrial chemist Dr Michael Chain, had been born in Russia. The family had known considerable financial hardship when Michael Chain died in 1919, but it proved possible for Ernst to study at the University of Berlin, graduating in chemistry and physiology in 1930 and moving on to take a doctorate in the Charit̩ Hospital Institute of Pathology's chemistry department (a foreshadowing of the way the two disciplines would meet in Oxford later in his career). All this while he was also exploring the possibility of making a career in music: he performed as a pianist and wrote newspaper music criticism. During the early 1930s Chain began to conclude that his real flair was for science but it was of course political developments that turn out to be decisive in the shaping of his career rather than his own choices: the Nazis' advent to power in 1933 prompted Chain to leave Germany for England, where he worked under Sir Gowland Hopkins at Cambridge, obtaining a second doctorate, before the crucial invitation to join Florey in Oxford.

Chain's papers reflect this multi-national element. Early material documents his studies in Germany, his flight from the country and arrival in the U.K. as a refugee. After the war, his relationship with Florey deteriorated – the familiar story of disputes over priority and credit for discoveries – and in 1948 he moved to the Istituto Superiore de Sanità in Rome, before returning to England in 1961 to take up the chair of Biochemistry at Imperial College, London. All phases of his later career are represented in the papers, including copious correspondence: Chain was fluent in English, German, Russian, French and Italian, and his papers – in these and other languages - show the wide range of his contacts across the world of science and industry. A cursory scan down the names of his correspondents in section K of the archive indicates the breadth of his social and professional networks: there are major scientific figures like Linus Pauling and Richard Doll; less stellar names whose work can be fleshed out by other papers held in the Library (for example, the pathologist and cancer researcher Sir Alexander Haddow or the nutritionist Thomas Latimer "Peter" Cleave, both of whose own papers are held in the archives department); and other figures whose fame lies outside the fields of science or medicine, such as the Labour MP and founder of the National Health Service Aneurin Bevan, to whom Chain wrote several times in the late 1940s and early 1950s (at a time when the Labour Party was in opposition and Bevan at loggerheads with some other leading figures in the party, Chain declared himself Bevan’s “loyal follower”).

The beauty of having all this information in a database, of course, is that all these names – and many other terms – become accessible to the reader searching across the whole archive collection, not necessarily knowing in advance that this individual had any contact with Ernst Chain at all. This increase in accessibility is certain to mean increased use for the collection as a whole, and in particular for the areas of it that deal with areas of Chain’s career other than the 1940s penicillin work for which he is most famous. Getting all this data accessible online is the culmination of a long process. For some months the Library Administrator, Tracy Tillotson, worked on rekeying this entire catalogue into a spreadsheet for loading into the database (a process described in an earlier blog post), fitting this into whatever spaces might open up between her many other duties. The data created in this way was loaded in early June and the whole catalogue is now searchable online, coming to just under 2400 new database records. The sheer size of the collection is brought into focus when one searches the database on reference PP/EBC: even when displayed in brief, single-line hitlist style the records fill 48 web pages. Our brief description here only gives a taste of the material newly searchable: readers are invited to log onto the archives catalogue and make their own explorations.

Note (September 2010): this posting refers to the papers of Norman Heatley as undergoing cataloguing and shortly to be made available. We are pleased to announce that the Heatley papers have now been released to the public: a description can be read here and the catalogue browsed in the Wellcome Library archives catalogue under the reference PP/NHE.

Images, from top:
1/ Ernst Boris Chain around the time of his Nobel Prize, from file PP/EBC/A.226
2/ Early penicillin-manufacturing equipment, from file PP/EBC/B.18
3-4/ Diagrams for a lecture on "The chemical structure of the penicillins", showing synthesis and degradation, from file PP/EBC/B.38.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Item of the Month, June 2010: William Moon and Moon Type

Today is the 130th anniversary of the birth of Helen Keller, the American author and activist. We could write an 'Item of the Month' post on the holdings in the Wellcome Library on this fascinating woman, but have decided to focus on a lesser-known figure who aimed to transform the lives of people with visual impairments.

William Moon (1818-1894) may not be a household name now, but during his lifetime he was recognised as the creator of the first widely-used practical reading alphabet for the blind.

Moon grew up in Kent, but by the time he was 22 he had become totally blind (the after-effects of contracting scarlet fever as a child) and moved to Brighton, to live with his sister and widowed mother.

There, he set up his own day school for blind children and taught his pupils how to read using existing embossed reading codes. However, due to the boys finding it difficult to use these systems, in the 1840s Moon devised his own, which became known as Moon Type.

Moon Type uses embossed lines and curves – similar to print – to create nine basic shapes. Rotating or reflecting these shapes in different positions creates the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet and the basis for providing a tactile version of any text.

(Guide to Moon Type from William Moon's An Elementary Reading Book, 1860)

(First page of embossed text from William Moon's An Elementary Reading Book, 1860. How well can you read it?)

Moon Type was the first widely-used practical reading alphabet for the blind in this country. Moon published his new system in 1845 16 years after Louis Braille had invented his system. However, Braille had yet to cross over the channel, and Moon Type was well established before Braille was taken up in Britain.

Understandably, demand for materials in Moon Type was high and William Moon began on an energetic campaign of printing pamphlets and travelling the country setting up Moon Type printing presses. A man of strong faith, by 1860 Moon was printing chapters of the Bible but his dream of producing all the books of the Old and New Testaments in Moon Type never came to fruition in his lifetime. The large type – and therefore, need for large, one-sided pages – made for bulky and heavy volumes.

(Book of John, in Type for the Blind).

However, Moon expanded his system into other languages: using his original nine basic shapes, by the time of his death in 1894, he had embossed the Lord’s Prayer or another portion of scripture into 476 languages or dialects. He moved into less liturgical works, printing some scientific treatises and selections from authors such as Shakespeare, Scott and Burns and devised Pictures for the Blind, which taught blind people by touch the form and shape of common objects.

Although William Moon’s system has been subsequently replaced in popularity – and recognition – by Louis Braille’s system, Moon Type is still used by people who have difficulty reading Braille, and has been found to be suitable for people who have lost their sight after learning to read.

Moon’s achievements were recognised during his lifetime, with elections to the fellowships of both the Royal Geographical Society (1852) and the Royal Society of Arts (1857) and the award of an honorary degree by the University of Philadelphia in 1871.

More details on Moon Type is available from the website of the Royal National Institue for Blind People (RNIB). And also thanks to this blog post, which inspired us to choose Moon's works held in the Wellcome Library for this Item of the Month post.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Human Genome Project and the Wellcome Library

The first draft of the human genome, announced jointly by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton on 26 June 2000, was heralded by the press as a massive scientific breakthrough, the applications of which would improve health and extend life. Scientists have indeed come far from Crick and Watson’s discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, and although some applications, like the targeted treatment of cancer, are beginning to appear, progress has been much slower than expected and such fruits are yet to be fully enjoyed.

Wellcome Library has a range of items relating to the Human Genome Project, an international collaborative effort to which Wellcome Trust contributed a third of the sequence through The Sanger Institute. The Library holds several publications supposing what we might learn from the Human Genome Project, including a 1993 book by Tom Wilkie entitled “Perilous knowledge: the human genome project and its implications” looks at the potential social consequences of knowing the code of life. A videorecording held in our Moving Image and Sound Collection asks “The human genome project: can we now play god?”.

The video features Sir John Sulston, who was head of the Sanger Institute until 2002. Wellcome Images has recently acquired some new portraits of Sulston, taken at Sanger, which is set in an award-winning Wetlands site at Hinxton. Wellcome Images has a further record of the sequencing work carried out at Sanger, some photos of which have recently been used in Nature’s Human Genome Project iPad app.

On the theme of genetics, Wellcome Library is beginning to digitise and make available online the Crick and Sir Fred Sanger archives, plus 1400 books as part of a larger project called ‘Modern Genetics and its Foundations’.

While we continue to debate what the deciphering of the human genome means for medicine and society, the Wellcome Library will carry on collecting a wealth of information on this important topic for many anniversaries to come.

Image shown: DNA sequencing for the Human Genome Project at the Sanger Centre.

Authors: Louise Crane and Julia Nurse

Thursday, June 24, 2010

National Insect Week

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways" (Proverbs 6:6)

Over a million species described – and maybe another six or seven million out there awaiting description. Insects account for maybe half of all living species – and when one knocks out plants and single-celled life forms, confining discussion to what we would call “animal” life, the proportion goes up to something like 90%. They’re found everywhere, in the air, in the soil, in the water (there are even species that walk on the surface of the ocean). They fly, they walk, they swim; they communicate by sight and smell and sound; they live alone, in family groups or in huge complex societies. They’re present in the fossil record from the early Devonian period onwards, over 400 million years ago: they long predate humanity and will almost certainly outlive us. They thrive without us and most would not notice our passing. Yet their form is alien to us – segmented body and exoskeleton, six legs, multiple and sometimes compound eyes, much smaller scale – and we cannot interact with them in the way we do many other animals: we cannot herd or tame insects, or make meaningful eye contact. For these reasons, we tend rather to ignore insects in our daily lives. From now until next Sunday, however, the Royal Entomological Society is co-ordinating a variety of activities that make up National Insect Week, an event to raise awareness of the variety, significance and interest to be found in the insect world. With that in mind, here is a selection of insect-related items from the Wellcome Library’s holdings. Readers are warned that by the time they reach the bottom they may have started to itch.

Much of human interaction with insects is based on the view that they are pests. This is illustrated nicely in the extensive papers (MSS.1456-1499, 6931-6941 & 7920-7941) of the tropical medicine specialist Sir James Cantlie (1851-1926). Among Cantlie’s many scrap-books there is one containing much material on insects, MS.7926 – its focus is entirely on insects (and rats) as pests, as carriers of disease, and on their means of extermination. There is no doubt that as they pursue their own agendas and their own survival strategies, insects can often be agents of harm to humans, most notably by transmission of disease: whether this be the housefly that transfers faecal matter to food by landing on it, or the more spectacular examples of mosquito-borne fatal diseases such as malaria or yellow fever. Malaria remains one of the great global killers. Estimates vary as to its annual death toll but it is clearly well over a million - chiefly in Africa and South-East Asia, with infants and pregnant women the main groups affected. Adults and older children growing up in areas where the disease is endemic have typically some resistance to the disease in its severe form: the plasmodium parasite that causes the disease will linger in the system but in a non-fatal form. There are now massive global efforts to eradicate or at least control malaria, in which the Wellcome Trust continues to play a leading role (£150 million of Trust funds was pumped into malaria research in the past decade: see our malaria website for details).

Until recent years the West’s focus, however, was more upon the danger that the disease posed to those coming in from areas where malaria was not endemic: the administrators, traders and particularly soldiers from countries fortunate enough not to suffer from malaria, required to remain healthy in the face of this new danger. The Library’s holdings in military medicine are strong and contain much material on the task of keeping armed forces healthy, whether they are there as colonial garrisons or as expeditionary forces in a major war. The papers of the Royal Army Medical Corps are particularly rich in this area; we can also highlight the papers of Air Marshal Sir Harold Whittingham (1887-1983), which include cartoons showing members of the armed forces how to lead a healthy existence whilst in the tropics – insects being among the dangers they face. Whittingham’s cartoons show the importance of getting a health-promotion message across in a punchy, memorable manner.

Perhaps the best example of this can be found in Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike, a short film held in the Library’s Moving Image and Sound Collection. During the years 1943-1946 the Warner Brothers all-star cartoon team responsible for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and other characters still going strong today produced a series of five-minute shorts for the US Army, featuring Private Snafu (the name is a piece of military slang which we may render delicately as “Situation Normal, All F****d Up”). In this one, directed by Chuck Jones and written by Theodore Giesel (“Dr. Seuss”), Snafu commits various blunders such as bathing naked at sundown, not using mosquito repellent, and finally allowing a chink in his mosquito netting, resulting in his falling victim to his insect enemy Malaria Mike (alias Amos Quito). Voice artiste supreme Mel Blanc is behind the microphone and reuses Bugs Bunny’s voice for Snafu, though if the soldier had the rabbit’s street smarts he would surely not have ended up as a trophy on Malaria Mike’s wall.

Drama and insect-borne disease also feature in the archives holdings, in the form of an American radio script entitled “The Mosquito Chaser” (MS.8428); a dramatisation of the work in Panama of William Gorgas in identifying the mosquito as the carrier of yellow fever. Gorgas was working at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and this period is a particularly fertile one in our search for material on insects and disease: exploration and colonial expansion combined with science to provide both motivation and wherewithal for a series of breakthroughs in the understanding of tropical diseases. Underpinning this lay painstaking work in the field by often-forgotten scientists. As an example, in our archives we hold papers (MSS.2248-2268, 4790-4807 & 5690-5691) relating to the various annual expeditions mounted by Joseph Everett Dutton (1874-1905) and John Lancelot Todd (1876-1949) of Liverpool University’s School of Tropical Medicine, visiting various locations in Western and Central Africa to observe micro-organisms and the vector species that carry them, including many insect-borne diseases. Dutton paid the ultimate price, dying in Africa of spirillum fever (a bacterial infection carried by that other great disease vector, the rat) and being buried at Kasongo in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The rat and the insect combine, of course, in the commonly-accepted explanation for the spread of the Black Death and the seventeenth-century Great Plague, although the model of a disease spread by fleas on the Black Rat is by no means universally accepted: readers seeking to challenge what they learned at school can find discussion of the causes of these epidemics in the Library’s holdings. If there were no other insect-borne disease, the 994 catalogue entries thrown up by a subject search on Plague are a vivid illustration of the relevance of insects to health and medicine.

However, our holdings on insects as pests are not confined to these dramatic diseases. Insects are common enemies in the Library’s holdings relating to agriculture and household management, with their capacity not merely to spread disease but also to destroy crops and equipment. We have already drawn attention to the recipes collected in India by a Mrs Turnbull in the mid-19th century (MS.5853): amongst the recipes for curry and chutney she also records several for preserving furniture against the action of termites, one of them a ferocious mixture whose central ingredient is "1 quart of the worst Bazar Mustard" (MS.5853/85). On a much more industrial scale, the holdings of the Wellcome Foundation, the pharmaceuticals company, include the papers of Coopers Ltd, a veterinary medicine firm taken over in the 1950s. Within this is a collection of 78 late nineteenth century lantern slides illustrating many different species of tick (WF/C/M/SL/01) and many other papers relating to insects: for example, information on products combatting mosquitoes, houseflies and weevils that destroy grain (WF/M/I/PR/P02). The sheer variety of insect enemies faced by the farmer can be seen in the papers of the botanist Edward Morrell Holmes (1843-1940) (MSS.2867-2932, 7961 & WMS/Amer.145-148), whose collections of cuttings includes a file of material dedicated specifically to “Injurious Insects” (MS.2885), in which one can learn all about such creatures as the Onion Maggot, and wonder how any of our food makes it to the table at all.

So far we have focussed upon the insect as pest. We should remember, however, the significance of the timing of insects’ first appearance in the fossil record: they appear at around the same point as flowering plants, and the history of both since then has been a story of co-evolution and mutual dependence. Not all plants rely on insects and not all insects on plants, but if the pollinating insects were lost to the world the result would be environmental catastrophe. These include, of course, the bees, which do not merely contribute to our survival by pollinating plants but also, uniquely among insects, can be “farmed”. The Library’s holdings relating to bees and honey are varied. Before access to West Indian sugar cane plantations (and the slave labour that worked them), the chief means of sweetening food in Europe was to use honey (and the tiny six-legged labourers that created it). Our manuscript recipe books, many now digitised, offer many recipes using honey: in particular, recipes for mead are common. One example comes from the late seventeenth – early eighteenth century recipe book held as MS.1322 (compiler unknown):

To 6 gallons of Water put Nine pound of Honey Boyle and Scum it as long as any Rises, then put in 30 Cloves and a little Ginger, and give a Boyle or two up, then Sett it to Coole, and when milk warm put in the Rines thin pared of 3 Lemons Juice & all when quite Cold Tun it up in a Vessell to fit the quantity and may drink it in a week.
I have other Receipts that are good but Require Longer time in the Vessell before tis fitt to Drink. Therefore this is best for Present use. (MS.1322/49)

Bees (and the other social insects) fascinate because of their huge and complex societies; they are the subject of much analysis, either seeking simple scientific explanations or using them as metaphors for human society. One late seventeenth-century work, Moses Rusden’s A further discovery of bees. Treating of the nature, government, generation and preservation of the bee, is both a practical work for the bee-keeper and a descriptive work of natural history, setting out the social strata of the hive. It gives a detailed description of how the bee colony interacts – identifying, correctly, that it centres on a dominant "monarch" whose rule is "severe, just, and absolute", but assuming incorrectly that this monarch is a king rather than a queen. At the start of the book Rusden summarises neatly the alien nature of this society, its sheer remoteness from the categories of our experience:

Bees are creatures full of wonders, being not altogether tame, nor absolutely wild, but between both, yet indocible [impossible to tame], for most they do is by instinct.

In addition to natural historical description, Rusden also sets out the beekeeper's craft in detailed, practical terms, explaining how to transfer a colony from one hive to another, how to handle a swarm, and so forth, in terms that a modern beekeeper would recognise. As has emerged so often in the items described here, our relationship with these insects is simultaneously intimate and remote: we live cheek by jowl with them, using them and being used by them, unable to keep them out of our lives, and yet they remain alien and unknowable, their lives unlike anything we can experience or even imagine.

For intimacy of connection, however, one would have to go far to beat our last example of useful insects. The physician Frederick Parkes Weber (1863-1962) collected information on a huge variety of subjects, gathering notes and cuttings into files on unusual medical conditions and techniques. Among his papers (PP/FPW) one can find a file on insects (PP/FPW/B.169/2) – including their use in surgery, which includes the technique of cleaning wounds of gangrenous or otherwise damaged flesh by having maggots nibble it away. Readers who feel that they can take it are invited to come in and read the full grisly details. So far as is known, no institutions will be marking National Insect Week with wound-cleaning sessions; but a better example of our close and unpredictable relationships with the commonest creatures on earth would be hard to find.

Images, from top:
1/ still from "Private Snafu vs. Mosquito Mike"
2/ cartoon by Air Marshal Sir Harold Whittingham
3/ title image from "Private Snafu vs. Mosquito Mike"
4/ "insect book" from Dutton and Todd expeditions, showing mouth-parts of a tick
5/ cutting about the onion maggot, from Edward Morrell Holmes papers
6/ illustration of bee social structure, from Moses Rusden's "A further discovery of bees"
7/ papers on insects and their medical aspects, from the archive of Frederick Parkes Weber

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

'Bodysnatchers and Surgeons in Georgian London'

On Wednesday 30th June at 7.30pm, Head of the Wellcome Library, Dr Simon Chaplin will be giving a talk at Bruce Castle Museum in London entitled, 'Bodysnatchers and Surgeons in Georgian London'.

In his talk, Simon will be exposing the the curious ambivalence of Londoners to the 'necessary evil' of body-snatching in 18th century London.

The talk is free and more details are available from the events page of the Bruce Castle Museum website.

Image: A nightwatchman disturbs a body-snatcher who has dropped the stolen corpse he had been carrying in a hamper, while the anatomist, William Hunter (1718-1783), runs away. Etching with engraving by W. Austin, 1773 (Wellcome Library no. 25668i)

The 'Convalescent Blues' in Frederick Cayley Robinson's 'Acts of Mercy'

by Jeffrey S. Reznick PhD

Fig. 1 Detail of "The doctor: I" by Frederick Cayley Robinson. Wellcome Library no. 672829i.

The four paintings of the Acts of Mercy by Frederick Cayley Robinson, now in the Wellcome Library, were painted between 1915 and 1920. Cayley Robinson derived his subjects from a variety of sources. A brass plaque formerly set into the frame of one of the paintings (fig. 2, right), said "The soldiers are wearing the standard uniform of wounded soldiers in the 1914-18 War". As is plainly evident upon viewing the painting The doctor I (detail above), one of the most prominent of these sources was the distinctive blue uniform that military authorities required recovering soldiers of the Great War to wear in hospital and in public, which popularly became known as 'Convalescent Blues'. [1]

Made of a flannel and flannelette combination, the convalescent soldier's outfit and its lounge-jacket counterpart resembled ill-fitting pyjamas. [2] The uniform was designed so that a handful of sizes would fit all recovering soldiers of 'other ranks'. Such standardisation of the convalescent blue outfit made it fit poorly, requiring soldiers to 'flap' or 'cuff' their trouser legs and shirt sleeves. The entire ensemble included a red four-in-hand necktie and was the only item of hospital clothing issued exclusively by the government during the war. [3] While military authorities required that the garment be worn at all times by soldiers of non-officer 'other ranks' who were receiving treatment in military hospitals and convalescent facilities, authorities exempted officers from wearing the 'Blues', providing them instead with a white armband decorated with a red King's Crown, with a personal clothing allowance, or with fancy silk pyjamas donated by the public and voluntary-aid agencies. [4]

As a material artefact of the Great War, the 'Convalescent Blue' outfit (fig. 3, left) served a number of specific functions. Above all it was a means of establishing and maintaining cleanliness in military hospitals, where soldiers usually arrived in dirty, worn-out and infested uniforms and 'great coats' that required sterilization and thorough disinfection. [5] The outfit also served to help improve administrative efficiency within the hospital environment. At convalescent facilities, the administration of soldier-patients involved strict division into four sections, each distinguished by combinations of the hospital-blue uniform and different-coloured armlets. The 'worst cases' wore hospital-blue with white armlets. Cases well enough for one to six months of retraining wore blue with pink armlets. Section three, including ranks who required less than one month of retraining, wore blue with light blue armlets. Finally, section four included men in blue with dark blue armlets who were 'practically well'. [6] This medical organization by sartorial marking expedited the process of convalescent medical examinations, helping divisional medical officers to monitor and sort their sections during weekly inspections when men were either 'moved up' or 'put back from Section to Section as [their] condition indicates'. [7]

The 'blues' also reflected authorities' expectations of potential insubordination among recovering ranks. In essential ways, being 'fully clothed' in blue served as a means of maintaining discipline and order inside and outside institutional confines. [8] This official linkage of soldier-patient behaviour to sartorial requirements was evident in all military hospitals. Inside, the outfit helped authorities to distinguish soldier-patients from doctors, nurses, orderlies and visitors. Moreover, in facilities set aside specifically for disabled cases, the blue outfit helped to promote good behaviour. For example, at Shepherd's Bush, Britain's flagship orthopaedic hospital, authorities used these sartorial requirements to encourage voluntary unpaid work in the institution's so-called curative shops. If patients participated in these official work programs, they could receive privileges such as 'permission to wear khaki instead of the hospital blue or grey' or 'more frequent passes out of the hospital, etc'. [9]

The lack of pockets in the convalescent blue uniform was a feature that fitted with economy, as it saved on fabric, and with disciplinary arrangements, especially the rule that soldiers were not allowed to hold money while in hospital. Significantly, too, this measure reflected a contemporary trend in civilian wear that 'one of the great differences between garments for gentlemen and ladies is that, in the former, pockets abound, whereas in the latter they are absent'. Women's clothes did not require pockets because women carried their personal belongings in purses. Men's lounge suits on the other hand always included an inner or outer 'ticket pocket' for carrying money and theatre tickets. [10]

Soldiers' hospital wear overlooked this difference between women's and men's clothing. In hospital, soldiers were supposedly provided with both sustenance and leisure, so they did not need pockets for money or tickets. Evidence suggests that convalescents themselves were acutely aware of this feature of their mandated outfits. [11] So, too, was Frederick Cayley Robinson. Look carefully at The Doctor and you will see what appears to be a blue pocket sewn onto a soldier's brown great coat (fig. 4, left). Cayley Robinson's inclusion of this detail – arguably too his obvious juxtaposition of the colours – suggests that he understood the lack of dignity conveyed by the Convalescent Blue outfit, and the empowerment that came with the possession of a pocket by a blue-clad soldier.

Finally, the Blues served an important propagandistic function during the war, helping to put the wounded Tommy on public display and to facilitate public appreciation of his service to King and Country. A contemporary picture postcard by Frederick Spurgin celebrated the Blues in the context of the colours of the Union Jack (fig. 5, left). Here the Convalescent Blue is praised along with the beautiful nurse (in white) and the always-revered Chelsea pensioner (in red).

Similar expressions of praise appeared on Flag Days, patriotic events sponsored by voluntary-aid organisations to help raise money for hospitals and general support for the country's wounded heroes. 'Flag Day' posters and lapel pins honoured all recovering soldiers, but especially the blue-clad Tommy (fig. 6, above right).

However, other evidence of the day helps to reveal that perceptions of the Blues – by convalescent soldiers and by the public – were far from straightforward. The postcard artist Douglas Tempest suggested how the uniform helped to draw the attention of young women (fig. 7, left), while R.W. Stoddart depicted the Blues with exaggerated realism (fig. 8, right). Donald McGill (fig. 9, below left) conveyed how men wearing uniform were the target of thoughtless questions asked by members of the public who had no experience of the war as it played out at the front. Soldiers themselves also held negative views of the Blues, suggesting in hospital-magazine sketches that this standard clothing failed in large measure to confer a deserved dignity of appearance, compared with proper, upper-class masculine 'fashion' of the day (fig 10, right). These latter examples suggest that the heroes depicted in figures 5 and 6 became comic in the spirit of music hall. Unlike a proper suit, figures 7-10 combine to suggest, the blue uniform prompted from observers laughter and ridicule, which undercut the masculinity of men who had served King and Country. Such different perspectives on the Blues help to reveals how this sartortial requirement forced an unstable public identity for convalescent soldiers.

During the Great War, therefore, as women donned uniforms that represented their unprecedented independence, wounded soldiers wore uniforms that simultaneously reinforced and subverted their masculinity. The public saw men dressed in Convalescent Blues as heroes, much in the same way they praised khaki-clad soldiers. But from the perspective of convalescent men themselves, the Blues fell far short of conferring a dignity of appearance commensurate with their service to King and Country.

In creating his Acts of Mercy Frederick Cayley Robinson evidently found inspiration in the iconic and complex figure of the blue-clad soldier. Revealing this perspective opens a new window on Cayley Robinson's work. It also makes the 2010 exhibition of his Acts of Mercy at the National Gallery (14 June-17 October) especially significant for all who are interested in the history of the Great War and its fast-approaching centenary anniversary.

Author: Dr Jeffrey S. Reznick, Deputy Chief of the History of Medicine Division of the US National Library of Medicine. During the autumn of 2006, Dr. Reznick had the privilege of studying Frederick Cayley Robinson's Acts of Mercy in situ at the Middlesex Hospital before they were acquired by the Wellcome Library.

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders of images reproduced here which are held in private collections. Should holders step forward following publication of this blog post, due acknowledgement will gladly be made. Dr. Reznick may be reached at jeffrey.reznick@nih.gov

[1] See Jeffrey S. Reznick, Healing the nation: soldiers and the culture of caregiving in Britain during the Great War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005) for a comprehensive study of the convalescent blue outfit and how it was at once of a piece with the broader history of hospitals, workhouses, prisons and schools, where standard clothing was the norm to ensure personal and communal hygiene as well as institutional discipline and order.
[2] This description is compiled from Hansard Parliamentary Debates, Commons. vol. 86 (1916), cols. 970-971; from first-hand examination of the hospital-blue uniform on display in the First World War Exhibit (case 16, item 29), Imperial War Museum; and from 'Convalescent Jacket', Tailor and cutter (20 August 1914) (supplement): 688-690, which also contains the Army Council's special 'sealed pattern' (also called a 'specimen garments') for the 'Convalescent Jacket'. Such patterns were made for all branches of the armed forces.
[3] The 'four-in-hand' was one of the four most popular types of necktie worn in Britain between 1900 and 1925. Red was a popular colour of necktie between 1900 and 1914, and this fact could account for why authorities chose it as the colour of the convalescent's necktie. See Alan Mansfield and Phillis Cunnington, Handbook of English costume in the twentieth century, 1900-1950 (Boston: Plays, Inc., 1973), 273-274. The only part of the blue ensemble not mandated by authorities was the hat, which, as it signified individual rank, nationality, and regiment, could be the soldier-patient's own.
[4] See Brian Abel-Amith, The hospitals, 1800-1948: a study in the social administration in England and Wales (London: Heinemann, 1964), 275. For a vivid account of the fancy pajamas often worn by officers see Lyn McDonald, The roses of no man's land (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 39. Discharged soldiers who were no longer receiving care in military hospitals did not wear hospital blue but 'their own clothes'. See Charity Organisation Society, 'The Star and Garter Home for Disabled Discharged Soldiers, Commanding Officer's Report (interview with the Matron of the hospital) 27 August 1919', TD, (A/FWA/C/D), London Metropolitan Archives.
[5] 'Clothing, dental treatment, and railway passes', Hospital (20 March 1915): 555. See also E.P. Cathcart, Elementary physiology in its relation to hygiene, Army Medical Department (London: HMSO, 1919), 13-14.
[6] 'Arrangements for the Reception and Treatment of Sick and Wounded in Hospitals in the United Kingdom during the Great War', appendix VI to 'The King's Lancashire Military Convalescent Hospital in Blackpool: The King's System and Details of Physical Training', TD (1918 ?), n.p., PRO (WO 222/1).
[7] Ibid. [8] Ibid.
[9] Reports by the Joint War Committee and the Joint War Finance Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England on voluntary aid rendered to the sick and wounded at home and abroad and to British prisoners of war, 19141919, with Appendices (London: HMSO, 1921), 253.
[10] 'Pockets', Tailor and cutter (25 March 1915): 211.
[11] Reznick, Healing the nation, especially chapter 5.

Figs. 1, 3 and 4: Details of Frederick Cayley Robinson, Acts of Mercy: The doctor I, 1920. Wellcome Library no. 672829i
Fig. 2: Plaque formerly adjacent to Frederick Cayley Robinson's Acts of Mercy. Image courtesy of the author, taken at the Middlesex Hospital, 2006.
Fig. 5: Postcard, "God Bless Our Red, White and Blue". Illustrated by Fred Spurgin. A & H Convalescent Series, no. 325. Art and Humour Publishing Co., ca. 1914-1918. Private collection. Reproduced with permission.
Fig. 6: Bolingbroke Hospital 'Flag Day' lapel pin, 1917-18. Private collection. Reproduced with permission.
Fig. 7: Postcard, "Sorry I can't get round – why don't you come here". Illustrated by Douglas Tempest. Bamforth and Company Ltd. Publishers, Holmfrith, ca. 1914-1918. Private collection. Reproduced with permission.
Fig. 8: Postcard, "Strafe the Tailor – A Bad Fit of the 'Blues'". Illustrated by R.W. Stoddart. George Putnam and Sons, Ltd., London, ca. 1914-1918. Private collection. Reproduced with permission.
Fig. 9: Postcard, '"Poor Man! And have you been wounded at the front?' 'No, ma'am – at the back!'". Illustrated by Donald McGill. Inter-Art Company, London, ca. 1914-1918. Private collection. Reproduced with permission.
Fig. 10: 'Hospital Fashions: 'The Bond Street Cut' – from the 3rd L.G.H. Style Book for 1916, Gazette of the Third London General Hospital (March 1916), 152]. Private collection. Reproduced with permission.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New blog: JPEG 2000 at the Wellcome Library

There is very little useful, practical advice available on the implementation of the JPEG 2000 image format. In order to share our own experiences with JPEG 2000, we have set up a dedicated blog.

The Wellcome Library is committed to using JPEG 2000 as its archive and access image standard for its digitisation programme, as mentioned in an earlier post. Since this decision was made last year, we have commissioned a report, attended various seminars, met with experts, tested compression levels and conversion tools, and initiated the JP2K-UK Implementation Working Group.

The blog will chart our experiences with JPEG 2000 to date (we have a little way to go before we catch up) and will be regularly updated with our progress as we continue to develop our workflow. Look out for interesting titbits on JPEG 2000 in general, as we continue to learn and explore the practical application of JPEG 2000 formats, features and software tools.

The blog is also available via our new Twitter account, Wellcome Digital.

New Wellcome Library home page

Today we unveil Wellcome Library’s new home page. We want to give you the answers to your most frequently-asked questions on the very first page of our website. So our address, contact details and visiting information, including our opening hours, are clearly spelled out. We’ve also given you easy links to your most popular topics, such as joining the Wellcome Library and ordering material from our closed stores.

You now have a prominent single search box to help get you started searching and browsing across our collections. We’ve retained links to the Library catalogue, the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue and Wellcome Images if you prefer those or want to do more advanced searching.

Our news and blog entries stay central to make it easy for us to keep you in the loop for all things Wellcome Library.

We’ve kept the lovely selection of images for the home page to showcase some of our fantastic holdings. These now link directly to Wellcome Images so you can find out more about each image with a single click.

We’d also like to thank the Library members who gave us their time whilst we were developing and testing this new design.

And if you’re wondering what we used to look like? Just head over to the UK Web Archive to find out.

William Harvey in the market-place

One of the pleasures of the London summer fairs is their unpredictability. Who would have expected to find at the London International Fine Art Fair at Olympia (4-13 June 2010) a document signed by William Harvey the anatomist (1578-1657)? Offered by the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop of Brooklyn, it was a legal document concerning the ownership of some property at Buckholt near Canterbury, and formed an agreement between Harvey (described as "William Harvye of London Doctor of Physicke") and George Abbott, the then Archbishop of Canterbury. In his signature Harvey appears to spell his name with an e instead of an a. The shop is asking $24,000 or £16,000 for it.

That price testifies to Harvey's reputation. If it seems expensive, the same dealer was also offering a set of the very rare carbon prints from 1873 -- only half a dozen or so copies exist –- of Foochow and the River Min by John Thomson, for $500,000. Unfortunately the photographs had been remounted and framed separately, so no longer have their original integrity as a portfolio or album. The original negatives of them are in the Wellcome Library, and scans of them could until recently be seen for free on the Wellcome Library's website: it is hoped the scans will soon return.

William Harvey also appears in the market this summer with a high price-tag in Sotheby's sale of Victorian and Edwardian Art in London on 13 July 2010, where he is portrayed in a painting by William Frederick Yeames (lot 97: left,from Sotheby's catalogue). Yeames is famous for one picture, entitled "And when did you last see your father?" (1878: Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), showing a Royalist boy being interrogated by his Parliamentarian captors (below). The earlier Harvey painting (1871) is also an English Civil War scene, but as it has been in private hands, is far less well-known.

It shows an episode in the battle of Edgehill in Warwickshire, on 23 October 1642, when (according to what John Aubrey says Harvey told him) Harvey was deputed to look after the 12-year old Prince of Wales and the 9-year old Duke of York (in later years respectively King Charles II and King James II).
In Aubrey's words,

When the king Charles I, by reason of the Tumults, left London, he [Harvey] attended him, and was at the fight of Edge-hill with him; & during the fight, the Prince [of Wales] and D[uke] of York were committed to his care: he told me that he withdrew with them under a hedge, & tooke out of his pockett a booke and read; but he had not read very long before a Bullet of a great Gun grazed on the ground neare them, which made him remove his station. [1]

Geoffrey Keynes commented in his life of Harvey "It is not surprising that he should read a book during the tedious hours of waiting from eight in the morning until after two o'clock in the afternoon when at last the battle was joined". [2] Keynes was himself a bibliophile who had been at the front in World War I as a surgeon involved in blood-tranfusion, and must have experienced such tedium for himself. In the painting Harvey actually has two books open: comparing Aristotle and Fabricius on generation, the subject of his next book, perhaps?

The painting is rich in tree-symbolism. Harvey sits on the trunk of a felled oak, and the younger prince kneels on its stump, representing the block on which their father's head would roll. The princes clamber towards a tree whose trunk divides into three branches. One branch has been sliced off, again representing the execution of Charles I. The middle branch grows strongly, representing the golden days of Good King Charles, Charles II. The right hand branch grows weakly, representing the unfortunate reign of James II, which ended in his expulsion in 1688.

Although Sotheby's do not mention the fact in the catalogue, the painting had been published by the physician John W. Ogle in his rambling Harveian Oration at the Royal College of Physicians on 25 June 1880. [3] Ogle reproduced as his frontispiece a photograph of the Yeames painting by Henry Dixon, best remembered for Bool & Dixon's work for the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London (1875–1886: on exhibition until today at the Royal Academy). Ogle says only (p. 68) "The event is very pleasingly depicted by my friend W. Yeames, Esq., R.A., in his picture exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1871".

Although Yeames was born and brought up in Odessa (as son of the British consul there) and died in Teignmouth in Devon, where he lived in later life, at this time he was living in a small colony of artists in St John's Wood in London. Ogle, after a spell as physician at St George's Hospital (then at Hyde Park Corner, in what is now The Lanesborough hotel) enjoyed an extensive practice as a Mayfair physician. [4] Could Yeames have been one of his patients? Was it Ogle who suggested the subject to Yeames?

Yeames's painting of Harvey at Edgehill is tall and narrow (166 x 115 cm), and perhaps not such an attractive shape as "And when did you last…" (103 x 251.5 cm): horizontal format is usually more suited to narrative subjects. Even so, Sotheby's have put an estimate of £80,000-120,000 on the Harvey painting. If the purchaser has plenty of cash and a suitable tall and narrow place in which to hang the picture, why not add the Buckholt document to it? The latter is framed with an engraving of Harvey to the width of a predella panel suitable to hang below the painting -- provided of course that it is protected from sunlight.

[1] Geoffrey Keynes, The life of William Harvey, Oxford 1978, pp. 432-433
[2] Ibid. p. 288
[3] John W. Ogle, The Harveian oration, 1880 delivered June 25th, London 1881
[4] Both Ogle and Yeames are in the Oxford dictionary of national biography. For Ogle see also Munk's roll, vol. IV, 1955, p. 81

Skinbound: A Medicine in Literature Event

Our next Medicine in Literature event 'Skinbound' will be taking place on Saturday 3rd July, 14.30-16.00, in the Library Reading Room.

Author Michelle Lovric will be discussing her latest work, 'The Book of Human Skin', (Bloomsbury 2010). Michelle made extensive use of the Library collections to research her novel, which ties in beautifully with the current Wellcome Collection exhibition, 'Skin'.

We are trialling a new timeslot for the event, a Saturday afternoon, to allow visitors to wander through the Skin exhibition before and after the talk.

Tickets for this free event can be booked on the Wellcome Collection website.

If you need any more details about the event, feel free to email us

Friday, June 18, 2010

A trip to Hollingsville

Currently being broadcast on Resonance FM is Hollingsville, a series in which each week writer Ken Hollings and guests explore “different aspects of our historical relationship with technology, from architecture to bodies and from computers to phantoms”.

Last week, the episode ‘Wounds: Blood on the Street’ featured as guests the crime novelist Cathi Unsworth and the Wellcome Library’s Research Officer, Ross MacFarlane.

The episode was broadcast live but is now available as a podcast from the Resonance FM website. It includes the guests discussing such topics as Wound Men illustrations, changes to the understanding of anatomy through time, the roles of ‘resurrection men’ in the history of London and what makes for a ‘murder city’…

Details on the other 'Hollingsville' episodes are available from Ken Hollings's blog and the Resonance FM website.

Image: Illustration of a Wound Man, showing a figure man afflicted with numerous injuries, including a snake bite, a dog bite, a club to the head and various knife wounds, cuts and bruises, c.1675 (MS.990)

Cayley Robinson's "Acts of Mercy": more new information

The above photograph of one of the four Acts of Mercy paintings by Frederick Cayley Robinson, now in the Wellcome Library, was taken in the Middlesex Hospital in 2006 by Dr Jeffrey S. Reznick. Dr Reznick is Deputy Chief of the History of Medicine Division of the US National Library of Medicine, and author of two studies of the disabled soldiers of World War I. [1] The Cayley Robinson painting was painted in 1920, when the effects of the Great War remained prevalent.

While at the Middlesex Hospital, the pictures were well protected by glass, but the photograph recalls Nicholas Penny's description in 2003 of the "entrance hall of London's Middlesex Hospital, where the four large canvases of The Acts of Mercy by the now almost forgotten Frederick Cayley Robinson are preserved beside the usual brash modern signage". [2] By 2006 the painting served as one side of an improvised office, with the frame acting as mousemat and ledge for water bottles and a key-safe!

Laid into the architectural frame was this brass plaque, which includes the statement "The soldiers are wearing the standard uniform of wounded soldiers in the 1914-1918 War". A seemingly bland statement, but by asking what exactly what that "standard uniform" was, Dr Reznick has revealed significant details not readily comprehensible without knowledge of the history of the time. His discoveries will be set out in a posting on this blog next week.

[1] John Galsworthy and disabled soldiers of the Great War (2009) and Healing the Nation: soldiers and the culture of caregiving in Britain during the Great War (2005), both of which appear in the Cultural History of Modern War series of Manchester University Press.

[2] Nicholas Penny, 'Journey to Arezzo', London Review of Books 17 April 2003.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Francis Crick and the discovery of DNA

The Wellcome Library can be proud today as keeper of the archive of Francis Crick. A recent poll has found that Crick's 1953 discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA along with his Cambridge University colleague, James Watson, has come top in a vote for the most important scientific breakthrough made by academics at British universities (see Press Association article). Their groundbreaking research first appeared in Nature on April 25th 1953. Celebrities though they are, Crick and Watson's discovery was the tip of the iceberg in a 100 year period of genetic research. It is easy to forget the groundwork research that was provided by the likes of Friedrich Miescher (for his identification of nucleic acids in 1869), Phoebus Levene (who characterized the different forms of nucleic acid in 1910) and Erwin Chargaff (for his discovery of the two rules that helped lead to the double-helix structure in 1952).

Also perhaps not widely known was the role of Crick's wife, Odile in the genetic sensation. The original drawing of the double-helix structure, the genetic code for all life, that illustrated the 1953 Nature article was produced by Odile, an established artist in her own right. Variations of this design can be found within the Crick archive. A visual representation of Watson and Crick’s model was crucial to show how the components of DNA fit together in a double helix. Though abstract in design, the drawing has since been hailed as accurate and now, the most famous drawing in the 20th century in that it "defines modern biology" (Sejnowski in Washington Post article). Francis claimed he and Watson were scientists, not draughtsmen so it naturally fell to his wife to illustrate their discovery.

Though Crick's assocation with the double-helix ceases to pale in insignificance, the archive also contains material from many of this other research projects, notably his work on consciousness which preoccupied him from the 1970's. Cataloguing of this large archive still continues. For further details on other content, see Francis Crick - new papers available for study.

Digitisation of the Crick archive is currently in process and part of a wider 'Modern Genetics and its Foundations Project' which began early this year. To date, around 1/3rd of the Crick archive (which amounts to almost 300 boxes of material) has been prepared for photography which is now underway. Availability of the archive can be viewed on the Project Progress pages. Completion of the project is predicted to be in Autumn 2011 and the digitised content will be accessible via the Library catalogue, the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue in 2012 although around 65 images are already available to view online via Wellcome Images.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Archives and Manuscripts cataloguing – May 2010

Every month we post a summary of new archive cataloguing on the Wellcome Library blog, complementing the information about other new material available from by RSS feeds from the main catalogue of books, images, film and sound. May’s report is slightly unusual. During this month, hundreds of new records entered the archives database but only one was released to public view within the month: the vast majority were released in the early days of June. However, in order to publicise the new material to potential readers quickly, we will bend our self-imposed rules and, just for once, describe material that was not actually visible until a few hours after the May 31st deadline.

The Medical Society of London was founded in the 18th century by John Coakley Lettsom (1744-1815), as a forum in which medical practitioners from different disciplines could meet; it continues to this day. Last year the Society deposited its administrative archive at the Library and the catalogue of this is now visible in the archive database under the reference SA/MSL. It includes constitutional records; minutes of Council, committee, general and ordinary meetings; membership records; financial material; records of books owned and lent by the society's library; Fothergillian Prize committee records and prize essays; and a small group of committee minutes, attendance books and other records generated by societies with which the Medical Society of London was associated (notably the Westminster Medical Society with which the society merged in 1850). It should be noted that the Society’s administrative records are joining its manuscript collection, transferred here some years before (and visible by searching for references beginning MS.MSL.); in addition, papers created by John Coakley Lettsom himself are available as MSS.3245-3249, 5370 and 8684.

Work continues in the background to convert the last few archive catalogues to database form, as described in a blog post last year. May saw another collection completed and the data becoming visible in the first hours of June: the papers of Henry McIlwain (1912-1992), biochemist. McIlwain’s particular research interests led him to neurochemistry, in which discipline he became a founding figure. The papers held here generated 501 new database entries and span biographical material, correspondence, material on lectures, visits, publications, and material on his work with the Institute of Psychiatry: they can be seen in the database under the reference PP/MCI.

In addition, May saw extensive work on other collections that will shortly see the light of day. Two collections were catalogued by archive students on placements at the Library, and once repackaging of these papers is completed, readers will be able to consult the archives of Professor Emmanuel Ciprian Amoroso CBE, FRCP, FRS (1901-1982), veterinary embryologist and endocrinologist (PP/AMO) and Dr Philip D'Arcy Hart (1900-2006), whose long life almost defies summary but whose roles included researcher specialising in tuberculosis and other chest conditions, Socialist and peace campaigner (PP/PDH). In the area of retroconversion, the enormous catalogue of Sir Ernst Chain’s papers (PP/EBC) neared completion and will be the subject of another blog post shortly. We may have to bend the rules slightly to give an idea of the work that took place within the calendar month of May, but there is no shortage of new material to direct our readers towards.

The upper illustration shows the inaugural meeting of the Medical Society of London (Wellcome Library no. 545991i); the lower is an artwork “Biochemistry and the brain” by Nanette Hoogslag, depicting analysis and understanding of the biochemistry and genetics of the human brain.

New voluntary hospitals database

We are delighted to report that further value has been added to the Wellcome/National Archives Hospital Records Database with the creation of links to information in the Wellcome Trust-supported Voluntary Hospitals Database of the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (located at http://www.hospitalsdatabase.lshtm.ac.uk/) in the entries for individual hospitals.

This new database provides a rich resource of statistical data relating to Voluntary Hospitals between the 1890s and the inception of the NHS. Prior to the NHS, voluntary hospitals, inaugurated by private philanthropy and supported by subscription, were (alongside poor law, later local authority, infirmaries) one of the major sources for access to hospital care by the general public who were unable to afford private treatment. They included major teaching hospitals and specialist institutions.

Hosprec itself continues to be updated as we receive additional information on the records of hospitals in repositories throughout the UK. It currently includes data on the records of over 2500 individual hospitals of all types. The public interface on The National Archives website is searchable by hospital name and town. Pending an upgrade of this search interface, researchers who are interested in searching the database under other criteria, including combinations of different fields, should contact Archives and Manuscripts at the Wellcome Library, archs+mss@wellcome.ac.uk

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wellcome Library Insight: The Quest for Perfect Skin

This week's free Wellcome Library Insight session - on Thursday 17th June - explores the roots of the 'beauty industry', its consequences for the individual and its relationship with health, comparing early modern skincare preparations with today’s practices.

Stefania Crowther, Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, UCL

The session starts at 6.00pm and tickets are available from the Wellcome Collection Information Desk from 4.30pm onwards.

For more details, see the Wellcome Collection website.

Wellcome Library Workshop

This week’s free Wellcome Library workshop is:

Plants and Medicine
An introduction to contemporary and historical resources relating to the use of plants in medicine found in the Wellcome Library's online and print collections.
Tuesday 15th June, 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.

Author: Lalita Kaplish

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cataloguing of Sir John Vane’s Papers

The papers of Sir John Vane are now available for consultation in the Wellcome Library(PP/JRV).

Sir John Robert Vane (1927-2004) was an eminent pharmacologist, who published over 900 scientific papers, was joint editor of 20 books, and received over 50 awards and medals, including Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians. He is perhaps best known for his work in helping to solve one of science’s longest running puzzles, how aspirin worked, for which he shared the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1982. Is it a reflection on society’s view of scientists that Sir John Vane’s Wikipedia entry is so short? It reads as follows:

Sir John Robert Vane (29 March 1927 – 19 November 2004) was an English pharmacologist, born in Tardebigg, Worcestershire. His father was the son of immigrants from Russia and his mother came from a Worcestershire farming family. He was educated at King Edward's School in Edgbaston, Birmingham, and studied Chemistry at the University of Birmingham in 1944. Vane completed a doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Oxford in 1953. He held a post at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences of the University of London in the Royal College of Surgeons of England for 18 years. During that time he developed certain bioassay techniques that led to important scientific discoveries. He won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1982 for his work on aspirin in which he discovered it inhibited prostaglandin biosynthesis. In 1973, Vane left academia and took up the position of director of research of the Wellcome Foundation. He was knighted in 1984. In 1985 he returned to academic life at the William Harvey Research Institute at the Medical College of St Bartholomew's Hospital (now Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry). He died on November 19, 2004 in Princess Royal Hospital, Kent from long-term complications arising from leg and hip fractures he sustained in May of that year.

For a much better reflection of his full contribution to the field of Pharmacology, there is an excellent entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Other biographies and obituaries can be found in The British Medical Journal, vol.329 no.7479, p.1406, 11 December 2004; The Times, 25 November 2004; and Prostaglandins & Other Lipid Mediators, vol.78, December 2005.

Sir John’s papers, newly catalogued and now available in the online catalogue of Archives and manuscripts, cover primarily the period of his life from his University days in the 1940’s and 1950’s at Birmingham, Oxford and Yale up to the end of his time at the Royal College of Surgeons in the early 1970s.

Vane graduated with a BSc in Chemistry from Birmingham in 1946. He was not particularly enamoured with the actual practice of chemistry and when he learned that Harold Burn in Oxford was seeking graduates to be trained in pharmacology, he took the opportunity to pursue this field. Vane graduated with a BSc in pharmacology at Oxford in 1949 then spent a year as a researcher in the pharmacology department at Sheffield University. In 1953 Vane was awarded a D.Phil. from Oxford. As was typical at that time for newly qualified postdoctoral scientists Vane chose to gain experience in the USA, and he joined the department of pharmacology at Yale as an assistant professor. The papers in this collection, held from his time in academia, include his notebooks, lecture notes and course papers and perhaps most interestingly his experiment results notebooks from both Oxford and Yale. These notebooks not only give an insight into the direction of his scientific interests but also shed light on the importance and development of animal experimentation in medical science at the time. Full details of the methodology and results of his experiments are included in the notebooks.

In 1955, Vane returned to the UK and joined W. D. M. (Bill) Paton's department of pharmacology at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, originally sited in Queen's Square in London, but subsequently relocated to the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Vane rose quickly through the academic hierarchy, becoming a reader in 1961 and gaining a personal chair in 1966. The bulk of the collection papers originate from this time at the Royal College of Surgeons and include further experimental notebooks, numerous photographs of the experiment results (chemical outputs) and graphs. In addition there is an extensive collection of Vane’s published papers from the 1960s and early 1970s, most produced in collaboration with other pharmacologists, most including drafts with extensive annotation, which give an insight into Vane’s thought processes.

1973 saw a change in Vane's circumstances, with the break-up of the Royal College of Surgeons group and Vane was offered the position of group research and development director of the Wellcome Foundation. Vane went on to publish many more papers but the published papers in this collection cease at this point.

There are few of Vane’s personal papers amongst the documents, and the personal correspondence that does exist relates mainly to correspondence from the 1970s in relation to the British Pharmacological Society. Vane had been the General Secretary of the B.P.S in the early 1970s and he maintained a close relationship with some of its officers after he had stepped down. These papers do give some insight into the character of Vane, but given that the majority of the letters are those received by Vane rather than copies of letters sent by him, they perhaps give a better insight into the thoughts of his friends and colleagues at the B.P.S. rather than his own.

The archives of the Wellcome Foundation Ltd, held by the Wellcome Library, also contain material relating to John Vane, during the period when he was Group Research and Development Director, 1973-1985 (see notably WF/E/13 and WF/M/AV/O/02-03). This includes an audio tape and transcript of an interview with Vane conducted in 2001 as part of the Wellcome Foundation Oral History Project (Ref: WF/M/AV/O/02/33). The papers of William Paton are also held in the Wellcome Library, as PP/WDP.

The illustrations both show Vane; in the lower he is in a Wellcome Foundation laboratory.

Author: Jon Cable

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