Thursday, September 30, 2010

Graphic Medicine

I’m not a great aficionado of comics or graphic novels. I know who Alan Moore and Stan Lee are; various (male) friends and family have raised my awareness of Marvel and DC Comics; I’ve read the odd issue of Swamp Thing, but the term graphic medicine was new to me. I came across it when a list of recommendations for the Library’s Medicine & Society Collection landed on my desk. They all came from the Graphic Medicine website created by Dr Ian Williams. This excellent website identifies and reviews graphic novels relating to all aspects of health and medical culture. Since the Medicine & Society Collection is all about exploring key medical and health themes in contemporary society, graphic medicine seemed like a perfect fit.

A quick aside here: The distinction between graphic novels and comic books is imprecise, but graphic novels tend to come in bound book format and are usually a single continuous narrative, they can be fiction, biography or non-fiction. The term ‘comic books’ is generally used for single unbound pamphlets that serialise a story in weekly issues traditionally bought from newsagents. The Wellcome Library also has a selection of comic books, most of which are public health information pamphlets.

Having had a chance to examine some of the graphic novels in more detail, I’ve been impressed by the range of topics covered and by the diversity of authors working in this relatively small field:

There are patient accounts of illness and treatment, such as Cancer made me a shallower person by Miriam Engelberg and Spiral Cage, Al Davison’s autobiographical account of living with spina bifida.

There are views from inside the health care system such as Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham who worked as a health care assistant in an acute psychiatric ward, and Couch Fiction, an account of a therapy session from the points of view of both the patient and the therapist.

Perhaps surprisingly, there were quite a few accounts of carers and family members’ experiences of living with a sick person, such as Epileptic, a memoir of growing up with a brother who has epilepsy, and Blue Pills, a love story about a man’s relationship with a woman and her son, both of whom have HIV.

There are also more traditional comic formats such as the manga style Monster, a thriller about a hospital doctor tracking down a serial killer. The manga novels offer an extra challenge to readers in English because, although they are translated from the original Japanese, they still read from right to left, which can take some getting used to.

The authors are a mix of ages and sexes, and come from Japan, the United States, France and the UK, and there are almost as many different and styles and techniques as there are authors.

Medical education
Along with the development of medical humanities, literature and arts are proving to be useful tools in medical education and patient care. Patient narratives can give health care professionals a valuable insight into the patient’s point of view, but a recent BMJ article on graphic medicine suggested that by using techniques such manipulation of scale, text and image, graphic novels have “the ability to convey visceral understanding in ways that conventional texts cannot” [i]. Their ‘unreal’ quality can also make it easier for trainee health practitioners to discuss difficult or complex issues of ethics or interpersonal communication. In the increasingly global field of public health, they can be particularly useful for reaching young people or non-native speakers.

Pay attention here’s the library bit...
All the titles can be found at the same location in the Library, a specially created classification for graphic novels in the Medicine & Society Collection: HHLC. This allows readers to see the variety of themes amongst the graphic novels and directly compare their different styles. Library catalogue users can also search by genre for ‘graphic novels’ to see what is available across the collections.

As an emerging genre, graphic medicine offers a vivid representation of how illness, disability and health issues can touch people in so many different ways: personally, professionally, directly and indirectly. They are an exciting addition to the Library collections, and one that I look forward to expanding in the future.

[i] Green, Michael J. and Myers, Kimberly R.; Graphic medicine: use of comics in medical education and patient care in BMJ Vol. 340 Iss. 7746, 13 March 2010

Author: Lalita Kaplish

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A novelist's bicentenary

Elizabeth Gaskell, the novelist, was born 200 years ago today, on 29th September 1810.

The huge success of the BBC’s version of Cranford (which added several of her other short stories to the adaptation) and, a few years before that, a high-quality version of North and South, have made her name a familiar one to a modern audience. For many years, however, she seemed destined to be treated as a footnote to other people’s stories. For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, she was known as a novelist basically for Cranford: for all its charm, this is perhaps one of her minor works and certainly made it possible to see her as a milder, more demure figure than the reality. In addition, as feminist critics rightly pointed out, the tendency during this time to refer to her as “Mrs Gaskell”, without a forename, tended to reduce her individuality (it also made it hard to distinguish her from similarly-named lesser writers such as Mrs Oliphant or Mrs Humphrey Ward). During her years of neglect, the other one of her works to enjoy continued currency was her biography of Charlotte Brontë: again, this gave her prominence but only as the friend and biographer of Brontë (whose biography, being first in the field, would often be attacked ritually by anyone seeking to justify the need for their own subsequent work).

From the 1950s onwards, her novels exploring the social consequences of the industrialisation she saw around her in Manchester – Mary Barton and North and South – were given more and more prominence, but again at the cost of lumping her into a literary-historical moment, treating these works as part of a collective whole called “The Condition of England novel”, in which Gaskell, Kingsley, Disraeli and others formed a rather undifferentiated supporting cast to Dickens’ Hard Times. It has taken the determined rediscovery and re-excavation of women’s writing from the 1970s and 1980s onwards to bring her to prominence on her own merits as an accomplished and varied writer: not as someone else’s wife or biographer, or a bit-part player in literary history, but as Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (née Stephenson), novelist.

We might not think of her instantly as a writer who explores medical themes (although anyone who saw the TV adaptation of Cranford will have vivid memories, maybe too vivid, of Philip Glennister as Mr Carter having a leg amputated without anaesthetic). However – as any visitor to the Wellcome Library can vouch – what is “medical” can be defined very broadly, and many broad social or scientific issues turn out to be grist to the medical-historical mill. The industrial revolution involved huge social and scientific changes, very many of which had medical implications, and Gaskell’s works demonstrate a vivid eye for this changing world around her. Science and industry impinge on her novels frequently, even in those not explicitly to do with “the condition of England”: the rural idyll of Cranford, for example, is invaded by the newly-invented railway, and in her last novel Wives and Daughters the central male character, Roger Hamley, is a naturalist whose commitment to scientific rigour and clarity mirrors his personal qualities of honesty and uprightness. Most notably, of course, it is in those novels that explore the social consequences of industrialisation, and take the reader into the same Manchester slums that Engels described, that the public-health consequences of the Industrial Revolution are all around us, the ill-lit and ill-drained slums where the poor sleep surrounded by filth. The presentation of Gaskell as a meek, dove-like figure whose works were limited to a female world of charm and manners, which predominated in the early twentieth century, is a long way from the truth.

With that in mind, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Elizabeth Gaskell is represented in the archives collection of the Wellcome Library. Our MS.7141 comprises a letter from Gaskell to a friend named Ann Scott (the wife of the principal of Owens’ College, which would evolve into Manchester University), written around 1854, in which she discusses the medical case of a Mrs Glover of Bury. Mrs Glover is suffering from a uterine cancer and, it is clear, her prognosis is not good. Gaskell explains that there is a possibility of her being operated upon by Dr Protheroe Smith at the Women's Hospital in London; however, she makes it clear that she thinks that this is unlikely to heal her and that there might be no point in subjecting Mrs Glover to the pain and stress of unnecessary surgery. (Dr Smith, she indicates, has a track record of pressing ahead in such circumstances to an extent that she feels might amount to positive cruelty.) The alternative, she suggests, might be to experiment with reducing pain by using mesmerism: a concept that had been around since the start of the century, and which - despite the lack of an agreed model explaining it – had been used to perform pain-free operations in the place of anaesthetic. (Coincidentally, active in Manchester at the same time as Gaskell was the general practitioner James Braid, whose work on these phenomena was to explain them in terms of actions upon the mind of the subject rather than the nebulous physical explanations centring on a “magnetic fluid” that had been favoured by mesmerism’s inventor Franz Anton Mesmer: it was Braid who gave these phenomena their modern name, “hypnotism”.)

It is a suggestive vignette, pointing us in various directions: demonstrating Gaskell’s interest in medical issues and a willingness to think beyond the box of orthodoxy in looking at therapies, opening discussions on male practitioners’ treatment of the female body and of women’s illness, echoing modern concerns about medical invasiveness versus palliative care for the terminally ill. The letter is discussed in detail in an article in Medical History (Christopher Hilton, "Elizabeth Gaskell and Mesmerism: An Unpublished Letter", Medical History, 1995, 39: 219-235), published not long after the Library acquired it; the article - including a transcript of the letter - is freely available here. Although it is our only Elizabeth Gaskell item, it fully earns its place in our holdings: it links to all sorts of issues discussed elsewhere in the collection and demonstrates another way in which this intelligent, aware woman engaged with the changing world around her. Two hundred years on from her birth, we salute her: Elizabeth Gaskell, nobody’s footnote.

Images, from top:
1/ Elizabeth Gaskell, c.1851, from Wikimedia Commons.
2/ Manchester soup kitchen, mid-19th century, from Wellcome Images (image number L0004800).
3/ Manchester workers' dwellings, mid-19th century, from Wellcome Images (image number L0004801).
Images made available under Creative Commons licence.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

London Faces: new 'Insight'

This Saturday, 2nd October, the library will feature a new Insight talk - London Faces - to coincide with Story of London events. Learn how Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and James Gillray made their own contributions to the fascinating history of physiognomy (the 'science' of face reading). See bitingly satirical pictures, original nineteenth century material and even tea towels as we revisit three key inhabitants of England's capital from a very different perspective.
Held in the Wellcome Library at 2.30pm-3.30pm. Please see details as number are limited: Wellcome Collection

Monday, September 27, 2010

Item of the Month, September 2010: Articles of Partnership

Today marks the anniversary - 130 years ago today - of the signing of this legal contract by two young American pharmaceutical salesmen: Henry Solomon Wellcome and Silas Mainville Burroughs.

The document described the business partnership that the two men entered into. The business formed - Burroughs Wellcome & Co (BW&Co) - would by 1900 establish itself as a multinational pharmaceutical company. Indeed, the monetary means for Henry Wellcome to acquire his collections - and the existence of the Wellcome Trust itself - can be traced back to the partnership described in this six page document.

We have previously - and will no doubt continue to in the future - write posts on different aspects of Wellcome's life, so it seems appropriate on this particular anniversary to say a little more about the man he entered into business with.

Born into relative prosperity in Medina, New York, Burroughs was the son of Silas Mainville Burroughs, Sr, an American Congressman. After working as a travelling pharmaceutical salesman Burroughs (Jnr) graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in 1877.

Employed as a salesman for the American pharmaceutical business John Wyeth & Bros - leaders in the new field of compressed pills - in 1878 Burroughs travelled to London and founded Burroughs & Co. This deal gave Burroughs sole rights to sell Wyeth supplied products outside the USA and also allowed Burroughs leverage to market and a range of other products under his own name.

As Burroughs's sales exapnded, he sought help from a peer from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy - Henry Wellcome. Wellcome at this time was working as a salesman for another pharmaceutical firm in the USA - McKesson & Robbins - and was building up a promising reputation amongst his peers. Through a series of letters from late 1879 to early 1880 - and now preserved in the Wellcome Library - Burroughs convinced Wellcome to move to London, perusading Wellcome that entering into partnership with him in England offered more prospects for success than continuing to work in the US.

No doubt due to the fact that he died in 1895, leaving Wellcome in sole charge of Burroughs Wellcome & Co - and perhaps also from the fractious business relationship the two men had by the time of Burroughs' death - Burroughs' role in the partnership has until recently been underrated.

Wellcome has traditionally been regarded as the marketing mastermind behind the company's success. However, Burroughs was no mean salesman himself. For instance, it was Burroughs who introduced to the pharmacy trade in this country the notion of 'detailing' - explaining face-to-face to doctors and chemists the company's products and passing on to them free samples.

Also, before their partnership, Burroughs had added to the list of products he sold, two brands which would prove to be among the most successful for Burroughs Wellcome & Co: Hazeline (an extract of witch hazel, marketed as face cream) and Kepler malt extracts (to provide nutritional sustenance).

So, when the two men added their signatures to the document shown above, Burroughs was very much the senior partner: he had persuaded Wellcome to move across the Atlantic to London and had put up £1200 in relation to Wellcome's £800. Over the next fifteen years however, and as their business would flourish, their personal relationship would wither. So let's leave Burroughs and Wellcome in September 1880 with the ink still drying on their agreement and their futures ahead of them. The disintegration of their relationship can wait for another Blog post.

1/ Articles of Partnership between Silas Mainville Burroughs and Henry Solomon Wellcome, 27 September 1880 (WF/E/02/01/02/27)
2/ Silas Mainville Burroughs, photographed in 1885 (Wellcome Library no.
3/ Advertisement for Kepler from 'Chemist and Druggist', June 14th, 1879

(For more on Burroughs the salesman, see the following article: Roy Church, 'The British Market for Medicine in the late Nineteenth Century: The Innovative Impact of S M Burroughs & Co', Medical History 2005 July 1; 49(3): 281–298 (available online through PubMedCentral) and the book Burroughs, Wellcome & Co.: Knowledge, Trust, Profit and the Transformation of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, 1880-1940 by Roy Church and E. M. Tansey (Crucible Books, 2007)).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mould, mess and stamps

Last week, the Royal Mail launched a new set of stamps commemorating the UK’s history as a world leader in medical research. The set illustrates six medical breakthroughs from 1897 to 1971: the synthesis of beta-blockers; the discovery of penicillin; the first total hip replacement; artificial lens implant surgery, the discovery of the vector for malaria, and the invention of the CT scanner.

Wellcome Images supplied the picture that marks the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin made by pharmacologist Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955). It is a photograph of a petri dish containing the mould Penicillium notatum, a mould that began its fame as a contaminant in Fleming’s laboratory at St Mary’s Hospital, London. Fleming was a brilliant, if untidy, scientist who left the lab for a summer holiday in 1928 without washing his petri dishes. Upon returning in September, he discovered an invasion of blue-green mould in a dish containing the bacteria Staphylococcus. Where the mould grew, the bacteria didn’t.

Fleming’s subsequent experiments revealed that the mould exuded a substance that destroyed many disease-causing bacteria. Fleming named this substance penicillin. In 1945 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Ernst B. Chain and Howard Florey, who enabled the commercial production of the antibiotic during World War II.

In its description of the new 58p stamp, The Royal Mail pronounces that Fleming’s “serendipitous observation began the modern era of antibiotic discovery.” Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century: “By the middle of the century, Fleming's discovery had spawned a huge pharmaceutical industry, churning out synthetic penicillins that would conquer some of mankind's most ancient scourges, including syphilis, gangrene and tuberculosis.”

The Wellcome Library holds some fascinating insights into Fleming, including Robert Fleming's story of his brother's life, held in the Archives and Manuscripts collection. Wellcome Film has digitised a short film featuring footage of Fleming called The discovery of penicillin. There are many portraits of him in Wellcome Images, including this pose with a petri dish similar to the one featured on the stamp that recognises his remarkable work – and his untidiness.

Author: Louise Crane, Picture Researcher, Wellcome Images

Images, from top:
Penicillium notatum CMSP/Wellcome Images
Sir Alexander Fleming Wellcome Library, London

Behind the Scenes: Acquisitions team

A library must keep itself up-to-date with the latest books, journals, databases and special collections in order to maintain relevancy to its audiences. This month's Behind the Scenes blog post focuses on the Acquisitions team, who manage many aspects of selection, negotiation with suppliers/publishers, trials, and invoicing for many of the Library's purchases - which numbers around 200 items per month.

The team, consisting of four members, is part of the Collection Management and Operations department, and is overseen by Aileen Cook, Acquisitions Team Leader. They deal most extensively with serials (Chris Hassan, Senior Library Assistant - Serials, 900 titles of which are current); databases and journal packages (Victoria Sinclair, E-Resources Librarian), select books for the History of Medicine collection, and contribute to the accessioning of web archives as well as the Medicine and Society and student loan collections.

In order to describe the work the team does, it is useful to trace the cycle of purchasing new content. Under the collections listed above, the Acquisitions team will refer to supplier or publisher lists and catalogues of new titles, carry out online searches, and field any (very welcome) requests from other staff members. When it comes to special collections - rare books, manuscripts, archives, moving image and sound, paintings, ephemera and Asian collections - the selection will be made by the special collection librarians, but the ordering and purchasing will be administered by the Acquisitions team (specifically Rosemarie Nief, Assistant Librarian - Acquisitions).

If the purchase is an electronic resource, such as a package of electronic journals or a database, the Acquisitions team will set up a short-term trial before deciding to purchase (see current resources on trial). These trials are available to Library members. If an e-resource passes muster, the team will then negotiate with the suppliers.

Negotiation is a particular challenge for the team, as they make a concerted effort to gain value for money. Most publishers are profit-making, so readers are obliged to register as Library members in order to view electronic content. As Aileen Cook explains, "Once we identify an appropriate e-resource, we try to get the best deal with suppliers, and, where possible, remote access for readers. This includes renewals as well as new subscriptions."

The Wellcome Library belongs to a consortia that benefits from JISC Collections negotiating power. The JISC negotiates with the publishers, and then sub-licenses e-collections to the member libraries. Some of these subscriptions are subsidised, or even free. In this way, the Library is able to benefit from a wider range of resources.

Databases, in particular, are expensive, and the Library is keen to promote them, provide training, and receive feedback. Particularly when a new resources is in "trial mode", the team welcomes comments and suggestions from our readers (this can be done using our online form).

Once the resources have been purchased, details are passed to the cataloguers to ensure that access for readers is quickly achieved. All e-resources are accessed via the Library catalogue. The team also liaise with Systems Support Services, who manage the access rights for groups of users, and keep the websites up-to-date with new offerings.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Last Chance to See: 'Skin'

This weekend offers your last chance to see 'Skin', Wellcome Collection's current temporary exhibition.

The exhibition draws strongly upon a wide range of material from the Wellcome Library: manuscripts, books, paintings and advertising material. A small sample then, of the Library's enormous holdings on this theme.

If a visit to the exhibition inspires you to seek out more on the topics covered in the exhibition, we may be able to help...

Image: Male écorché figure, of whom only the right side of his body has been flayed. Engraving by G. Bonasone, 16th century (Wellcome Library no. 99i)

Talking Nutrition

As previewed on this Blog, ‘Nutrition and History in the Twentieth Century’ was held last week (15 September) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). This one-day conference, organised by the School’s Centre for History in Public Health and their Archives department, was a great success, attended by over 50 people.

The LSHTM’s nutrition collections were recently catalogued through a grant from the Wellcome Trust. Browse their online catalogue here.

The archive collections of the LSHTM and the Wellcome Library both complement and overlap in many areas, particularly in the field of nutrition. This was illustrated in conference talks by the archive departments of both organisations which focused on the history of nutritional science, diseases of malnutrition, nutrition and war time and nutrition propaganda during the twentieth century.

This first session was followed by recollections and analysis by former staff and students of the School. Their experiences of working at the institution over the last few decades were recorded for the archive’s oral history collection. The two afternoon sessions were devoted to a variety of papers on historical aspects of nutrition, including a summary of UK food policy since the 1970s presented and discussed by Professor Tim Lang of City University.

Amongst some of the collections highlighted in the paper on ‘Nutrition Archives in the Wellcome Library’ were those of Harriette Chick, Edward Mellanby, Robert McCance and Elsie Widdowson, Robert McCarrison, Surgeon Captain ‘Peter’ T L Cleave, Cicely Williams, Frederick Le Gros Clark, the Society of Medical Officers of Health, the British Medical Association and Francis Avery Jones. Details of these and our other archive collections on nutrition can be browsed via our Sources Guide on Nutrition or through the links to our online Archives and Manuscripts catalogue given above.

The papers of the London Food Commission (LFC), founded by Tim Lang, were also discussed. This collection is held by the Wellcome Library and cataloguing is due to commence in October 2010, with the papers becoming available to researchers before Summer 2011. The LFC archive will undoubtedly provide valuable insights into food issues and policy in the 1980s and 1990s, including food labelling, safety, composition and standards, and the school meals campaigns.

As one of the Wellcome Trust’s five research challenges, ‘Connecting environment, nutrition and health’, nutrition is a hot topic on Wellcome Library’s outreach menu. Early in 2011 a new Insights session will be held, focusing on various aspects of the Library’s diverse and vivid primary and secondary source collections on food, diet, nourishment and health. Keep an eye on the Wellcome Collection website - and the Wellcome Library Blog - for details of this session.

A taster of the wealth of our resources can be instantly experienced by searching the Wellcome Images website. Amongst its holdings are a wide range of historical and contemporary images on nutritional matters, such as those which have illustrated this post.

1/ Health and Beauty in Wartime (Ministry of Food leaflet) (GC/198/B/2/1)
2/ Page from from McCance and Widdowson’s Food Analysis research notebooks (GC/97/A/7)
3/ Community health worker in rural Jamaica showing a mother a leaflet promoting good nutrition

Author: Amanda Engineer

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wellcome Library Insight - Mind and Body: Heart and Soul

This week's free Wellcome Library Insight session - on Thursday 23rd September -
draws upon our collections to explore the relationship between our heads and our hearts as described by the great minds of the past.

Speaker: Erin Sullivan, doctoral candidate at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at 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.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New resource trial - The Cult of the Body

The Wellcome Library has set up a trial for a new online database, The Cult of the Body: Sports and Physical Culture in Russia 1891-1919, which can be accessed via the Library catalogue.

The database provides access to the wealth of information contained in the sporting periodicals that sprung up in Tsarist and Soviet Russia as activities as diverse as body building and football, bicycling and mountaineering, and car racing and wrestling were enthusiastically adopted by the fast industrialising nation.

The trial runs until 14 October and we would appreciate any feedback about this resource, so please take a look and let us know what you think. A link to the feedback form can be found on the catalogue record.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is Mr Scarlatti there?

While walking through the Wellcome Library stacks to view a huge painting of Galileo, a scholarly visitor from Italy accompanied by a staff member happened to pass a shelf of miscellaneous items, among which was a bronze statuette (left, Wellcome Library no. 47279i). He stopped; the curator explained that the statuette had been acquired as a portrait of Christopher Columbus, but that, annoyingly, it was not mentioned in a book of Columbus iconography. [1] The visitor replied "But it is Galileo!", with the same inner conviction as Galileo himself might have used had he really said (as the legend has it) "Eppur si muove!".

Sure enough, further research showed that it was originally one of a pair of sculptures, of Columbus and Galileo, and that the names had been transposed. But this addition to Galilean iconography would never have occurred had the researcher not happened to pass it on his way to see something else. Of course it was necessary for there to be a mind (the visitor's) prepared to see Galileo, contrary to the message he was getting from the library, that it was Columbus.

If it was catalogued as Columbus (as it was then, and in at least one downstream database still is), it would not have been found by searching the online Wellcome Library catalogue under the name of Galileo. That shows the value of giving our collections a certain plurality of approaches, including abundant metadata, exhibitions, study-access, online browsing, printed publications etc. -- not to mention blogs. Like other organic creations, collections thrive on biodiversity, which permits intentional serendipity and lateral thinking, both by researchers and by the custodians of collections.

A good example of enterprising research is recalled by Colin White in his biography of the artist Edmund Dulac. [2] "There is a story, perhaps by now almost a legend, of how the eminent harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick, when he was preparing his edition of the works of Domenico Scarlatti, wished to retrace certain original manuscripts. Knowing that Scarlatti, a Neapolitan, had worked in the Spanish court in Madrid, married, had children, and died there in 1758, Kirkpatrick reasoned that anyone in Madrid with the Italian name Scarlatti, might well be a descendent of Domenico. In a copy of the Madrid telephone directory, he found entries under 'Scarlatti' and eventually discovered in the attics of one of them the manuscripts he sought."

White himself, "stealing this idea", telephoned the old address of Dulac (who had died twenty years previously), spoke to the lady who was living there, and "from this nucleus came a chain reaction leading to places as widespread as Switzerland, the United States, France and Spain."

There's no harm in asking.

[1] Néstor Ponce de León, The Columbus gallery, New York: the author, 1893
[2] Colin White, Edmund Dulac, London: Studio Vista, 1975, pp. 6-7

Olivetti telephone by Kornelia and Hartmut Häfele from (under GNU Free Documentation License)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Wellcome Digital Library blog

The Wellcome Library has launched a new blog (, centered on the development of the Wellcome Digital Library. The blog will be a "a real-time progress report, discussion outlet, and notification area", and will complement the Library's other blogs by providing more specific and technical information related to the Library's pilot programme and continued development of the digital library.

Topics to be covered include:
  • What will be digitised, and how the content will be of use to researchers.
  • How we will facilitate research activity, learning, and discovery.
  • Logistics of digitisation and workflows.
  • Metadata.
  • Long-term data management.
  • Delivery formats, speeds, and functions.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Congratulations to Spike Walker

Last night, Spike Walker, one of Wellcome Images most prolific contributors - and over the years a multiple Wellcome Image Award winner - was awarded the Royal Photographic Society's Combined Royal Colleges Medal.

For more on Spike's work, see this post on the Wellcome Trust's Blog and also this gallery on the Guardian's website. A search for Spike's name on the Wellcome Images website will also bring up even more examples of his astonishing imagery, including the image shown above of a water flea giving birth.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stone brocades of fish and football

In any historical library, there is a continuous conversation between, on the one hand, the subjects discussed within the library's holdings, and, on the other hand, the forms (vocabularies, media, genres, materials) in which those subjects are thought about, discussed, and transmitted. But this is particularly a feature of the Wellcome Library on account of its diversity of document-types –- not just monographs and runs of periodicals but … well, for pictorial documents alone, all of these, and more.

For convenience we usually turn a deaf ear to this dialogue, pretending (if we take examples of vocabulary) that "plague", "anatomy", "gout", "cholera" and "consumption" have always had whatever meanings we want them to have today, regardless of context. [1] Still, it is worth occasionally eavesdropping on it, as we can learn valuable lessons thereby. Let's look at an example of changing media within the field of colour printing.

Left: coloured aquatint by W. Say after F.R. Say for Richard Bright, 1 January 1827. Wellcome Library no. 30636i

Printing in coloured inks may be taken for granted by the casual magazine reader of today, but that reader's magazine can only be produced as a result of technical evolution over many centuries, and technology transfer over many thousands of miles. Before those procedures were developed, paper was printed in one colour (usually black ink on white paper) and then each copy was coloured by hand. That was the technique used for example in the anatomist Richard Bright's 1827 depiction of the distinctive dark-chocolate-like kidney which he found in people with Bright's Disease (as it was named soon afterwards).

Right: colour woodcut by Kunisada I, 1857.Wellcome Library no. 35824i

Japan has a long history of colour printing which can be studied in the Wellcome Library through colour woodcuts. There are currently about 700 Japanese woodcuts in the Wellcome Library catalogue, and others yet to be catalogued, in addition to Japanese printed and handwritten books. Unlike Richard Bright's print, most of these woodcuts were actually printed in colours.

The example on the right, dated 1857, shows the actor Ichikawa Kodanji in character enjoying a summer meal. In order to show the different ceramics (teacups, ashtray, etc.) and papers (his fan alone is printed with papers of two different colours and designs), a different woodblock was cut for each colour, each block was inked with ink of one colour, and the same sheet of paper was printed from each of the blocks in turn. The technique was introduced by Harunobu (1725-1770) around 1765. [2]

Such colour woodcuts were called nishiki-e, or "brocade prints", because the existing things which they most resembled were brocades or embroideries. In brocades the colour was not applied to the substance of the product but was inseparable from that substance. Just as no dying was needed for brocades, so no hand-colouring was needed for colour woodcuts: hence the latter were nishiki-e, brocade prints.

Above, Amatai (tile-fish); below, Kurodai (black porgy). English-language equivalents are approximate only. Colour lithograph, 1883-4. Wellcome Library no. 727281i

However, these fish (above), though also printed in colours, are something different. The print is one in a set of twelve colour prints in the Wellcome Library that were produced (in 1883-1884) not on a woodblock but by lithography. Instead of being cut on a woodblock, the design was drawn in waxy crayons on the surface of a very smooth stone, the stone was inked with ink of one colour, and a sheet of white paper printed from it. Just as in woodcut printing, so with lithography, each of the parts of the design (the blue parts, the yellow parts etc.) would have to be drawn on one of several stones. Of course it was essential to make sure that the registration of the paper was absolutely identical from stone to stone, otherwise the result would look like a Picasso from one of his discordant-planes periods. That was the tricky bit, but it had already been mastered in Japan by professional woodcut artists.

The same principle is used with modern rotary presses, in which the paper passes in succession between several sets of rollers, each one inked by jets emitting a different colour of ink. However our fish prints predate rotary presses: they were printed by hand on flat stones. If one looks at the original impressions closely, one can see the grain of the stone, especially in the black-inked parts.

Although the phrase nishiki-e was well established as referring to colour woodcuts, the publisher of the fish lithographs gave the collection the title Namima no nishiki, or "Brocades of the waves", a title that radiates a rainbow of meanings. As viewers, we are invited by that title to consider the continuity with the traditional nishiki-e, the colour woodcuts. Then there is a reference to fish as lustrous polychrome marvels that coruscate as they dart through sunlit waters, whether carp in a Japanese water-garden or saltwater fish seen from fishing-boats in the Western Pacific. Their silvery and golden skin veined with red, blue and brown makes them shimmer like living brocades of silver or gold thread. And thirdly there is pride in the use of lithography, one of the new techniques introduced in the Meiji reign, which captures the gradations between these colours and shades as finely as the finest of silk threads, and more subtly than even the most revered traditional masters of colour woodcuts –- Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige, or Utamaro.

Top to bottom: Aji (scad); Sappa (sardinella); Kohada (shad). English-language equivalents are approximate only. Colour lithograph, 1883-4. Wellcome Library no. 727282i

Our set of twelve fish prints from 1883-1884 was produced in Tokyo by the National Printing Company, a firm that now prints official documents such as banknotes and postage stamps – paradoxically, since nowadays those are almost the only two common types of print that are not produced by lithography (they are produced by gravure, from engraved metal plates: lithographs would be too easy to counterfeit). In a brief paragraph of introduction, the director speaks on behalf of the Japanese nation. We live, he says, surrounded by a rich ocean, which perpetually supplies us with a vast variety of fish. These fish play an important role in our daily diet. Although there have been many books published that describe the minute distinctions between the many similar types of fish, these are not suitable for didactic purposes. That is the main reason for the publication of these highly detailed prints of fish. The improvements made by the technique of lithography mean that finer details of the fish can be shown, and consequently we can correct and improve public knowledge of fish, the staple of life.

He is true to his word. Few colour photographs could today reproduce the textures and hues of these gleaming "brocades of the waves". If any of the fish portrayed is or were to be thought to be extinct, these prints could be the models with which any suspected survivor might be compared.

Left: a young woman rides on horseback accompanied by an older man on horseback and his servant on foot. Colour lithograph in the style of Tosa Mitsuoki, 1894. Wellcome Library no. 728888i

From a mere ten years later (1894) we have another set of twelve colour lithographs: very different. They were produced not in Tokyo but in Osaka, and they recall the courtly life of nearby Kyoto, the former seat of the imperial court. The subject matter is the sports, recreations and pastimes of the court, probably as narrated in some work of literature such as the Tale of Genji. The identities of the characters (and the name of the series, if there is one) still have to be worked out.

The compositions are stylised in imitation of the courtly works of Tosa Mitsuoki (1617-1691). The Tosa school was officially sponsored by the court to represent its standards of aesthetic exquisiteness, much as the Limbourg brothers did for the Burgundian court over a hundred years previously. As these prints show, it was still remembered and imitated into the Meiji era, no doubt with an element of nostalgia for the finer features of the pre-industrial life of the elite.

Right: three men playing kemari (football). Colour lithograph in the style of Tosa Mitsuoki, 1894. Wellcome Library no. 728891i

One of the prints (above left) shows a woman being taught to ride, and another (right) shows dignitaries playing kemari, a form of football – though not with due dignity, as one of the eminences has lost his shoe while kicking the ball. (A game of kemari features in the Tale of Genji, where a freak accident to a spectator plays a key part in the plot, but in this print no spectator is shown.) In every one of the twelve scenes, clouds lit by golden sunshine traverse the field of view at several different heights, a favourite device of the Tosa school (and of its Art Nouveau admirers). The ease with which lithographic printing in gold can represent the sheen of sunlight is exploited to the full by our artist. Years in the future, the techniques used to render these decorative patterns would lead to the colourful wrapping papers surrounding the millions of last-minute gifts on sale in Japanese railway stations, airports and kiosks.

The Tosa lithographs preserve an ancient Japanese subject and style by means of a modern technique. The pastimes of the elite are portrayed in a medium accessible to the mass market. The fish lithographs are from a decade earlier, but use a later style. To portray the staple diet of Japanese, they use a foreign technique, not much different from Austrian or German natural history prints of the same period. Historians have to try to keep in their heads a sense of what was "normal" (feasible and acceptable) at various periods, and for whom, but that requires an intimate knowledge of what actually existed, and when.

In addition to the Wellcome Library and many other repositories, students of the history of colour printing, such as Bamber Gascoigne, are fortunate to have a more specialized study collection: the magnificent Waddleton Collection, now the proud possession of Cambridge University Library. Norman Waddleton (1916-2008) was a patent agent who built up a collection of examples of colour printing: a good subject for him, as his profession depended on the discernment of small technical modifications of the type shown in the evolution of colour printing. Waddleton's database lists not only items in his collection but also, valuably, items missing from his collection. His collection includes Japanese works, but our fish prints and the Tosa set (inasmuchas it has been identified so far) seem to have eluded him in both lists.

Just as colour lithography in the 19th century incorporated and in some ways surpassed the effects of woodcuts and engravings, so our own knowledge of the past evolves by building on the knowledge of our fellow-researchers such as Waddleton. These "stone brocades" have only just been added to the Wellcome Library catalogue this summer, but there are still in prospect many other additions that can refine the continuing conversation between message and medium.

Many thanks to Mitsui Takehito for his work on the fish prints.

[1] Andrew Cunningham, 'Identifying disease in the past: cutting the Gordian knot', Asclepio: revista de historia de la medicina y de la ciencia, 2002: 54: 13-34

[2] Susanne Formanek and Sepp Linhart (edd.), Written texts--visual texts: woodblock-printed media in early modern Japan, Amsterdam: Hotei, 2005, p. 343

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wellcome Library Insight: The Quest for Perfect Skin

This week's free Wellcome Library Insight session - on Thursday 9th September - 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 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, September 7, 2010

The Red Book

It's not often books purchased by the Wellcome Library have guested on a prime time American crime show, but then again, Carl Jung's The Red Book is no ordinary work.

A facsimile of Carl Jung's Liber Novus (New Book), The Red Book was only published for the first time last year. It records in words and images the innermost feelings and thoughts of Jung, who started the work after undergoing an intense spiritual and mental crisis in the 1910s. According to the book's editor Prof Sonu Shamdasani, the publication of the work is an enormously important event in the history of psychology: the whole of Jung's career can now be reinterpreted through this intense work.

Both literally and metaphorically a weighty tome, the shelves of the Wellcome Library hold a number of copies of The Red Book and all are available to our readers. For an introduction to the work, BBC Radio 3 devoted the interval to last Saturday's Prom concert to a discussion of the work between presenter Bidisha, Prof Shamdasani and artist Bettina Reiber (and to sample the book's visual style, take a look at this BBC Slideshow).

The discussion will be available to listeners in the UK through the Radio 3 website until next Saturday: the Red Book feature begins 10 minutes into the programme.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Archives and Manuscripts cataloguing - August 2010

August saw the completion of several long-running projects, with newly catalogued collections and retroconverted catalogues both entering the online database for the first time. Several thousand new records were made available for searching, chiefly relating to twentieth-century collections.

Our first highlight this month (already described more fully in an earlier blog posting) is an indication of how up-to-the-minute archives can be and a valuable addition to our holdings on genetics, complementing the hard science with information on its human impact. Genetic Alliance UK is an umbrella organisation bringing together various groups representing persons affected by genetic conditions (the initial impulse came from a member of the Huntington's Disease Association, whilst in its first years it was run on a voluntary basis by a member of the Tuberous Sclerosis Association): it was founded in 1989 as the Genetic Interest Group and adopted its new name in June this year. It deals, then, with very current issues and the archives include material created only a few months ago. The papers total four boxes (50 database records) and include minutes and agendas of the society's AGMs, Trustee Board and Operational Group, annual reports, and newsletters and publications produced by the society, either alone or in conjunction with other groups. The papers are available under the reference SA/GIG.

In the 1980s the Library received a small collection of papers relating to the work of the biochemist Norman Heatley (1911-2004) and his work as part of the team that developed penicillin; these were made available under the reference GC/48. At the end of Heatley’s life a much larger amount of material was given to the Library, transforming the original single box into a collection filling thirty: this new material has now been catalogued and the original GC/48 merged with it, to form a large new collection with the reference PP/NHE. A fuller description of the papers is to be found in a blog posting by their cataloguer.

A letter by the great cricketer (and general practitioner) W.G. Grace (1848-1915), previously held in the Library’s old Autograph Letters Collection, was added to the online catalogue. It includes information on one of his younger brothers, who is about to take an exam at the Royal College of Surgeons: Grace discusses with the College how to minimise the effects of his exam nerves. The letter can be consulted using the reference MS.8746.

As noted last month, work continued behind the scenes on the papers of the psychiatrist Henry Dicks (PP/HVD) and on a project to expand the amount of material catalogued and available that relates to Wellcome Witness seminars on various topics in medical science (GC/253). Work also continues on a radical expansion of the catalogue of the papers of the geneticist Professor Hans Grüneberg (PP/GRU) which will make available much more detailed information about his individual correspondents. For the moment, the original catalogue of the Grüneberg papers has been taken off-line to avoid creating confusion: contact the archives and manuscripts department to access this material.

Last month's cataloguing highlights mentioned that the retroconversion project, which aims to convert all the Library's old hard-copy archive catalogues to database form, is coming very close to completion. We mentioned then the catalogue of the Abortion Law Reform Association, which completed retroconversion in the final hours of July and went live very early in August, adding 758 new records to the database. The archive includes records of the Association, its officers, and individuals connected with the attempt to reform the abortion laws, plus various associated materials such as papers of Chairman Janet Chance, and, following the passing of 1967 Act making abortion legal, papers of the 'Lane' Committee on Working of the Aberdeen Act and Abortion Amendment Bills. Its reference is SA/ALR.

In an allied area, the catalogue of the Birth Control Campaign was also converted. The 257 new records for searching document the work of the Campaign and its parent body the Birth Control Trust, focusing in particular on Parliamentary action: topics addressed include wider availability of vasectomies, free provision of contraception under the NHS, and general improved NHS facilities for contraception, abortion and sterilisation. There is also a large section of press cuttings, and files relating to attempts to promote and publicise its aims and to relations with other bodies in connected fields. The papers can be found by searching for the reference SA/BCC.

Earlier we mentioned new cataloguing that relates to genetics: retroconversion also contributed to this theme, making available the catalogue of papers relating to the
Medical Research Council Blood Group Unit. Another 498 records were added to the database, the many scientific symbols used in the data leading to a considerable extension in the archivists' HTML abilities. The MRC Blood Group Unit succeeded the Galton Laboratory Serum Unit set up in 1935 under the direction of Professor (later Sir) Ronald Fisher and financed through the Medical Research Council by the Rockefeller Foundation (the need for safe transfusion therapy intensified blood group research in the run-up to the Second World War). The Unit was reconstituted in 1946 at the Lister Institute for Preventive Medicine as the Blood Group Research Unit, under the directorship of Dr Robert Race, and acquired an international reputation in the highly specialised field of haematology, extending its work in 1965 into the genetics of blood groups. Upon the retirement of Dr Race in 1973, Dr Ruth Sanger became director of the Unit. Under Dr Sanger's direction, the Unit continued to make a unique contribution to the identification of blood groups, and to the applications of the blood group systems to the problems of human genetics. The Unit was disbanded in September 1995, although its work continues in other research centres. This collection will be one of those to be digitised early as part of the Library’s focus on material relevant to the history of genetics; the data can be browsed under the reference SA/BGU.

Finally, the catalogue of the papers of Sir Edward Mellanby FRS (1884-1955) and Lady May Mellanby née Tweedy (1882-1978) was converted. The Mellanbys worked together in the field of nutrition, with particular emphasis on vitamins and deficiencies; in addition, Sir Edward was Secretary to the Medical Research Council from 1933-1949. The papers include personal material, correspondence, research notes, lectures and drafts, and add another 876 records to the database which can be found under the reference PP/MEL.

1/ screenshot of the website of Genetic Alliance UK.
2/ Lady Mary Mellanby and Sir Edward Mellanby in Kew Gardens, c.1950, from PP/MEL.

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Imperial China comes to Hartlepool

Those of you with a good memory might recall previous postings here about the exhibition China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-72 opening first in Beijing last year, and then in Liverpool earlier this year. Well, its tour of the UK continues when it opens at the Hartlepool Art Gallery on 4th September. It will run until 13th November and will include over 100 reproductions of Thomson’s wonderful photographs of the people and landscapes of China in the 19th century.

The exhibition is a joint collaboration between the Wellcome Library (who own the original glass negatives from which the reproductions were made), and Betty Yao, an independent curator. Having been closely involved with the exhibition’s creation, I can attest to the beauty of the photographs and the high quality of the scholarly input that has gone into their accompanying labels. They offer a fascinating insight into life in China at the time, so if you’re in the area, pop by the museum to have a look!

Image: Camel sculptures on the road to the Ming tombs outside Peking. Photograph by John Thomson, 1871 (Wellcome Library no. 19258i)

Author: Rowan de Saulles

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Open House London 2010

Open House London has established itself in recent years as one of the capital's most popular events. A celebration of the diversity of the London's architecture, the event allows free access to many buildings normally closed to the public.

Open House London 2010 takes this place later this month on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th September, with over 700 buildings participating. A good number of these sites have a link to the collections of the Wellcome Library or to the History of Science and Medicine in general, but we’ll take this opportunity to flag up fellow members of the London Museums of Health and Medicine network which are taking part (details of which are available from their website), the Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham (who we have discussed on this Blog before) and the Royal Society (celebrating its 350th anniversary this year).

And last but by no means least, the Gibbs Building, the headquarters of the Wellcome Trust (shown above) will also be accessible on the Saturday of Open House London weekend.

For more details, see the Open House London website.

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