Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Online Resources: Cambridge Journals Digital Archive

The Cambridge Journals Digital Archive is now available at the Wellcome Library.

JISC Collections has purchased in perpetuity on behalf of the higher education community the backfiles of all available Cambridge University Press journals going back to Volume 1, issue 1.
It includes 171 unique titles plus some earlier versions no longer current, published between 1827 and 1996. The available titles include Genetical research, Epidemiology and infection and The Behavioral and brain sciences.

Please note that one of the subject collections (Humanities and Social Sciences, part 2) will not be available until August 2011. That includes the 'history & philosophy of science' titles, such as : Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, British Journal for the History of Science and Science in Context.

Author: Victoria Sinclair

R.I.P. Robin Day R.D.I.

Left, poster by Robin Day for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, ca. 1954. Wellcome Library no. 32584i

Probably everybody reading this has at some time sat in a chair designed by Robin Day, the designer who died on 9 November 2010 aged 95. His stackable plastic chairs, and their derivatives, are ubiquitous in British schools, hospitals and office meeting rooms.

However, he designed more than chairs. During World War II he designed posters for the Ministry of Information, and in 1951 signage for the Festival of Britain. The Wellcome Library holds posters which he designed for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

The poster above, possibly from 1954, shows the danger of alighting from a bus of the open-platform type which is scheduled to be reintroduced in London this time next year. Three different lettering-types are used to describe the three activities involved: waiting (leaning backwards), the bus trundling onwards (cursive), and the final emphatic stop (sanserif caps bold in white on black, and boxed for good measure). The man alighting looks like a self-portrait of Day himself.

Right, poster by Robin Day for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, ca. 1954. Wellcome Library no. 32585i

This film noir-type poster (right) about the rewiring of an electric plug shows an early bid in the interests of safety to reserve more work for electricians and less for amateurs.

As is the way with posters, both preserve fragments of social history within their overt message – such as the vanished three-round-pinned plug (still used in India).

See further Fiona MacCarthy's obituary of Robin Day in the Guardian, 17 November 2010, and Charlotte Higgins's account of a visit to him in the same paper, 18 November 2010.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wellcome Library releases an ITT for a Workflow Tracking System

If you’ve been reading our blogs regularly you’ll know about how the Library plans to transform itself into a groundbreaking digital resource, allowing access to much of the Library’s material in digital form.

As part of this program we’ve just released an ITT for a Workflow Tracking System (WTS). We’re looking for a system that will track and manage the processes around creating digital content – whether that content is digitised by us, digitised externally or born digital archival material- and automating that activity as much as possible.

Within the Library, staff who want to add content to our Digital Library will do so using the Workflow Tracking System. This means using the WTS to record that all digital content, e.g. digitised books or archival collections, has been created correctly, has had its descriptive metadata attached, is converted to JPEG2000 (or some other appropriate format) and is ingested into our digital object repository. The WTS will also create metadata encoding and transmission standard (METS) files. These will be used by the front end system to deliver digital content to our users.

Expressed simply, the WTS will play a critical central role in ensuring that all digital content that is destined for our Digital Library is created, quality controlled and ingested accurately and efficiently into the Library’s repository.

Trust me, I'm an Archivist!

The current issue of Ariadne, the web magazine for information professionals, includes an article by three members of Wellcome Library staff. Trust me I’m an Archivist: experiences with digital donors describes some of our encounters with potential donors of digital archival material, both good and bad! Working with digital archives is an emerging field, so it is important for those of us involved to share our experiences with colleagues across the world.

The Wellcome Library is in the unusual position of being a collecting repository with no legal mandate to acquire archives. This means that we have to find other methods of persuading potential donors to give us their archives. So far, we have found it easier to persuade people to part with boxes of papers than their digital equivalents. Ironically, whilst there is no hurry to transfer paper based archives, which can often survive for hundreds of years with no intervention, it is vital that we acquire digital material as soon as possible. Degradation of digital data, rapid obsolescence of hardware and software, and the fragility of items such as memory sticks all contribute to the vulnerability of digital archives. The longer digital material remains outside the archive, the higher the cost of working with it, and the less chance of being able to access all the data.

More information about our work in this area can be found on the Library’s Digital Curation pages. We always welcome contact from others working in this field who wish to exchange ideas.

Epic of the Persian Kings: The Art of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh

Material from the Wellcome Libary is currently on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, as part of a landmark exhibition.

Epic of the Persian Kings: The Art of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh explores the monumental artistic legacy of one of the world’s greatest literary epics: the 1000 year-old Persian ‘Book of Kings’, or Shahnameh.

Completed by the poet Ferdowsi in 1010 AD, this vast narrative poem (twice as long as the Iliad and Odyssey put together) charts the history of the Iranian world from its creation to the fall of the Persian Empire in the seventh century. It is an icon of Persian culture and has inspired some of the world’s most exquisite manuscripts.

To mark the passing of a millennium since the completion of the Shahnameh, the exhibition brings together nearly one hundred paintings from lavishly illustrated manuscripts spanning 800 years, amounting to the most comprehensive exhibition of Shahnameh art ever mounted in this country.

From its collection of Persian manuscripts, the Wellcome Library has loaned to the exhibition a nineteenth century folio depicting the second battle of Key Khosrow and Afrasiyab:

"Key Khosrow has crossed the Jeihun (Oxus) river pursuing Afrasiyab to his fortress of Gang Dezh. Afrasiyab comes out to meet him and battle is joined. Seeing the great loss of life, Key Khosrow goes apart and prays for aid, and a great wind rises to blow in the face of his Turanian adversaries. The army of Iran has the best of the battle and, with news of the approach of Rostam, Afrasiyab retreats to Gang Dezh.

The great wind is indicated on the folio with black clouds in the distance. The distant landscape is treated with aerial perspective, and colour is applied with a view to creating an effect of a European watercolour. Volume is indicated by variations of tone and by hatching, and shadows are cast. White highlights are applied – a feature more characteristic of oil painting than of watercolour. Many faces have suffered a damage: this is from a tendency of white pigment to flake, rather than from a deliberate attack, and it is observable on white horses also. The surviving faces have a passionate – albeit uniform - expression, with eyes rolled, brows contracted and eye sockets carefully shaded. Both commanders wear tall archaising crowns favoured by Fath `Ali Shah (reg. 1797 – 1834); these and other accoutrements and horse trappings are shown as liberally decorated with rubies and pearls". [1]

Epic of the Persian Kings: The Art of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Sat 11 September 2010 to Sun 9 January 2011

[1] Brend B, Melville C. Epic of the Persian Kings. The Art of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. IB Tauris 2010

Author: Nikolaj Serikoff

Wellcome Library Insight - Designed Today, Gone Tomorrow

This week's free Wellcome Library Insight session - on Thursday 2nd December - explores aspects of design and social history through items from the Library's Ephemera collection.

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

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

Image: Birthday greetings from five lactated food babies. Burlington, Vt.: Wells & Ricahrdson. Trade Card 1893 (EPH637)

Wellcome Library Workshops

This week’s free Wellcome Library workshops are:

Wellcome Images
Do you need a picture? Find what you need from Wellcome Images: search 160 000 pictures online, covering the history of medicine and the history of human culture from the earliest periods of civilisation to the present day.
Tuesday 30th November, 2-3pm

Pubmed and Pubmed Central: an introduction
Are you looking for the latest findings on diabetes or for historical research on radiology? Take a closer look at PubMed, one of the leading databases for locating research articles in the fields of health, medicine and dentistry. It contains over 15 million references back to the 1950s and is freely available to anyone with access to the internet. It is linked to PubMed Central, a free archive of life sciences journals.
Thursday 2nd December, 2-3pm

Our programme of free workshops offers 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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Eugenics Review : digitised and freely available through PMC

The complete archive of the Eugenics Review journal - from 1909 through to 1968 when the title ceased - has been digitised through the Wellcome Library's Backfile Digitisation Project, and is now freely available at PubMed Central.

As the official journal of the Eugenics Education Society (later known as just the Eugenics Society) , the Review published papers written by prominent members of the eugenics movement, including  Francis Galton, Julian Huxley and Major Leonard Darwin.

The Eugenics Society was founded  to promote public awareness of eugenic problems, i.e. the existence of hereditary qualities both positive and negative, and the need to encourage social responsibility with respect to these qualities.
The Wellcome Library also holds the archives of the Eugenics Society.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


This Friday (26th November) sees an all-building evening event in Wellcome Collection: Hands. Through a series of activities, talks and installations, the event will focus on the myriad ways our hands can sense, communicate and create.

Hands will be examining items from the Wellcome Library's collections from a number of different angles. Activities in the Library Reading Room will focus on handwriting: a selection of handwritten letters from our archives and manuscripts will be on display, along with an analysis of each by graphologist David Bennett, who will also be on hand (no pun intended) during the evening to analyse visitors' handwriting.

There will also be an opportunity to try Arabic calligraphy with Soraya Syed, and European calligraphy with Patricia Lovett. Visitors will also be able to find more about the art of palaeography with Professor Michelle Brown from the School of Advanced Studies, University of London.

Meanwhile, the evening also sees the launch of a new temporary exhibition at Wellcome Collection, featuring pictures exclusively from Wellcome Images.

This exhibition, in the Lightbox on the first floor of Wellcome Collection, features seven themes exploring hands throughout history, each offering a different perspective on how hands are linked with identity, communication and medicine. These are illustrated with images from the Wellcome Library’s collections, traversing a wide range of materials, including books, manuscripts, oil paintings and letters.

Highlights of the exhibition include the story of Valentine Greatrakes (shown above), an Irish faith-healer who claimed to cure scrofula or ‘the kings evil’ just by laying his hands on the patient. There is also a section on palmistry and what the lines on your hands might foretell, and a section on graphology, examining the handwriting of Lord Nelson, David Livingstone and Anthony van Leeuwenhoek.

The Hands event takes place this Friday eveing at Wellcome Collection. The 'Hands' Lightbox exhibition will run from 26th November 2010 until mid-February 2011.

Authors: Eleanor Lanyon and Rachael Johnson

Image: Valentine Greatrakes. Oil painting. (Wellcome Library no. 45644i)

Psychology, authoritarian regimes and modern marriage

The papers of the influential psychiatrist Henry Dicks (1900-1977) are now available in the Wellcome Library (Ref. PP/HVD). Having been born in Estonia to an English father and German mother, Dicks spoke English, Russian, German and French. This linguistic flexibility bestowed upon him the facility to examine, compare and comment upon different European cultures. He brought his professional psychiatric training to bear on an analysis of what underlay the great tides of human affairs that swept across the continent during his lifetime, writing in 1972 that "...currents of group and mass action remain enigmatic if we exclude from their study the influence of the strivings and roles of individual actors – leaders and led". [1]

Dicks is well known for his work during World War II when he served in the British army as a psychiatrist. He interviewed and conducted psychological evaluation of German prisoners of war and assessed the prevalence of national socialist ideology. He made reports on the state of morale of German forces, recommended how to conduct psychological warfare and target propaganda for maximum effect and, for a period in 1941, was physician in charge of Rudolf Hess. During the latter stages of the War, and in the immediate post-War period, Dicks provided similar expert opinion to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and the Allied Control Commission for Germany, including on the ‘de-Nazification’ of German army personnel. All this activity is represented in his papers, which include many of the official reports and memoranda that he produced and his notes on interviews with individual prisoners of war. Having collaborated with the sociologist Edward Shils during this period, Dicks went on to work with him on a RAND Corporation-financed study of Soviet soldiers who fetched up in the West.

Dicks was to draw on this first-hand experience in his repeated return to questions about authoritarian psychology and collective psychopathology. His first work on this topic, a "psychopathological study of European culture patterns", written in the late 1940s, remained unpublished (a draft is contained in the collection: ref. PP/HVD/B/3/2). During the next 3 decades, however, he published and lectured widely on topics such as 'the Bolshevik personality' and 'the Nazi character'. His papers bear witness to the interdisciplinary nature of his preoccupations which ranged across the behavioural sciences, sociology, social philosophy, and history. Between 1967 and 1968 he conducted face-to-face interviews with those in prison in Germany for war crimes and in 1972 published a monograph on Licensed Mass Murder: A Socio-psychological Study of Some SS Killers, which is still much-quoted today.

In addition to the attention he gave these interests, the bulk of Dicks's career was spent in clinical practice, teaching and research at the Tavistock Clinic in London where, apart from the interruption of the war years and a brief spell in Leeds, he worked from the early 1930s until the mid 1960s. Only a few papers relating to his pre-War career survive, but the collection does include material reflecting his wide-ranging professional interests from the 1940s onwards, including his work in the field of marital therapy. During the 1950s and 1960s Dicks and his colleagues at the Tavistock pioneered new and influential approaches to the couple as a unit of therapy, extending the theory of object relations, as developed by Klein, Fairbairn and others, to the analysis of marital dysfunction.

The 14 boxes of Dicks’s papers now available in the Library bear testament to the way in which he moved his critical focus back and forth between the macro-social currents of European society and the micro-social unit of the modern marriage. We hope that, as a result, those working in many and varied fields of study will visit the Library to consult the collection.

[1] Henry V. Dicks, Licensed Mass Murder: A Socio-psychological Study of Some SS Killers (Sussex University Press, 1972), p.17.

Image: Cover of Dicks's Marital Tensions (credit: Google Books)

Author: Jennifer Haynes

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Robert Gooch: "A name, I trust, that will not perish in the dust"

Left: Robert Gooch by John Linnell, 1831. Wellcome Library no. 3701i

Some 9,000 of the Wellcome Library's portrait-prints and -drawings are catalogued in the Wellcome Library catalogue, but most of the records are very brief: they omit much of the information found in Dr Renate Burgess's printed Catalogue of portraits (1973), mainly but not entirely through lack of staff available to input the data. A subsidiary reason is the relative simplicity of our application of the computer cataloguing format, which, unlike the printed catalogue, currently has no way of allowing biographical data about a particular sitter to be input only once for each sitter. Annoyingly for the online user, one can therefore often find much useful information in the printed catalogue that is not in the computer catalogue.

That situation came to the fore while I was looking at the entry in the Wellcome Library online catalogue for John Linnell's engraved portrait (above) of Robert Gooch (1784-1830), a very busy and much admired general practitioner and obstetrician in Georgian London, with special knowledge of diseases of women. There was one, brief, record for his portrait, but when I opened the solander box that contained the print, I found two impressions of the Gooch print, one of an earlier state than the other. The difference is most obviously shown in the lettering.

Earlier state:Later state:
The earlier one, dated 30 March 1831, had Linnell's name etched in his handwriting, whereas the later one, dated 20 May 1831, had lettering in imitation of a formal font. (Gooch had died on 16 February 1830, having sat to Linnell in 1827.) The earlier version looks like a private reminder of the man who had delivered most of Linnell's nine children, while the latter is more of a public memorial. In fact the existence of the two different states had been mentioned in the printed catalogue, but the situation was evidently too complicated to render in the computer when the initial mass data-input was carried out. For the portrait of Gooch the lacuna has now been filled and there are now two Wellcome Library catalogue records, one for the earlier state and one for the later state.

The reason for checking the originals was the offer for sale at Christie's South Kensington on 17 November 2010 (lot 191) of Linnell's original painting (1827), of which, it emerges, the first state of the engraving is a very faithful rendering. In the second state of the engraving, apart from the changes in the style and content of the lettering, a correction is made in the fictitious edition of Harvey's De motu cordis which is shown on the table open with an anatomical frontispiece: Harvey's Latin name is given as "Gullelmo Harvey" in the painting and in the first state of the etching, which is corrected to "Gulielmo Harvey" ("by William Harvey") in the second state. Sadly, no hotlink to Christie's online catalogue record for the painting is possible, as less than a week after the sale it has already disappeared from Christie's website: it is necessary to consult the hard-copy catalogue.

In all three versions, Linnell exposes Gooch's cadaverous appearance, caused by the effect of overwork on an already sick man: Gooch was battling with pulmonary tuberculosis and a severe stomach illness, not much relieved by his being appointed librarian to King George IV in 1826. After a serious lung haemorrhage in the same year Gooch compared himself to the "anatomie vivante" or living skeleton Claude Ambroise Seurat. [1]

According to Hilary Marland's entry on Gooch in the Oxford Dictionary of national biography, while "on a tour of the Lake District in 1811 Gooch met the poet Robert Southey, who remained a lifelong friend". Seated with his Harvey and other old books shown in the bookcase behind, Gooch could perhaps have felt the same sentiments as were expressed by Southey in his famous poem written in Keswick in 1818.

My days among the Dead are passed;
Around me I behold,
Where'er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old;
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I cónverse day by day.

With them I take delight in weal,
And seek relief in woe;
And, while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedewed
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.

My thoughts are with the Dead; with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears,
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.

My hopes are with the Dead; anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust.

(If only we could have the same confidence in the imperishability of online auction catalogues!)

[1] William MacMichael, Lives of British physicians, London: John Murray, 1830, p. 338

Anti-Smoking Archive Grows!

The archives of the anti-smoking charity ASH, held by the Wellcome Library, have almost doubled in size, with the addition of 80 boxes of newly catalogued material. The new material covers a very interesting period in the fight against smoking, when organisations such as ASH campaigned for cigarette advertising to be banned. It was widely stated that without the sponsorship of tobacco companies, many sports would not be able to afford to continue in the same way. Formula One was singled out as being particularly at risk – just try telling that to Lewis Hamilton!

The picture above is taken from an anti-smoking comic called “Smokescreens”, released in 1992 by ASH and ASH Northern Ireland. In the comic, a teenage brother and sister go to visit their mother in hospital. On the way, they bump into friends who are going to a concert, and it becomes clear that they both smoke regularly. Later, at the hospital, they find out that their mother’s illness is caused by smoking – in fact, just like them, she used to smoke to make herself look more mature. This story is presented by the fictional “Ray Cathode” of “Masters Cigarettes” who boasts that his company “are behind all your favourite sports – snooker, rugby, motor-racing, darts…” and are moving into sponsoring music (such as the concert being attended by the siblings friends). The final two images in the comic show a coughing teenage smoker next to the frail mother in a hospital bed, struggling to breathe through an oxygen mask.

The full catalogue of the ASH archives can be found by searching the Archives and Manuscripts online catalogue. Information about similar material can be found in the Archives and Manuscripts sources leaflet on smoking and tobacco.

Hot stuff

The thirteenth British ‘National Curry Week’ is now upon us, a timely reminder of our long-standing love affair with exotic food. Last year we reflected on the many early recipes for curry to be found in the Wellcome Library’s books and manuscripts. This year, our tribute has a more medicinal flavour. Among the many works on material medica in the library is the four-volume Medical Botany compiled by the physician William Woodville (1752-1805) and published between 1790 and 1794. A keen botanist and horticulturalist (perhaps too keen: he once shot a man who was causing a disturbance in his garden), Woodville assiduously documented all of the plants known to late eighteenth-century medical science.

Under the entry for Curcuma longa – long-rooted turmeric – Woodville describes the now-familiar ‘deep saffron or gold colour’ of the tuber, from which was derived a spice of ‘somewhat fragrant’ odour, ‘moderate’ warmth and ‘bitterish, slightly acrid’ taste. It was commonly employed in the east for seasoning of food and, Woodville added in a footnote, ‘it enters the composition of the Curry powder which is now much used here’. Its culinary value was not, however, matched by its medicinal properties, at least according to Woodville. ‘Though the use of this root is recommended by several practical writers, it is now very rarely employed’, Woodville commented, citing no less an authority than his former teacher, the famous Edinburgh physician and chemist William Cullen (1710-1790).

Woodville’s medical obituary for turmeric may have been premature. Long-established in Ayurvedic medicine, the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has recently been the focus of intense scientific interest. A search of current medical literature (from PubMed, via the Wellcome Library catalogue) reveals over 3,600 articles on the subject. Among them are studies exploring curcumin’s potential as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-malarial and – as evidenced by a recent paper by scientists at the Cork Cancer Research Centre – as a possible weapon in the treatment of cancer.

For those seeking salvation through spice there is, alas, a sting in the tail: as yet, there is no clinical case for curry as cure. Perhaps more salient is Woodville’s two hundred year-old warning to those who were partial to the yellow powder: ‘This root has the character of being a powerful aperient’, most efficacious against ‘chronic visceral obstructions’. It wasn’t merely the eyes of Georgian gourmands that were opened by the taste of turmeric...

Image: William Woodville. Stipple engraving by W. Bond, 1806, after L. F. Abbott. (Wellcome Library no. 9774i).

Author: Dr. Simon Chaplin

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wellcome Library Workshops

This week’s free Wellcome Library workshops are:

Free for all: history of medicine on the Web
Where can you access over 600 000 free full-text journal articles? What online resource includes access to over 3600 digitised medical resources? What is the WWW-Virtual Library for the History of Medicine? Find the best places to start if you are looking for reliable, accessible history of medicine resources on the internet.
Tuesday 23rd November, 2-3pm

Hunt the Ancestor: resources for medical family history
Was someone in your family a doctor, nurse or patient? Find out about the wealth of resources available to the family historian.
Thursday 25th November, 2-3.15pm

Our programme of free workshops offers 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: Laita Kaplish

Image: Photograph of nursing staff taken by Captain J. Pearson, RAMC, on HM Hospital Ship Dongola in the Mediterranean during the Dardanelles campaign in the First World War (RAMC/838).

Public events

News of a pair of forthcoming free public events, which draw on the expertise and knowledge of two members of Wellcome Library staff.

On Tuesday 30th November, Ross MacFarlane, Research Officer, will be speaking at Brent Archives on 'Henry Wellcome: His Life and Work', examining Wellcome's career and his collection and the important part played in the latter by an ex-wireless factory in Willesden. The talk starts at 7pm.

On Tuesday 7th December, Helen Wakely, Archivist, is giving a seminar at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) in their Archives and Society series titled: 'Francis Crick: so last century?'. The session begins at 5.30pm.

Both events are free and for those wishing to attend, more details are available through the websites of Brent Archives and the IHR respectively.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"In an admirable manner": Darwinism on the grapevine

Left: woodcut by K. Egawa after a painting by Ryūrikyō, 18th century. Wellcome Library no. 730398i

This Japanese woodcut (left: click on image to enlarge) can be considered from several points of view, one of which is its unwitting role as an illustration of evolution, or rather coevolution. A pair of vines climb up around the stem of a bamboo plant, which helps the vines to grow fruit that serves as food to a grateful bird. Each of the three organisms has an environmental niche enabled by the other two. For example the bamboo serves as a support to the vine enabling the latter to expand its trunk and extend its branches. The bird uses the grape as food and then returns the favour to the vine by kindly depositing the seeds of the grape elsewhere in a ready-made bed of nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Bamboo is grown by humans for innumerable purposes such as bamboo shoots for food and bamboo stems as scaffolding for buildings. Conversely, vines that were less able to entwine themselves around the bamboo, or failed to grow big juicy grapes, failed in the struggle for life and are no longer with us, and the same is held to be true, mutatis mutandis, for bamboo and birds.

One would think that Charles Robert Darwin would have relished it -- all the more so because one of his lesser known publications was a treatise 'On the movements and habits of climbing plants' which was read on 2 February 1865 to the Linnean Society of London, published in its Journal in the same year, and reissued with a different title and revised text in 1882 (and subsequently). He discusses questions such as exactly how climbing plants like the vine manage to pull themselves up round any kind of support such as a vineyard trellis or a bamboo. He replies with a remorselessly systematic micro-analysis of the mechanisms involved: climbing plants are of two kinds, those that revolve around a stem and those endowed with irritable organs which, when they touch any object, clasp it. Torsion, rotation and circumnutation are among their subroutines.

Wood engraving of Bryonia dioica, from Charles Darwin,
The movements and habits of climbing plants, London 1891, p. 165.
Wellcome Library

However, the larger implications are always present. For example, how does the vine find the bamboo in the first place? Natural selection is predictably his ready-made reply: "The first purpose of the spontaneous revolving movement [of an entwining plant]… is to favour the shoot finding a support" (revised version pp. 14-15).

Darwin's conclusion is as follows, starting with a dig at the ever-present Aristotle:

"It has often been vaguely asserted that plants are distinguished from animals by not having the power of movement. It should rather be said that plants acquire and display this power only when it is of some advantage to them; this being of comparatively rare occurrence, as they are affixed to the ground, and food is brought to them by the air and rain. We see how high in the scale of organization a plant may rise, when we look at one of the more perfect tendril-bearers. It first places its tendrils ready for action, as a polypus places its tentacula. If the tendril be displaced, it is acted on by the force of gravity and rights itself. It is acted on by the light, and bends towards or from it, or disregards it, whichever may be most advantageous. During several days the tendril or internodes, or both, spontaneously revolve with a steady motion. The tendril strikes some object, and quickly curls round and firmly grasps it. In the course of some hours it contracts into a spire, dragging up the stem, and forming an excellent spring. All movements now cease. By growth the tissues soon become wonderfully strong and durable. The tendril has done its work, and done it in an admirable manner."

Note the value judgment in the last sentence. In describing the tendril as having "done its work … in an admirable manner ", Darwin uses language that that would normally be applied to a craftsperson such as the Japanese artists of our woodcut. A positive admirability in carrying out a defined task seems to be what drives all the processes mentioned here. It is what makes people want to buy and disseminate the work of the painter Ryūrikyō, while the lack of it in lesser painters prevents the survival of the works of these latter.

In fact there are several layers of competition going on here. The vines, the bamboo and the bird are competing with their respective rivals in the struggle for existence. Those depicted here have succeeded. The work of the painter Ryūrikyō was carried out in such an "admirable manner" that K. Egawa made a woodcut of it – again "in an admirable manner", for he (or more likely the pressman T. Tamura) has added individual snow flakes in gouache: it is late in the season, the leaves are sere, the bird is getting cold and needs nourishment. Within the environment or context of evolution, this work is more admirable than that of artists generally considered superior, such as this 1856 dramatic scene (right) by the illustrious Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), where the gourd-bearing cucurbitacea entwines itself around a pergola.

Above right: two actors playing as Matsushita Kahiji and Konoshita Tokichi. Colour woodcut by Kunisada I, 1856. Wellcome Library no. 35847i

Moving to another layer, Charles Darwin's literary comment on the events depicted was apt enough to be quoted in illustration of the processes of the winding vines. Darwin originally wrote "food is brought to them by the wind and rain" but later changed "wind and rain" to "air and rain" to cover himself in cases such as humid summer days when the air is still. The original phrasing including the word "wind" lost out in the struggle for existence. Darwin's text has "evolved" thanks to his rephrasing of it "in an admirable manner".

Then, just as the admirable features of the luscious grapes attracted the bird, so the admirable features of the woodcut led to its being acquired by Henry S. Wellcome and reproduced on this blog named after him: as the process has got this far, it must have been accomplished "in an admirable manner". Many other prints, paintings and photographs which could have been reproduced were rejected. And if all these things had not been carried out "in an admirable manner", you would not now be reading these words, as they would, minutes ago, have lost the competitive struggle for your attention.

Within a collection of documents as broad and many-sided as the Wellcome Library, all may look at first sight as peaceful as a country hedgerow or river bank. Once you start to look at it in detail, draw connections, make comparisons, and note differences, it begins to look as complex as the habitat so vividly described by Darwin and republished in an earlier posting on this blog: seething with an invisible struggle for existence, meaning, significance, and delight.


The original version of Darwin's work was 'On the movements and habits of climbing plants', Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany), 1865, 9: 1-118; available online in The complete work of Charles Darwin online at http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=side&itemID=F834a&pageseq=1

The revised version bears the title The movements and habits of climbing plants, London: John Murray, 1891; available online in The complete work of Charles Darwin online at http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1882_Movements_F839.pdf . Darwin's "concluding remarks" are on p. 206

The woodcut reproduced at the top has a guard sheet containing an attribution of the original painting to Ryûrikyô. The British Museum
online catalogue has four paintings attributed to an artist of the same name, who is identified as an 18th century follower of Yanagisawa Kien (1704-1758). He seems to be not the same as the better-known Ryūryūkyo Shinsai (fl. 1799-1823).

Item of the Month, November 2010: A Victorian Paper Trail

Among books, journal articles, pamphlets and bound volumes of patents about Victorian toilets (flushing or non-flushing), systems of varying complexity for the disposal (and recycling) of human sewage and many items about personal and household hygiene; we also have in the Wellcome Library’s Ephemera Collection what must be fairly scarce examples of late 19th century toilet paper.

Our main example comes from the 1870s, when one popular product was the Diamond Mills Paper Company’s ‘Bromo Paper’ which came in packs of about 500 individual sheets inside a solid card box (21 x 15 x 3 cm.), open at the top so that single sheets could be pulled out as required. Every sheet had a distinguishing watermark of ‘Bromo’ so that counterfeit versions could be easily spotted (the packaging states this was a problem in India). This toilet tissue had been awarded the highest prize at the Paris Exposition in 1878 and every pack proudly bore reproductions of both sides of the medal to prove it. The Wellcome Library holds one such pack, now catalogued as EPH471A.

The paper contained the "disinfectants and curatives" Bromo chloralum and carbolic acid, which the manufacturers' claimed would "...render its use not only a positive preventive of that most distressing and almost universal complaint, the Piles, but also a thorough deodorizer and disinfectant of the water closet". However common haemorrhoids were at the time, the flush toilet was certainly not standard in 1878 and the smells that would have developed in the non-flush version, particularly over a hot summer, would have needed all the help with deodorization that could be given.

The pack would have slotted neatly inside a wooden case which hung from a nail in the water closet wall, next to the toilet. A typical toilet paper polished wood case that would have held the box of individual sheets is illustrated on what is most likely a salesman's sample sheet of ‘Globus’ paper (EPH471:38) and was available from John Miller, Ltd., manufacturing stationers, 116 Renfield Street, Glasgow for one shilling. If you preferred your paper on a varnished wood and bronze finish toilet roll holder (illustrated on the ‘Excelsior’ paper sample, EPH471:37), that could be purchased from the same firm for one shilling and threepence. The samples would have been shown to prospective retail stockists by hopeful salesmen.

John Miller Ltd. also manufactured 'Purolette' (EPH471:39) and 'Silkine' (EPH471:40) brands of paper. They promised no stoppage of drains or injury to health (whatever injuries other brands of toilet paper may have been causing at the time...) and were advertised as being soft as silk, but also thin and tough. The samples we have feel more like greaseproof paper than silk - which makes us wonder what our Victorian ancestors would have made of today's luxury toilet paper brands.

As today is World Toilet Day - which raises awareness on sanitation in the present day - it seems the perfect occasion to ponder these examples of nineteenth century sanitation advancement. Furthermore, as all the thousands of items in the Library's Ephemera Collection share the fact they had a practical use before being discarded, can there be more apt examples of ephemera than our surviving material from John Miller Ltd and the Diamond Mills Papers Co. ?

Author: Stephen Lowther

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Happy 50th Anniversary to MeSH®

Today the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in the United States celebrates the 50th anniversary of its controlled vocabulary called Medical Subject Headings (MeSH®). MeSH is used in the Wellcome Library catalogues for subject access.

Subject access to the medical literature was recognized as essential by John Shaw Billings, a field surgeon in the US Civil War who took charge of the first collection of books at the Library of the Office of the Surgeon General (as the NLM was then). Billings produced, in the 1870s, the first Index-Catalogue and a current awareness publication, both indexed by subject.

The volume of medical literature published grew at an exponential rate from the latter half of the 19th century. The need for efficient retrieval of relevant information gained new urgency with the onset of World War II. A survey of the Army Medical Library (the next incarnation of the NLM) in 1943 by professional librarians highlighted problems, and out of the recommendations emerged reformulated principles for selection of subject headings. Discussions at a symposium on subject headings in 1947 led to the publication in 1954 of the first official list of controlled subject headings, the Subject Headings Authority List. Two years later, US Congress gave the Library its statutory authority as the NLM.

Improvements in technology led in 1960 to reinvention of the Index Medicus, with mechanized production which was much more efficient, and with the first edition of MeSH, designed for application (and here was novelty) to both periodical indexing and subject cataloguing of books.

With computerization, development of an automated retrieval system was underway, and in 1964 the Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS) was born, complete with a MeSH database consisting of Tree Structures (a hierarchy of terms) that make it such a great aid to automated retrieval. MEDLARS Online, or MEDLINE, the database of citations and abstracts we know and love today, was offered in 1971.

Medicine has many specialized fields, each with its own terminology, and new discoveries have necessitated continual revisions of MeSH, expanding the number of headings to over 26,000 in the 2011 edition. MeSH’s ubiquity as a means of bibliographic control of the medical literature is a tribute to over half a century of hard work and the foresight of our colleagues in the NLM.

Coletti, Margaret H., and Bleich, Howard L. Medical Subject Headings used to search the biomedical literature. J Am Med Inform Assoc v.8(4); Jul-Aug 2001.

Author: Elizabeth Richens

Archives and Manuscripts cataloguing: October 2010

Our monthly cataloguing bulletin for October is short: not because of a lack of activity, but because the vast majority of the material newly released to the public falls into two major collections, both already described on the blog.

Wellcome Witness Seminars: as noted last month, the catalogue of material documenting the Wellcome Witness Seminars held over the past twenty years has been subject to a major expansion: recent seminars were added to the catalogue completely recasting the arrangment of the catalogue and doubling its size. This new material includes original audio tapes of the seminars (in some cases, master plus copy), photographs of witnesses and other participants, correspondence, and programmes and lists of participants. The new catalogue was made visible in early October, and described here. It can be browsed in the archives catalogue using the reference GC/253.

Alice Stewart: as noted in another recent blog posting, this month saw the completion of work on the papers of Alice Stewart (née Naish). These chiefly relate to her career in epidemiology, especially on effects of low-level radiation. She worked with John Ryle in the Department of Social Medicine at Oxford and was famously involved in a controversy with Sir Richard Doll over her childhood cancer study conclusions. The bulk of the papers relate to the later phases of her career from the 1970s onwards, although there is some material relating to her earlier activities: there is professional correspondence from the 1960s until the time of her death, copious records of her research activities, and numerous files relating to her involvement in lawsuits as an expert witness on vibration sydrome and on the effects of low-dose radiation. Her extensive travels to speak in both academic and other venues, particularly from the 1970s, are well-documented, as is her support for organisations and activist groups concerned about radiation and the environment, among these the Women's Protest at Greenham Common. Finally, there is some personal and family material, including material on her mother (an early woman doctor), and letters from the poet and critic William Empson with whom she had a relationship spanning several decades.

Finally, a new sources guide was added to the archives section of the website, detailing sources relating to Smoking and Tobacco, and a catalogue record created for this so that searchers in the database could be directed to this listing.

Image: old Wellcome Library printed catalogues, from Wellcome Images.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wellcome Library Insight: Around the World in 100 Years

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

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

This Thursday's session starts at 6.00pm, and tickets are available from the Wellcome Collection Information Desk from 4.30pm onwards. For more details, see the Wellcome Collection website.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sickle Cell Anemia Centenary

Today marks the centenary of the publication of this paper, 'Peculiar elongated and sickle-shaped red blood corpuscles in a case of severe anemia' in Archives of internal medicine. Written by Dr James B Herrick, the paper reported the "sickle shaped" cells in the blood of Walter Clement Noel, a student from Grenada who was admitted to Chicago Presbyterian Hospital in December 1904 suffering from anemia (the observation had been made by Herrick's intern Ernest Edward Irons). Although some elements of the disease had been recognised earlier, this paper was the first step to our modern understandings of sickle cell anemia.

Aside from this article, the Wellcome Library holds a range of material relating to sickle cell anemia and sickle cell disease, in both our Medicine & Society and History of Medicine sections and also in our Moving Image and Sound Collection.

We also hold the papers of the haematologist and nutrition researchers Dr Henry Foy and Dr Athena Kondi (PP/FAK), who from the 1940s to 1970s, carried out surveys of sickle cell anemia in Greece, Mozambique, Kenya, Sudan, India and Mauritius. Some of Foy and Kondi's anemia research was funded by the Wellcome Trust: more details on the Trust's recent funding into sickle cell anemia can be found on this post on the Wellcome Trust Blog.

New on the website: Guides and Video Tutorials

We regularly blog about the in-person workshops on offer. These are great introductions to our online catalogues and full-text resources -- if you happen to be in London. And what about other help, such as learning how to use the various Library catalogues or knowing which database or journal to consult for your topic? If you’re working from home, be it in London or on the other side of the world, figuring out where to start with the Wellcome Library’s collections can be a bit daunting.

Getting help and getting started just got easier today with the launch of a new section of our website: Guides and Video Tutorials. You can link directly to it from the Popular links on our homepage.

This section features guidance on searching the Wellcome Library catalogues, as well as finding introductory information on the history of medicine, medical humanities and social science, and current health and biomedicine. You’ll find:

  • guides to help you get started researching a broad topic
  • workshop materials, such as database guides, resource lists and presentation slides
  • links to subject-relevant journals and databases
  • short video tutorials to show you how to make the most of the Library catalogue, Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, and Wellcome Images.
More topic-specific guides and video tutorials are in production over the next few months. At present we have three video tutorials on offer: Requesting materials from closed stores, Searching Wellcome Images, and Browsing 17th and 18th Century Medical Recipe Manuscripts in the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

During the eight-month development of this section we spoke to students, historians, and members of the public, in order to make it relevant and useful. But the section is still a work in progress, and we still need your input. If you have any particular topics you think we should cover in our video tutorial series, please do let us know – either by comment or by email: library@wellcome.ac.uk.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wellcome Library Workshops

This week’s free Wellcome Library workshops are:

Finding published research (using WOS and Scopus)
Do you need to find references in the scientific, medical or social sciences journal literature? Discover how easy it is to search for citations on a particular theme or by a specific author. Stay informed and find the best way to save and develop your searches.
Tuesday 16th November, 2-3pm

Making the most of my library: the Wellcome Library catalogue and how to personalise it
Perplexed by the Library catalogue? Find what you're really looking for! In this workshop you will learn the most effective way of searching the Wellcome Library catalogue and the best strategies for finding the resources you need. You'll also discover what you can do with your Library Account, and what it can do for you.
Thursday 18th November, 5-6pm

Our programme of free workshops offers 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.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hard Science

"Who are the hardest, bravest men and women in the history of science?" asks Ian Sample on The Guardian's Science Blog.

The resulting list - and slideshow - make for interesting reading and the nominated scientists feature a number of figures whose papers we now hold in the Wellcome Library.

These are Sir Henry Head ("Operated on his own arm to investigate how sensations change when peripheral nerves are cut and left to regenerate"), Elsie Widdowson ("Biochemist who studied at Imperial College London. Widdowson and her colleague, Robert McCance, endured minimal diets for long periods to study the effect of calorie restriction on health"), Cicely Williams ("...specialised in children's diseases and developed life-saving high-protein diets while working in Africa. During the second world war, Williams was captured after the fall of Malaya and was held in two different Japanese prison camps, where she continued to treat patients despite coming close to death herself") and Alice Stewart ("took on the British and American governments with research that showed that the adverse effects of low-level radiation were more serious than either officially admitted").

It's good to see these scientists being brought to a wider audience through Sample's article and intriguing too to see the further suggestions given in the comments thread which follow it. As for our own suggestions, if self-experimentation is seen as a sign of bravery, then those featured in the 2007 BBC series Medical Mavericks are fine candidates for a place on the list.

Image: Photograph of the injection into Dr Elsie Widdowson's arm of iron, calcium and magnesium (GC/97/B.2)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson

"For fourteen years I have not had a day's real health; I have wakened sick and gone to bed weary; and I have done my work unflinchingly. I have written in bed, and written out of it, written in hemorrhages [sic], written in sickness, written torn by coughing, written when my head swam for weakness; and for so long, it seems to me I have won my wager and recovered my glove" [1]

The quote comes from a letter written in September 1893 by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, born on this day 160 years ago. It summarises the dedication Stevenson had to his life as a writer, which he maintained despite his long-standing ill-health. And whilst we would not aim to reduce Stevenson's career to one purely shaped by illness, the anniversary of his birth affords us an opportunity to mention a number of instances - represented in the collections of the Wellcome Library - where medicine is reflected in his work.

Take The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: the first commercial success of Stevenson's career and arguably his most famous work. Conceived by Stevenson as tale in the Gothic tradition, the story is now interpreted as a discussion on personality and primitivism, a work influenced by the evolutionary theories of Darwin and prefiguring the work of Freud on the unconscious. But consider too the nature of the transformative agent Jekyll takes - this has been interpreted as an underlying comment on nineteenth century attitudes to drugs and cocaine in particular. Others have seen the spatial arrangement of Jekyll's home as being influenced by the eighteenth century surgeon John Hunter and his property in London's Leicester Square, which served as both his residence and teaching museum.

A clearer medical influence comes from Stevenson's birthplace. Growing up in mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh, the murders carried out by William Burke and William Hare - committed in order to procure bodies for the anatomy lecturer Dr Robert Knox - were still very recent to Stevenson and formed the basis for his early story The Body-Snatcher.

Stevenson's health - contemporary opinion was that he suffered from a tubercular complaint - necessitated a great deal of travel to seek warmer climates for his health. It's ultimately this need which led to Stevenson's life of almost constant upheaval and how he and his family eventually settled in Samoa. But as our quote above indicates - and his astonishingly wide-ranging output shows - Stevenson was not a writer whose illness restricted his creative sensibilities.

Image: Execution of William Burke, from The Sack-'em-up-Men by J.M. Ball

[1] Robert Louis Stevenson to George Meredith, 5 September 1893. Quoted in Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (ed. Ernest Mehew), Yale University Press (1997)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Charles Paris returns to the Wellcome Library

Radio 4 is currently re-playing the Charles Paris mystery Cast In Order Of Disappearance. Written by Simon Brett and dramatised by Jeremy Front, tonight's episode sees Charles, played by the wonderful Bill Nighy, and his friend Elspeth coming to the Wellcome to do some research into the history of funeral rites. And visit the cafe for some rather tasty brownies.

We usually tell you about these sort of things after they've been broadcast and have to apologise to our overseas followers as iPlayer isn't available outside the UK. Good news on two fronts: you can listen to it live at 11pm UK time from anywhere in the world. And the BBC have just announced that following a successful trial they will extending iPlayer access worldwide. Not sure when exactly, but we'll keep you posted!

More details here

In the mood for surgery

Hot on the heels of this week's Classic Rock Awards in London comes the revelation that surgeons use music to promote an atmosphere of calm during operations, including songs by the Eagles (truly 'Classic') and David Bowie. This was never a particularly well-kept secret but one surgeon recently revealed that he programmed a series of his favourite 5 minute tunes especially for the tricky removal of a prostate. This gave him an audible way of marking time as the procedure took about 25 minutes.

You can listen to music inspired by DNA held in the Library or even read about the history of music therapy here. All together now, "the first cut is the deepest..." I know that's terribly cliched, so please feel free to post me your better efforts...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wellcome Trust Book Prize - And the Winner Is...

Last night at a ceremony in Wellcome Collection, this year's Wellcome Trust Book Prize was awarded to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

The book tells the story of a poor tobacco farmer whose cancer cells, taken without her knowledge, became one of the most important tools in medicine. Skloot took a decade to research and write the book, which weaves together Lacks's family story, the first culturing of HeLa cells (as they became known) to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans and the birth of bioethics.

As mentioned on this Blog, you will find copies of all the shortlisted books for the Prize in the Wellcome Library. We also have a huge array of titles on the theme of Bioethics and our archive holdings on the wider theme of Medical Ethics are summarised in two Sources Guides. Previous posts on this Blog have also shown HeLa cells from Wellcome Images and discussed the cells scientific and cultural impact.

Tickets are also still available for our next Library Medicine and Literature event on the 17th November, which will discuss writing about medicine through time. More details are available here.

For more details on the Book Prize announcement, see the Wellcome Trust's website.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The father of serology - Arthur Mourant

Following on from Francis Crick, preparation work for digitisation continues through the enormous quantity of archival material related to the theme of Modern Genetics and its Foundations here at the Wellcome Library, with the personal papers of Jersey born Arthur Mourant (April 11, 1904 – August 29, 1994).
A man of many talents, it seems, from his initial interest in geology, archaeology and anthropology to his area of expertise later in life – haematology. He was a recipient of many awards and honours during his life-time, but most importantly for his blood transfusion work: in 1945 he discovered a serum with antibody to the e factor; his subsequent development of the Antiglobulin_test which ensured the compatibility of blood in transfusion, paved the way to the modern day Blood Transfusion Service. The effect this test had on the detection of blood-borne diseases was, needless to say, ground-breaking.
An ‘exceedingly promising’ science student at school [File ref: PP/AEM/A.57 1920], the young Mourant went on to Oxford graduating with first class honours in chemistry and philosophy in 1926. He digressed to follow his interest in geology in the following years and proved to be an accomplished draughtsman according to a number of geological and botanical sketches within the collection [File refs: PP/AEM/A.86, PP/AEM/A.91, PP/AEM/A.92 all dating to 1926]. Despite the difficult post-war economic slump, Mourant managed to secure a position at The Geological Survey in 1929: File: PP/AEM/B.1 contains his Official pass with photo for Dept of Scientific and Industrial Research and a pass 'To Walk Upon The Line' of London Midland and Scottish Railway Co. Examples of his field work sheets are held within File ref: PP/AEM/B.2.
However, unsatisfied by the priorities of the Survey, Mourant resigned in 1931 following the ending of his probation according to File ref: PP/AEM/B.6: on the basis that he was “not likely to prove an efficient field geologist of the type that we require on this staff”. The subsequent depression years put paid to this particular career path it seems: File PP/AEM/A.112 contains a handwritten list of all the posts (largely for chemistry master in numerous colleges and schools) that Mourant applied for between 1931-7. He was forced to resort to taking a course in medical chemistry and returned to his childhood home of Jersey, where he set up a chemical pathology laboratory (1933-38) which later became the States of Jersey Pathology Laboratory.
Restless again, Mourant returned to his medical studies in 1939 at St. Bartholomew's Medical College, in London just before the German occupation of Jersey in 1940. As with all archives, there are some revealing insights into the life of their creator. During this period of his life when he was isolated from his family, the numerous letters that Mourant receives from his mother reveal a fascinating, if personal insight into what life was like in Jersey during the German occupation – she writes:

“I bought a jar of honey yesterday, & this week we have marmite … we have plenty of food (& nice things too). This week we have had a nice lot of chocolate & it is a treat to have bacon...”
Aside from these culinary benefits, more significantly, she reveals:

“In going to St Mary's we passed the huge heap of stones as high as this house that the Germans dug (abandoned) out to make their underground hospital”
[File ref: PP/AEM/A.189]. This vast underground hospital was built in 1944 to protect the German troops from the expected allied invasion that never occurred. It has since been carefully restored as a museum of the German occupation in Jersey. A regular stream of parcel exchanges it seems kept the family spirits up during this period – while Mourant sent his mother ‘nylons’ from America, she offered ‘black butter', a traditional preserve still made in Jersey with liquorice.

By 1946, Mourant had become Director of the Blood Group Reference Laboratory at the Lister Institute in London where he discovered his life’s work. From there on numerous publications were produced, notably ‘The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups' (1954). However, funding, it seems always remained an issue. Numerous letters refer to the movement or closure of his laboratories (File ref: PP/AEM/D.2 contains a letter from Michael Perrin of The Wellcome Foundation Limited 28 Oct 1964 regarding Mourant's use of the space for a lab unit at Boundary House, 91 Charter- house Street, London E.C.1) and even more files contain numerous letters of reference in an attempt to find his staff other work in the field of serology. In a letter of 6 May 1970, Mourant writes:

"One thing which is not down for discussion is the ultimate fate of the enormous masses of data and of frozen blood specimens which we now hold and which ought to continue to be readily available to the next generation of workers in this field'
[File ref: PP/AEM/K.223]. His correspondence with many fellow serologists to obtain blood samples from a variety of races in far flung locations across the globe reveals the logistical and often legal difficulties of transporting the samples safely and in a way that maintained their freshness.

Although this archive generally lacks the ascerbic wit of Francis Crick’s archive, it does have its moments: Mourant evidently took an interest in the story about the 'The typist with the touch of pink', a story reported in the Daily Mail in 1960 (?) concerning a girl who sweated pink due to consuming turmeric that had reacted and sent the dye through her pours! [From a collection of cuttings related to blood issues in File ref: PP/AEM/E.28].

With such a hectic and varied career, it is no surprise that Mourant did not have time to marry until the age of 74 when he retired back in Jersey at Dower House, his family farm in St Saviour. It was here he wrote his autobiography ‘Blood and Stones’ (published posthumously in 1995). The appendix to this book lists an unbelievable 460 known publications, proof of Mourant’s prolific career as a writer. The archive includes a typescript copy of this book (in File ref: PP/AEM/A.4) which was published in 1995.
Many more letters were penned from Dower House, not just to his serological comrades, but to his many geological contacts, notably the Société Jersiaise who had a bust of him installed outside the museum there in 1995 by John Doubleday to honour his contribution to the heritage of Jersey.

Top: Blood for transfusion, Wellcome Images, Image ref: C 27213
Bottom: Bust of Mourant by John Doubleday, Image source: wikipedia

From Greeks to Geeks

A 16th century woodcut from Wellcome Images has been used as the inspiration for a 2011 calendar page. The page from the Geek Calendar features mathematicians Alex Bellos and Matt Parker in a 21st century interpretation of an image from German writer Gregor Reisch's Margarita Philosophica.

The Margarita Philosophica is a beautifully illustrated encyclopedia of knowledge created by Carthusian humanist Reisch (1467-1525). First published in 1503, it was used as a university textbook throughout the early sixteenth century. It contains twelve illustrated books on subjects including grammar, arithmetic, music, geometry, physics and physiology.

The image that inspired Geek Calendar’s mathematical photo shoot shows Arithmetica supervising a counting contest between the Christian philosopher Boethius, and Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician whose name will be forever associated with triangles. Boethius is using Hindu-Arabic numbers to calculate; Pythagoras a counting board. The image represents new versus old: Boethius is sometimes credited with introducing Hindu-Arabic numbers into Christian Europe.

For May 2011, the Geek Calendar’s mathematicians are calculating a restaurant bill tip, one using a 1970s Casio calculator, the other using a modern abacus. Argument ensues between the two hot-headed counters, unlike the much more dignified Boethius and Pythagoras.

The Margarita contains many more fascinating illustrations, including some famous depictions of the human body. The Wellcome Library holds a number of editions of the work, the illustration shown above being taken from an edition published in 1535.

More details on the The Geek Calendar are available from their website.

(Image of Geek Calendar from Flickr).

Author: Louise Crane

Monday, November 8, 2010

X-Ray Anniversary

On this day 115 years ago, Wilhelm Röntgen became the first person to observe X-Rays.

Like many a groundbreaking discovery, this process occurred rather fortuitously. Röntgen, a German physics professor, was in his laboratory in Wurzburg, Germany, testing if cathode rays could pass through glass. Whilst doing so, he noticed a glow coming from a nearby chemically coated screen. Unsure as to what caused the glow, he dubbed the rays that had caused it "X-Rays" because of their unknown source.

Before long Röntgen had produced such iconic images as the one shown: the hand of his wife, bones and ring visible against the silhouette of the flesh. Röntgen sent this and other radiograph (x-ray photograph) prints to a selected number of like-minded researchers, including the British physicist Sir Arthur Schuster [1]. His correspondents, by following Röntgen's techniques, were able to repeat his findings (and so able to support him when he published a paper on his discovery later in 1896).

As news of Röntgen's discovery was disseminated, its applications to medical research quickly became apparent. For the first time, doctors were able to see inside the human body without surgery. Bone fractures were observed, gallstones were spotted and by the turn of the century X-Rays were being used on military battlefields to search for bullets. Recognition for Röntgen came in the form of the 1901 Nobel Prize for Physics (the first ever awarded).

Scientists were, however, slower to comprehend the harmful effects of radiation. At first, researchers believed X-Rays harmlessly passed through flesh. Within several years, cases of burns and skin damage after exposure to X-Rays were being reported. (Taken slightly out of context, the reported comment of Frau Röntgen when viewing the X-Ray of her hand - "I have seen my death!" - has a chilling edge).

The collections of the Wellcome Library can help chart how X-Rays developed and were utilised by the medical profession. Our relevant collections includes copies of the initial prints sent out by Röntgen and his first article on the subject, to a huge array of material tracing the relationship between medcine and X-Rays (as one example, note the differening ways x-rays crop up in Wellcome Film). For a different approach, a relevant sources guide lists archive and manuscript material on Radiology, Radiotherapy and Radiobiology, and includes our recently catalogued Alice Stewart papers.

As one small example though, let's conclude with the image shown below.

The rather idealised image consists of discoverer, discovery and patient: by showing all three, it does make us consider the process by which X-Rays were produced and remind us of the non-surgical nature of the medium. Ultimately, it also hints at the ways and means of how science was being considered at the turn of the twentieth century. As the text indicates, this was not a trade card for X-Ray machinery: turn the original over and you'll find two advertisements for chocolate. Evidence indeed, for X-Rays not only extending medicine's gaze but also embedding themselves in everyday life.

Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen looking into an X-ray screen placed in front of a man's body and seeing the ribs and the bones of the arm (Wellcome Library no. 38591i). (For another perspective on this image, see this Wellcome Image of the Month post on the Wellcome Trust blog).
The bones of a hand with a ring on one finger, viewed through x-ray. Photoprint from radiograph by W.K. Röntgen, 1895 (Wellcome Library no. 32971i).

[1] Dr Nora H. Schuster, Sir Arthur's daughter, presented the prints he received to the Wellcome Institute Library - as we were then called - in 1962.

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