Friday, September 30, 2011

Max Klinger at Dresden in 1911: Wellcome Library Item of the Month

1911 was a bumper year for exhibitions. In London there was the Festival of Empire and Imperial Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. In Turin there was the Esposizione Internazionale delle Industrie e del Lavoro. At the Hague in September there was the Drankweer tentoonstelling (Anti-alcohol exhibition) at the 13th International Congress against Alcoholism. There were many others. Far bigger than any of those mentioned, however, was the international hygiene exhibition in Dresden: the Internationale Hygiene-Ausstellung.

For those who are more familiar with the Wellcome library and museum collections, the best way of describing the Dresden exhibition is to say that the Dresden exhibition makes the exhibitions of those Wellcome collections look small. The catalogue of the historical section at Dresden alone (the equivalent of the handbook of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, 1913) has 600 pages and lists 20,394 exhibits. [1] The section on amulets alone contains 1,212 items (pp. 375-399). Qualitatively, on the other hand, there were many similarities and links between the two enterprises, which deserve fuller study. Wellcome-watchers will find many familiar names in the Dresden catalogue: to name but three, Eugen Holländer, Edward Lovett, and Ernest Wickersheimer are listed among the lenders to Dresden, and the photographs of the displays there show many resemblances to Wellcome’s first exhibitions in Wigmore Street, London. For instance the collections exhibited included such subjects as housing, bathing, clothing, and childcare: in both institutions, hygiene was defined as preventive medicine practised in the context of evolutionary anthropology. (Of course the Wellcome collections would later grow much larger, but as the holdings expanded, the exhibitions contracted.)

The committee of honour at Dresden included the Berlin museum director Wilhem von Bode; Hermann Diels, who gathered the fragments of the pre-Socratic philosophers and tracked down the manuscripts of Galen and Hippocrates; and the most famous Greek scholar of the day, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf. The president of the historical section was Karl Sudhoff, Director of the Institute for the History of Medicine at Leipzig.

Also contributing to the exhibition was the artist Max Klinger (1857-1920). He will perhaps be known to many through his sequence of etchings The Glove (1879-1881), which might be described as a fetishistic psychodrama (image above from the British Museum). At the Dresden exhibition Klinger exhibited a larger-than-life-sized bronze sculpture of an athlete, and was commissioned to make a large etching on the theme of hygiene to present to VIPs who had helped with the exhibition.

Here is Klinger’s etching (left: Wellcome Library no. 24236i), which he completed in 1912. How to interpret it? The giant can perhaps be seen as a symbol of the struggle for hygiene and sanitation. He has lifted a group of people up above the tumultuous world of nature: they dance and recline in an Italianate landscape, enjoying the delightful consequences of hygiene for all. The warring male figures below may symbolize the people and circumstances which work against hygiene. The three streams of water represent nature channelled into forms conducive to human life.

There is also a racial distinction. The beneficiaries of hygiene, who have learned to master the forces of nature, and are raised up into the sunshine of life, are conspicuously white. The savages in the river, who misguidedly attack the forces of hygiene, are prominently black. They are not dancing among the poplars, but rampaging with harpoons in an unruly river bordered by dark and threatening forests. Nor do they appreciate the three streams of pure clean water that flow from the Europeans’ water jars.

Nothing about this is particularly surprising. Germany had extensive colonies in Africa, the maintenance of which required training and research in many aspects of hygiene. The print may also be compared with the section on racial hygiene in the exhibition. The catalogue of that section, by Max von Gruber and Ernst Rüdin (both of Munich, the former a hygienist and the latter a psychiatrist) is a monograph on eugenics, with an impressive number of charts, graphs and family trees, and a bibliography on heredity, genetics, extinction, population trends, degeneration, and social aspects of hygiene. [2]

It is however remarkable that the Wellcome Library has two impressions of this large and apparently rare etching. One (shown above) was presented to Dr (later Sir) Frederick Walker Mott FRCP, FRS (1853-1926). Mott (portrait right: Wellcome Library no. 15290i) was a neuropathologist, working both in asylums and in academia (at Birmingham University), who is said to have established the syphilitic origins of "general paralysis of the insane". In Mott’s copy of Klinger’s etching, his name is inscribed at the bottom of the plate in the same colour ink as the etching itself, so that it appears to be part of the etching. The other impression (in the Wellcome Foundation archives in the Wellcome Library) was awarded to the "Wellcome Research Laboratories in London", and the name of the recipient is handwritten in grey ink (the rest of the etching is in black). Presumably the Wellcome laboratories had lent items to the exhibition.

Klinger's etchings up to 1909 were catalogued by Hans W. Singer, and those after 1909 by Carl Beyer, but Beyer's work does not appear to have been published. It is a typescript of which a copy is in the library of the Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. [3] The hygiene allegory is no. 416 in Beyer's catalogue, and the Wellcome impressions are of the fourth and final state of which 100 impressions were made. A century later, how many survive from the other ninety-eight? And to whom were they awarded?

[1] Historische Abteilung mit ethnographischer Unterabteilung. I. Historische Abteilung. 2. verb. und illustrierte Aufl., Dresden: Internationalen Hygiene-Ausstellung, [1911]. Wellcome Library catalogue record here.

[2] Fortpflanzung, Vererbung, Rassenhygiene: Katalog der Gruppe Rassenhygiene der Internationalen Hygiene-Ausstellung 1911 in Dresden. Herausgegeben von Max von Gruber und Ernst Rüdin; ... Abbildungen von M. v. Gruber; nebst einem bibliographischen Anhang von Rudolf Allers, München: J. F. Lehmann, [1911]. Wellcome Library catalogue record

[3] Carl Beyer,
Max Klingers graphisches Werk von 1909-1919: eine vorläufige Zusammenstellung im Anschluß an den Oeuvre-Katalog von Hans W. Singer. Many thanks to Dr Alexander Dückers for information about Beyer's work.

Stories of illness: biographies, pathographies and narratives

Back in June 2011 I attended a seminar on the role of biography in the history of psychology and psychiatry. This interesting and informative day raised a lot of questions about the relationship between biography and history. Modern academic historians often have an uneasy relationship with biography, perhaps because of the emphasis on the ‘Lives of the Great and the Good’ in traditional histories, perhaps because of the temptation to subjectivity, so dryly observed by Oscar Wilde:

“Every great man has disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography”

One of the consequences of the rise of psychology in the Nineteenth century was that biographers were no longer concerned merely with recording the events in a person’s life. As noted biographer Robert Gittings put it:

“Modern biography aims to take account of every aspect of a man or woman’s life, conscious or unconscious, psychic or physical, public or private, physical states, especially long-term or deeply-laid, must be important to the biographer”

There is no doubt that developments in medicine in the past 200 years have contributed to the evidence available to biographers, not least the death certificate, attesting to the cause of death. You have only to recall how eagerly the media report coroner’s reports on the death of celebrities to see how much medical evidence has become integral to the account of a person’s life. Indeed, there is even a sub-genre of biography that focuses on the medical evidence for the physical and mental state of its subject: the pathography, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as:

“The study of the life of an individual or the history of a community with regard to the influence of a particular disease or disorder; (as a count noun) a study or biography of this kind.”

Musicians (and composers), genius and power seem to be the most popular subjects for celebrity pathographies. For understandable reasons books such as The Pathology of Leadership raise concerns about the effects of illness and medical disorders on the decision making faculties of great leaders. At the Library, a whole section of the Biographies Collection is dedicated to famous patients (shelf locations BZPX and BZPXA). Here you can find out how a lock of Beethoven’s hair revealed that the likely cause of his many ailments and painful death was lead poisoning (syphilis, another candidate was ruled out because of the absence of mercury - the most common treatment for syphilis in the seventeenth century - in the lock of hair). An absence of traces of opiates suggested that he had not received pain relief during his illness and this may have been the reason why he was able to compose right up to the time of his death.

The latter half of the twentieth century saw the emergence of personal memoirs and autobiographical accounts of illness by ordinary people, as opposed to biographies about celebrity patients. These were usually less concerned with the physical and mental effects of illness and treatment than with the subjective experience of being ill: “the attempts of individuals to orient themselves in the world of sickness….”. as Anne Hawkins put it.

Early patient pathographies such as Anatomy of an Illness helped to address this issue, often expressing frustration with the health system as much as their experience of illness. Under the more general description of patient narratives, they are now relatively commonplace, and to be found in a variety of formats, including biographies, autobiographies, memoirs and graphic novels, and may recount the experience of the carer or family, as well as the patient.

In Reconstructing Illness, Anne Hawkins suggests that one factor in the rise of patient narratives has been the focus of modern medicine on the biophysical aspects of disease at the expense of the patient’s experience of illness. While there have been popular medical accounts about patients, often based on case studies, such as Oliver Sacks’ books, in general, the patient’s voice was missing. It appears the medical establishment are seeking to address this issue, in the relatively recent field of Narrative Medicine :

“A scientifically competent medicine alone cannot help a patient grapple with the loss of health and find meaning in illness and dying. Along with their growing scientific expertise, doctors need the expertise to listen to their patients, to understand as best they can the ordeals of illness, to honor the meanings of their patients’ narratives of illness and to be moved by what they behold so that they can act on their patients’ behalf.”

Medical education programmes have begun to make use of Graphic arts and other patient narratives to train doctors and health professionals in patient relations. And there is another, perhaps just as important function of the patient narrative. Some evidence suggests that writing about their illness may be beneficial to a patient’s well-being.

The proliferation of a more recent form of patient narrative – the online blog - may also testify to the beneficial effects of writing about illness. As one account of blogging during terminal care notes, it can also be a beneficial experience for the community of carers, friends and family around the patient.

Along with published patient narratives, blogs on illness offer a valuable insight into our contemporary cultural and personal experiences of illness and treatment, which will be of interest to historians in the future. It is relatively simple to preserve published materials, but less straightforward for transitory websites. The Library is doing its bit to preserve this material by electronically archiving selected examples of patient blogs, such as My personal journey through depression, and making them available in the Library catalogue.

A cholera patient experimenting with remedies. Coloured etching by R.I. Cruikshank, [1832?]. V0011135
Girl aged 12 in bed in a private ward of a hospital. N0012623

Newly available: Papers of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists

The Wellcome Library acquired the papers of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) in 2010. The collection has recently been catalogued in detail and is now available for consultation (SA/WFO).

Occupational therapists are health and social care professionals trained to help people who have difficulty carrying out their daily activities or occupations independently as a result of physical or mental illness, disability, developmental conditions or social exclusion. Thus, occupational therapists work with people from across the age spectrum.

The occupation stands apart from other more mainstream scientific health disciplines in that it often deals with disorders caused by a combination of factors including biological, social and economic.

The modern health profession of Occupational Therapy was conceived in the early 1910s and the subsequent world wars saw a rapid development of the profession in terms of training and practise. This was in response to the mass scale of injury and the need for subsequent rehabilitation.

The WFOT archive provides a valuable insight into the birth and subsequent growth and evolution of this international association and of the profession between 1951 and 2007.

The papers cover the administrative history, management structure and activities of the Federation primarily through various committee reports and minutes of meetings. It also reflects the development of the WFOT through growth in membership and matters related to education of occupational therapists in member countries which was at times a challenge for some national associations with limited resources.

The collection includes a wealth of contemporary clinical information. This is primarily through sources such as papers presented at International Congresses (held every 4 years); newsletter articles on topical issues contributed by national associations on a rotational basis; and study courses held at the International Congresses. The study courses provided a means of continuing education for qualified occupational therapists.

There are also publications by the Federation which provide information on the vocation of Occupational Therapy for the public as well as guidance for members on important practical issues such as employment requirements in different countries and a code of ethics.

Membership of the WFOT grew to represent associations from 76 nations (in 2011). The collection, therefore, gives fascinating insights on the challenges faced by occupational therapists working in different countries and continents with widely varying occupational health issues ranging from multiple sclerosis to educating disabled children.

Of particular interest are the oral and poster presentations given at the International Congresses. They demonstrate the methods used to deal with a range of conditions, often using new technologies and research and in response to a rapidly changing world. As an example, presentations at one congress could vary from ‘Children who witness violence: consequences and implications for occupational therapists’, in response to the conflicts in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and Israel; to ‘High–tec solutions for individuals with physical and visual impairments’, a review of hardware and software adaptations such as voice recognition to aid physically and visually impaired individuals (see 12th International Congress, Montreal, Canada, Book of Abstracts, SA/WFO/B/12).

Historians of occupational therapy may also be interested in the book A Chronicle of The World Federation of Occupational Therapists written by Alicia Mendez, a former president of the WFOT. The book provides an informative overview of the federation’s development particularly in the sections on Council Meetings and the workings of the Standing Committee. Each decade (between 1952-1982) saw different phases of expansion: the 1950s were a formation and foundation era; the 1960s saw a rapid growth in membership and the 1970s and early 1980s were marked by progress in professional skills and knowledge. Colour is added to Mendez's writings by use of anecdotal material and personal memories (see SA/WFO/G/12).

The WFOT archive interlinks with other material held by the Wellcome Library, particularly on disabilities, health education, social medicine and mental health.

Image: Care for the community. Illustration of medical care in a neighbourhood (Credit: Neil Webb / Wellcome Images B0007074).

Author: Sejal Shah

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We’re trialling a new database: 100 years of UK Medical Registers, 1859-1959

The Library is constantly looking for new electronic resources to complement our printed materials. Our latest trial is to the Ancestry Library Edition, which contains the UK Medical Registers, 1859-1959. We already hold the printed Medical Register for some of that period and it is very popular with many Library users.

We hope that you can spare some time to have a look at the electronic version of the Register to help us to evaluate it and decide whether it would be a useful addition to our collections. Due to licensing restrictions we can only offer access to the Register online from PCs within the Library for the period of the trial, but if you can spare some time we’d be hugely grateful to hear what you think.

The Register
can be accessed from any of the PCs in the Library. To access the Registers from the Ancestry homepage, go to "More Collections" and click on "all databases". From there, search for the "UK Medical Registers" by title or keyword. You can send us your feedback using the online form which can found in the Library catalogue record.

The trial is running until 14 October.

Image: A doctor telling a miserable hypochondriac patient that blood-letting is no longer practiced. Wood engraving after C. Keene. (Wellcome Library no. 15546i)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Doctor on Holiday: World Tourism Day

Regular visitors to this Blog will know, the Wellcome Library holds the personal papers of many doctors, surgeons, medical scientists and practitioners throughout the ages. These collections, especially from the 19th century onwards, frequently include entertaining journals, notebooks, letters and ephemera generated during the course of travels, trips and holidays undertaken by these medics.

To mark World Tourism Day, we'll focus on a particularly appealing set of holiday journals: those of London-based Scottish doctor Charles Brodie Sewell (1817-1900). They comprise 18 volumes, mainly covering his trips around all parts of Britain and the resorts of Europe between 1868 and 1892 and are illustrated with much inset material such as brochures, advertisements, tickets, menus, photographs and folding maps (MSS.4498-4515). Evidently once Sewell had built up a popular and successful practice he was able to reward himself with substantial holidays when could he de-stress and make use of his many contacts abroad.

There are, however, some notable diversions from the traditional British and Continental destinations. In 1883, when he was around 65 years old Sewell and his companion (it is likely that this was his wife, but it is possible that it may have been his daughter) made a long-intended trip to the North Eastern seaboard of the United States of America and into Canada (MS.4508). During this period, September-October, he had the chance to meet American friends and colleagues, some of whom he’d only ever been able to correspond with over the years. There were also many opportunities to experience new scenery and different races and cultures as the pair traveled through the state of New York, up the Hudson River, to Lake George, Saratoga Springs, Toronto, Montreal, Lake Ontario, the Lachine Rapids, Quebec, Boston, Newport, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.

The holiday began with the Atlantic sea crossing. This is particularly anticipated and relished by Sewell who writes an entertaining account of the two weeks from Liverpool to New York on the White Star liner Britannic. As one would expect, this takes in stormy weather, severe bouts of sea-sickness, gossip regarding fellow passengers, sporting activities on deck (tug of war, long jump and hop scotch) and complaints about the racket coming from the saloon at night.

Once the “strict and venal” searches by New York harbour customs officials were completed Sewell and his companion were free to explore the sights. The recently completed Brooklyn Bridge in New York City especially impresses Sewell who takes a ferry along the East River and passes underneath it. At this point in time it is the longest suspension bridge in the world. Anchored by two neo-Gothic towers and a complex framework of steel-wire cables it was guaranteed to amaze.

As well as striking man-made structures, magnificent natural phenomena such as Niagara Falls take up many pages in the journal. Sewell’s hotel room provides a view of the American and Canadian side of the falls, which he describes as “dazzling” and “an intoxicating sight, grand and beautiful beyond description”. A truly memorable day out, it is also characterized by the - even in the 19th century - familiar tourist sights of people offering guide services, photographs and cheap souvenirs. Viewing the Falls from a sheltered position, Sewell gleefully describes seeing two men in standard issue yellow oil skins get soaked through and looking miserable, several drenched people and "a fool" using an umbrella.

The journal contains descriptions of a great many buildings, places, sites and scenes which would not vary much from the itinerary of today’s visitors to the eastern United States and Canada. Also in not too dissimilar tourist fashion, Sewell expresses annoyance at various officials, amazement at the large portions of food in America, and gives his opinions on the standard of accommodation (overall, Canadian facilities are presented as being somewhat less comfortable than those in the United States), troublesome fellow passengers, rude hotel staff, touts, hawkers and prices. If he was alive today, one can imagine him posting comments on travel advisory websites, giving his ratings on various hotels, services, tourist sights and transportation.

What makes this (and all the other journals in this collection) all the more enjoyable are the humorous anecdotes which vividly convey Sewell’s character and opinions. At one point he describes a train journey during which he encounters an incessantly garrulous passenger who he tries to avoid by pretending to be asleep… alas to no avail!

On a more serious note - and with particular relevance to the ethos of World Tourism Day - this journal also insights into contemporary relations between the African-American and white communities in the USA and Sewell's impressions of the status of Native Americans in Canada.

Sewell’s enthusiasm for travel continued for nearly another ten years as he undertook further trips to Europe (including visiting Switzerland, Germany and parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and England. There is a notable detour to Norway in 1888, an account lavishly illustrated with pictures of dramatic fjords and mountain landscapes (MS.4512).

- Drawing of a steam boat on the Lachine Rapids, Canada

- The saloon passenger list of the White Star Line steamship 'Britannic' for its journey from New York to Liverpool, 27th October 1883
- A general view of the Brooklyn bridge taken from Columbia Heights, Brooklyn. New York can be seen in the distance
- The view from the top of Brooklyn Tower, looking down upon the bridge and towards New York
(All images, from MS.4508).

Author: Amanda Engineer

Monday, September 26, 2011

Guest Post: Tissue Culture in History, Public and at the Wellcome Archives

Duncan Wilson is a Wellcome Trust Research Associate at the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM). Here, he describes the background and research to his new book, Tissue Culture in Science and Society: The Public Life of a Biological Technique in Twentieth Century Britain

Recent decades have seen growing controversy over the biomedical use of human tissue and cells. Many bioethicists, anthropologists and sociologists claim that unrest over work on stem cells, biobanks and the retention of organs in British hospitals reflects a longstanding divide between scientific and social views of the body. In this model, scientists and doctors view tissue and cells as an experimental resource and have long pursued their work in secret. And public resistance is said to result from the way these practices contravene public demands for bodily integrity, disclosure and self-control – whether it in recent cases or historical examples, such as eighteenth and nineteenth century scandals over grave-robbing.

One technique that often features in these accounts is tissue culture, which involves the maintenance of humans and animal material in the laboratory – or ‘in vitro’. Tissue culture was first employed in 1907, and although it was initially difficult and contested, technical improvements in the 1940s and 1950s transformed it into a standard technique that underpinned important research on vaccine development, cancer research and in vitro fertilization (among many other examples). During a Masters degree at the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), I noticed that tissue culture featured in newspaper reports, fictional stories and cinema films during the twentieth century. With Wellcome PhD funding I began to investigate this popular coverage, in order to detail what it might tell us about popular attitudes to research on tissues and, hopefully, inform current debates.

My first port of call was Archives and Manuscripts at the Wellcome Library, which holds several files related to the Strangeways Research Laboratory in Cambridge (SA/SRL), which was acknowledged as the British ‘home of tissue culture’ during the 1920s and 1930s. These files include the papers of Thomas Strangeways, the laboratory’s first director and founder, his successor Honor Fell (PP/HBF) and the radiologist Frederick Gordon Spear (PP/FGS). They contain private correspondence, financial records, lecture transcripts, laboratory notebooks and, crucially for my research, many newspaper reports on tissue culture.

After looking over these materials, I realised they undermined claims that popular attitudes to work on tissues are universally negative, unchanged over time, and at odds to scientific attitudes. Firstly, it was clear that newspaper articles on tissue culture changed significantly during the twentieth century. The tone and content of reports from the 1920s and 1930s, for instance, differed considerably from reports in the 1940s and 1950s. It was also clear that these changes reflected specific historical concerns. Reports from the 1920s and 1930s highlight the interwar fascination with eugenics, sex reform and the potential dangers of science. They predict the in vitro growth of ‘chemical babies’ and claim that cultured tissues could ‘engulf the earth and all its waters’ after escaping the laboratory.

A 1938 report in the British paper Tit-Bits, which claims tissue culture will soon be used to produce ‘chemical babies’.

An illustration to a 1932 Tit-Bits report, showing cultured tissue wreaking havoc.

Attitudes to biomedical research became more positive during the 1940s and 1950s, following work on antibiotics and the polio vaccine, and reports on tissue culture now claimed Strangeways scientists were working toward a cure for cancer and other diseases. In 1950, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror even claimed they had discovered a cure for baldness! These positive reports were clear that scientists regularly cultured human tissues, to quote The Times, ‘outside of the body of which they were once part’, but sounded no unease at this practice. Indeed, the acquisition and use of human tissues was not criticised in Britain until the 1990s – reflecting growing demands for patient autonomy and informed consent, as well as opposition to the fact that patients and their families were denied a share of the financial profits that could now be made from work on tissues.

Perhaps most importantly, the materials contained in the Wellcome archives also highlight considerable interaction between scientific and popular concerns. Far from operating against public attitudes, scientists at the Strangeways laboratory drew upon and influenced them. For example, during a 1926 lecture on tissue culture, Thomas Strangeways engaged with changing concepts of time, the body and lifespan by arguing that tissue culture enabled cells and tissues to outlive the body. To demonstrate this he produced a tissue culture made from sausage meat, in which he claimed cells continued to grow and divide. To newspapers, this ‘immortal sausage’ demonstrated both the changing nature of mortality and the power of biology, with Strangeways using tissue culture to show the ‘indeterminate character of death’. Newspaper reports that predicted endlessly growing tissue cultures were not cases of tabloid sensationalism, then, but drew on scientific claims that tissue culture made tissues and cells immortal. This was also the case with reports on ‘Chemical Babies’, which drew upon scientific arguments that, to quote Strangeways, ‘the test tube baby is not inherently impossible’.

Illustration to a 1928 report in a US newspaper, with Thomas Strangeways demonstrating how ‘even a sausage contains living cells’.

The Wellcome archives also show that Strangeways scientists wrote for popular audiences, lectured on the radio and even made cinematic films of tissue culture. This material demonstrates that the history of tissue culture, contrary to what many claim, is marked by an ongoing engagement between scientists and popular audiences. This continues to be the case today. Even before the scandals surrounding retained hospital organs, some scientists claimed that patients should be informed about the fate of excised tissues and even allowed to share in any financial profits.

Highlighting this historical interplay is crucial to maintaining public trust at a time when tissues and cells are central to biomedical research. Confidence in this research is only likely to falter if we believe that scientists and the public have long been at loggerheads over research on tissue.

Author: Duncan Wilson

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Food dilemmas

Food shopping. Like death and taxes, there’s no avoiding it.

Whether we like it or not, food choices have always been inextricably linked with class and morality. Our attitudes to food reflect underlying fears about changes in lifestyle, family and society as a whole, and food is a powerful tool for criticising the behaviour of individual consumers.

On the face of it, the complex judgements we face today when shopping look remarkably similar to those faced by 17th century consumers, revolving around issues like price, ethical sourcing, and nutritional content. But scratch below the surface and not all is quite as it seems, with very different belief systems coming into play.

This autumn, Wellcome Collection is holding three free events exploring the relationships between food, health and morality. On Thursday 29 September, join a panel of expert commentators to discuss contemporary food dilemmas in Bad Behaviour in the Kitchen. And for the 17th century perspective, come along on 25 October or 3 November to take The Cook’s Tour.

Put our events in your shopping cart for an affordable, nutritious and guilt-free consumer experience.

Friday, September 23, 2011

sabrina messenger

sabrina messenger

Conservation for digitisation: recent experiences at the Wellcome Library

Repairing torn pages with strips of Japanese tissue.
Beginning in July of this year, the Wellcome Library began to scan the first of some 15,000 early printed books in collaboration with the information provider ProQuest and the French data capture specialists Diadeis (a detailed outline of the project can be found here).

The reason that digitisation is being pursued at the Wellcome Library, and all over the world, is to enhance access to collections and provide new alternative research possibilities. Within reasonable limits, the conservation department is dedicated to ensuring that as many books as possible are digitised. The safety of the collection during these processes is paramount; it is critically important to establish safe working practices from the outset, particularly when using external contractors who are unfamiliar with the collection.

When conserving an object the intention is - as nearly as possible - to maintain for posterity the object’s original attributes. The suitability of each object for digitisation requires a pragmatic approach, taking the particular object’s condition into account.

Consider the following example: In the course of a survey of a batch of books (around 200 per month are surveyed) one was found to have loose covers hanging by a thread, and another a loose spine. Ordinarily both these books would be flagged for conservation and removed from circulation. However, even though it would be inappropriate for these books to reach a reader in their deteriorated condition, they were both included in the digitisation process, and sent on for careful scanning.

Why is this? Because even though the condition of a book may be degraded as a result of both physical (handling) and chemical (acidity) deterioration, paradoxically the deteriorated condition can in some cases actually facilitate the digitisation process. The opening of a book may be easier if the spine is detached; where covers once awkwardly hung by a thread and when handling in this state would cause further damage, the thread can be cut and the boards released to allow for easier imaging of the text block. Covers and spines can of course be repaired after imaging.

In summary, three key points may therefore be highlighted:
  1. Prioritising throughput. With good planning, large collections can be safely digitised. As noted above, a pragmatic approach to the condition of the object and stabilizing it in accord with good conservation practice means that most objects can be included in the project. In the end, the online results from digitisation projects at the Wellcome Library have done much to showcase the large volume of work that the conservation department undertakes.
  2. Withholding where necessary. While the emphasis has been on facilitating the scanning process where possible, some books may nevertheless need to be withheld. This is often for research reasons, when treatment or other preparation for digitisation will compromise the original attributes of the individual object and thus its research value.
  3. Paying attention to possible deterioration during the actual process of digitisation. The Wellcome conservation team maintains a daily dialogue with our scanning contractors to clarify our expectations on book handling, and to learn from them about their equipment and workflow. We have also included training in the use of basic conservation tools and straightforward tasks that save everyone’s time, such as unfolding the corners of pages. With good training and communication, the scanners too can raise conservation concerns and communicate them back to the conservator.

1/ Repairing torn pages with strips of Japanese tissue.
2/ A book before and after conservation.
3/ Imaging a book using an Atiz Bookdrive.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Science Reading

The results of the Wellcome Trust’s inaugural Science Writing Prize are due to be announced on October 12th. In the run up to this, you may have come across the series of blog posts on our sister site at the Wellcome Trust Blog, by various science writers discussing their experience of writing about science. But what about the readers, what do they get out of reading about science? In fact popular science writing has been something of a publishing success story. As a genre it is established enough to have its own ‘classics’, such as The Selfish Gene (still in print after 30 years) and A Brief History of Time, which remained in the best sellers lists for four and a half years and sold over 9 million copies. There may be many reasons why people like reading about science, here are some suggestions that chimed with my experience.

The wow factor
The natural world is amazing. From the vast scale to the infinitesimal details, there are things that delight, things that horrify, and things that are so fantastical you might find them implausible in a work of fiction. It’s great to get that sense of wonder when you discover that an octopus can camouflage itself in 3D!

Of course it’s not just the high minded stuff that fascinates, let’s be honest. We’re equally curious about the compelling mix of sex and violence that comprises the mating habits of the marsupial mole. As well as the ‘wow’ factor, the ‘eww’ factor has a certain appeal.

Admittedly, the ‘wow’ factor has an even stronger appeal in broadcast media, especially in visually stunning fields such as astronomy and natural history, and enthusiasm is infectious, so finding out these things in the company of Carl Sagan (for younger audiences, replace with Brian Cox, who may be part of the wow factor for some) or David Attenborough adds to the enjoyment. But I’ve also had that sense of wonder from a book about the astonishing workings of the human brain.

Nerd appeal
People like to know stuff, I’m not talking about bald facts, or the proverbial train spotters’ data, I mean the sort of satisfaction that comes with understanding how something works or what is happening in the world around you, or in your body. For many of us this sort of understanding enhances our everyday experience of life. And this is where the popular science book comes into its own. As science writer Jon Turney said: “books lend themselves to extended… many layered arguments.” Even if we don’t know the actual science and mathematics, a skilful science writer can, enable us to appreciate the nature of something complex or abstruse such as quantum physics or genetics. Here’s Steve Jones talking about the relationship between genetics and heredity in The Language of Genes:

“Mitochondria are small energy producing structures in the cell. Each has its own piece of DNA, a closed structure of about sixteen thousand DNA bases, quite distinct from that in the cell nucleus. Eggs are full of mitochondria but those in sperm are killed off when they enter the egg. As a result such genes are inherited almost exclusively through females…. Every family, every nation and every continent can trace descent from its mitochondrial Eve, a woman (needless to say one of many alive at the same time) upon whom all their female lineages converge.”

Poetic inspiration
As anyone who has had to use a science textbook will know, simply describing the workings of science can be very dull, it takes a certain talent not just to bring them to life, but to inspire others with the same passion for your subject. The thing that brings together the wonder and the knowledge is the quality of the writing, for example the creative use of metaphor and analogy are often key to explanations of complex concepts and processes. Here is Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow explaining why it’s so difficult to locate a cricket in the grass from its chirping:

“Whereas our barometer ears have a membrane stretched over a confined space, insect weathervane ears have either a hair, or a membrane stretched over a chamber with a hole…. Directionality is built into insects’ method of detecting sound. Barometers aren’t like that. A rise in pressure is just a rise in pressure, and it doesn’t matter from which direction the added molecules come. We vertebrates therefore, with our barometer ears, have to calculate the direction of sound by comparing the reports of the two ears…. Cricket song is cunningly pitched and timed so as to be hard for vertebrate ears to locate but easy for female crickets, with their weathervane ears, to home in upon.”

The title of Dawkins’ book is a response to the poet John Keats’ lament that Isaac Newton destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by describing it’s structure. Many readers of popular science books might beg to differ.

Popular Science in the Wellcome Library
If you’re new to the popular science genre, there’s a wealth of material in our Collections, including contemporary and historical books, biographies, fiction and even graphic novels. You can find a comprehensive introduction in our guide to popular science. If you’re looking for recommendations, the guide also contains a list of book prizes and book clubs that offer you a choice of the best and the latest in popular science writing.

Image: A convalescent young woman reading. Gouache painting by David Bles, ca.1845. From
Wellcome Images, image number V0048055.

Out in the World

Last Sunday saw the start of a new series on BBC Radio 3, Out in the World - A Global Gay History. Here's the details from the programme's website:

Richard Coles embarks on an excavation of same sex desire through the ages, starting with the modern construction of gay identity and its links with the ancient world.

Across four programmes and a range of investigations which reach from the UK to India, Egypt, Greece and Native America, Richard discovers a far more complex and nuanced story than one of darkness into light.

The first episode featured Coles visiting the Wellcome Library to speak to Senior Archivist Dr Lesley Hall, to discuss the work of pioneering sexologists from the late 19th century. Their dialogue partly focuses around Richard von Krafft-Ebing - whose papers are held here - and includes a discussion of the image that accompanies this post.

The first episode of Out in the World is available for listeners in the UK until Sunday 25th September, through the BBC iPlayer.

Image: Photograph of a man with a moustache dressed in women's clothing (PP/KEB/E/6)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Wellcome Museum of Medical Science (1914-1989)

Almost 40 boxes of additional records of the Wellcome Museum of Medical Science (WA/MMS) have recently been transferred from storage and are now catalogued and available to researchers in the Wellcome Library.

The idea for this 'teaching museum' was first conceived in 1914 by Sir Henry Wellcome, with the idea of supporting an increase in the knowledge around and treatment of tropical diseases. International events intervened almost immediately, however, and the museum put itself at the service of the War Office during the entirety of World War I, offering training for troops serving abroad in tropical climates and carrying out research in different theatres of war. The museum was housed in a number of different locations in Bloomsbury during its first ten years, before finally settling in 183 Euston Road in purpose built facilities. Following serious damage to the museum of the London School of Topical Medicine and Hygiene during World War II (the Wellcome collection had been dismantled and put into storage when the Blitz began) the museum held a unique position, and expanded to around 80 bays of material on a number of different subjects. Success could be read in attendance figures, which rose from 9,000 a year in the 1930s to over 16,000 a year by the late 1970s: remarkable when you consider that admittance to the museum was through application only and that it was never open to general admission.

The exhibits and display panels were designed to educate specialists in the field of tropical disease and medicine and to teach the latest techniques in diagnosis and prevention. Visitors could pick up and study specimens from every angle, and could access the latest literature from a drawer beneath the relevant display panel. Fold down desks were devised to line the walls so students studying for long periods had somewhere to keep and take notes. In fact, the Museum operated rather like a classroom for undergraduate and postgraduate medical and paramedical students. Special exhibits also toured the world, in partner museums and institutions.

The staff were not initially museum professionals, rather scientists who later acquired curatorial skills, but they did become involved in the developing field of museum studies, contributing to the development of professional training and techniques. One of the first curators, S. H. Daukes, introduced a revolutionary (during the 1920s) visual teaching method which formed the basis of the display panels, and he later wrote a book detailing the method and its implementation in the museum. Experimental methods in displaying specimens, e.g. encasing them in Perspex, were also developed and written up for inclusion in professional journals.

The records in this collection consist of administrative papers relating to the museum’s day to day activities between 1914 and 1989. They include general correspondence files; the papers of the museum curators; details of specimens; records of staff research interests and lecturing work and material relating to the provision of medical education, and how medical museums and higher education institutions across the world collaborated to further this aim. There are also guide books, visitor books and photographs of the museum’s exhibits, specimens, staff and facilities over a number of years.

The museum eventually closed in the 1980s, but it is fondly remembered by many of its former staff and visitors, and we still receive enquiries about it. We hope that these, and other researchers, will find much of interest in these newly-opened records.

Author: Lindsay Ince

[See here for an earlier blog-post explaining how the Wellcome Museum of Medical Science had a cameo role in J.G. Ballard's fiction.]

Wellcome Medical Museum leaflet, giving opening hours (undated).
Group photograph of Wellcome Medical Museum staff (undated), from Wellcome Images (image number L0018615).
Wellcome Medical Museum display, section 13, neoplasms (undated), from Wellcome Images (image number M0003783).

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