Manhandling the Brain

Manhandling the Brain: Psychiatric Neurosurgery in the Mid-20th Century is an art/historical installation made by Ken Barrett, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.

It explores the human cost of leucotomy, a surgical intervention used to modify unwanted behaviours and emotion. It was especially welcomed in large overcrowded state mental hospitals, institutions where care standards were often poor. Just how poor was revealed in a shocking Life magazine article published in 1946.

Manhandling the Brain is currently on display in the exhibition case at the entrance to the RSM Library until the end of December 2016.

Robert Greenwood
Heritage Officer
The Royal Society of Medicine Library
1 Wimpole Street

Open House London


During the weekend of 17/18th September 2016 many private and public buildings in Greater London are open for viewing with free admission.

These include several premises related to the history of medicine:

The Royal College of Physicians (+herb garden)
Apothecaries Hall
The Royal College of GPs
The Royal College of Nursing
The College of Optometrists
The Old Operating Theatre Museum

For details go to

Dogs cakes and drug doctoring: dogs and the retail chemist at the turn of the 19th century.

August 26th marks National Dog Day.[i]

The dog is of great importance to the history of medicine. Dogs have played a role for developing new treatments for an array of diseases, most notably diabetes mellitus. In 1889 Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski demonstrated that by removing the pancreas from a dog, the animal developed diabetes: this led to the discovery that insulin regulated sugars in the blood.

The dogs’ significance in the history of research extends into developments of vaccines, toxicity tests and blood transfusions. There is more information on this rather grim history at:

This article focuses on a slightly happier story, the history of the dog biscuit and the wider context of the retailing of animal products and veterinary medicines within the medical marketplace.

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Mystery apparatus

sebian barrelbure 3










An apparatus made from barrels played an important public health role in the early 20th century.

What is the name of the apparatus shown in these photos ?

Where and when was it used?    What was it used for?

There is a clue in the second photo which is a reconstruction, not the original,  made by the National Museum of Valjevo,

the photos are taken from  with permission.

Gresham lectures – programme and videos

The  programme for the 2016-17 Gresham College Lectures is now available at:

The lectures are of a high standard and are free. Several relate to the history of medicine.

Past lectures are available as video downloads. These include :

“Germs , Genes and Genesis: the History of Infectious Disease”  by Prof Steve Jones and

“War Health and Medicine” by Prof Mark Harrison

Mystery plant


I photographed this plant at Lopham Fen in Suffolk this week.

How does it relate to the history of medicine?

A clue is in the botanical name.

Chris Derrett


Farewell Dr Finlay – BBC Radio 4


Dr Margaret McCartney poses a question:

Almost every day general practice, or practitioners, are somewhere in the news. Usually it’s not good news either. Strikes, vacancies, waiting lists: we are riddled with delays and fail to meet targets. But seldom do the mechanisms of the problems – especially the way we work and organise to work – reach the media. In the process of writing a book -The State of Medicine- I started to realise that bad organisation, poor quality NHS spending and non evidence based policy was nothing new. In fact, it was a repeated cycle. We had said goodbye to Dr Finlay but how were we deciding who was replacing him?

The history of general practice is long and precedes the NHS. The doctors and historians who contributed to the series have illuminated a history that makes sense of the present – why GPs have a tension with their contract, being usually contracted to the NHS rather than directly employed by it: why overwork and working days into nights was simply impossible to continue with increased demand. My hope is that by looking backwards we can learn enough to make more sense of how to go forwards.

There is one question I would love historians to tell me: when was the first recorded use of the term ‘general practitioner’? Irvine Louden says 1809, but  @mc_hankins tweeted a reference to a job advert in the Times for ‘a gentleman, properly qualified, and wishing to settle in London, as a general practitioner in one of the three departments of the profession’…I hope they had some respondents.

Dr Margaret McCartney is a general practitioner in Glasgow and BMJ columnist who presented the recent BBC Radio 4 programme Farewell Dr Finlay; a history of general practice. ‘

To hear the programmes go to

Mystery Object 2


Peter Homan (past president of the BSHM) has sent us a photo of another item from the Victorian sick room.

What is it? What was it used for?  How was it used?

The answers will appear as a comment on this Blog in early August