BSHM Wikipedia Editathon

Although it often seems like everything is on Wikipedia (the main page currently features articles on the oldest living Pole, the feathers of birds, and 1894 flash floods in Austria, for example!) there are many areas that could benefit from some substantial improvements, and  the history of medicine is one such field. So on 11th April, the British Society for the History of Medicine brought people together at the Wellcome Library to celebrate some of the medics, places, and events that deserve a more prominent place in the online historical record.

The Viewing Room was packed with a mixture of historians, medics, students and local wiki-editors. We began the day with inspirational talks from Iain Macintyre and Emily Mayhew, who took historic images as their focus. As we listened to them speak, topics for improvement were rapidly added to the event page – the history section of the medical illustration page needs work, and the moribund wards which Mayhew mentioned seem like a topic deserving of a page.

Most of those attending had done little or no editing of Wikipedia before, but nowadays it’s very straightforward to get started. Everyone logged in and the Wiki-editing part of the day began with new editors introducing themselves on Wikipedia and exploring some of the page-features they’d never used before, such as Talk pages where editors discuss articles and History pages where you can see every single change ever made to a page. By lunchtime, the room was buzzing with conversations about the talks and about which pages people were planning to tackle!

After lunch, Ross MacFarlane provided a quick tour of the online resources of the Wellcome Library that can be used as sources and inspiration for editing, such as the Digital Collections that are available to all users and Databases and Journals that can be accessed free with a Library card. Nusa Faric talked about her research into why people contribute to medical pages on Wikipedia, and inspired us by showing how many people can benefit from improved articles and introducing us to Wikipedia Zero (a project to provide Wikipedia free of charge on mobile phones, particularly in developing markets). Fired up and ready to go, the group dived in to editing! Some began creating pages from scratch in their Sandbox, whilst others launched into making improvements or corrections on existing pages.

New pages have already been created for leprosy doctor Isabel Kerr; Beryl Corner, who halved newborn mortality rates; cancer researcher Henry Wade; Mary Sturge, who conducted pioneering work on alcoholism; a tool for dental extraction called Coupland’s elevators; and Gilbert Primrose, surgeon to King James I. Pages for Edward Berdoe and Florence Barrett have been improved, the date of publication of De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septum by Vesalius has been corrected on the History section of the Medical illustration page, and a fascinating snippet about the re-enactment of surgery has been added to the Historical accuracy section of the page on the television series The Crown. Other pages in the works include a draft on psychiatrist and mental health campaigner Doris Odlum. Impressive work for such a short time!

Readers are already enjoying this work too – just counting the brand new pages created as part of the editathon, they have been viewed 498 times already (in just a single week!).

There is still more to be done though. A list of the Presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh shows that many of these eminent figures are yet to have articles, and many of the women doctors listed on the event page still need pages creating or improving. These themes tie in perfectly with two of the themes of the BSHM Congress this year: Women in Medicine and Scotland’s Contribution and Influence. So if you find yourself inspired by a paper in Edinburgh this September, and want to share fascinating stories from the history of medicine with a wider audience, consider joining the Wiki-editing! There are lots of BSHM members who can give you pointers on getting started, and you’re very welcome to contact me at the Wellcome Library too.

Alice White

Wikimedian in Residence at the Wellcome Library
Email: a.white@wellcome.ac.uk
Tweet: @HistorianAlice

Celebrating Dr. Caroline Nompozolo on International Women’s Day

To mark International Women’s Day (8th March)  the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has published an interesting blog  on the little-known story of a pioneering female doctor, Caroline Nompozolo, “the first woman of colour from the Union of South Africa to qualify in medicine”. (Children’s Newspaper, Oct 1943)

The blog can be read at https://rcsedlibraryandarchive.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/celebrating-dr-caroline-nompozolo-on-international-womens-day/

Iain Macintyre

 

“I am a refugee of Nazi oppression”: The Scottish Royal Medical Colleges and Medical Refugees

The Triple Qualification (TQ) examination of the three Scottish medical colleges, established in 1884. provided a medical qualification recognised by the GMC. It was used by individuals and groups who were unable, for a variety of reasons, to gain entry to university medical schools. Prominent among these groups were women in the 1880s and 90s and refugees from the Nazis in 1930s and 40s. To mark Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th of January, the archive of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has published this account of the stories of some of these refugees.
https://rcsedlibraryandarchive.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/i-am-a-refugee-of-nazi-oppression-the-scottish-royal-medical-colleges-and-medical-refugees/

Iain Macintyre

How should the History of Medicine be studied?

The teaching of Medical History in Medical Schools has largely been a token gesture and with increasing pressure on the curriculum many have given up any attempt at formal teaching. Considering the scope of the subject and the practicality of producing a comprehensive teaching course, this is not surprising, And yet, most doctors feel that a knowledge of our medical past is important in our practice of medicine today. So how can we continue to enthuse and impart details of our medical heritage to our successors when it is more essential that they are exposed to the clinical skills of practising medicine.

It will perhaps be of interest to hear how we are approaching this problem in Sheffield University Medical School. At the very beginning of the MB ChB programme students undertake a 6-week ‘Student Selected Component on the History of Medicine’ in which they choose one essay title from a list of 270 that span the history of medicine from Ancient Egypt to the present day. The primary purpose of this assignment is to encourage students to develop their generic skills in information searching and synthesis, critical analysis, academic writing, the use of referencing systems and the avoidance of plagiarism. The history of medicine was chosen as the focus for this assignment as a topic that is hopefully of interest to all medical students at the very start of their careers, giving them a chance to consider medicine’s roots as they embark on their journey to become its future.

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Over the past three years, history of medicine exhibitions have also been displayed in the medical school foyer. This started with ‘Sheffield Cares for the Wounded’ in 2014, commemorating the role of Sheffield doctors in a field ambulance on the Western Front in World War One as well as those caring for the wounded returning to Sheffield. Apart from the history of their own medical school, students learnt about the evacuation techniques developed then and refined today. This was followed by more focussed exhibitions on ‘Blood Letting’ dealing with leaches, cupping and scarification and more recently with ‘Inoculation and Vaccination’. Such exhibitions require a secure, alarmed, display cabinet which was obtained with financial support from the Medical School and Sheffield’s Charitable Trusts and which, although initially expensive, now enables us to borrow documents and precious artefacts from private and public collections as well as facilitating display of items from our own Medical School’s past history.

We think this dual approach is one way of keeping alive the study of the History of Medicine in our medical schools. Although requiring enthusiastic volunteers and financial support, it is, we think, more likely that attractive exhibitions such as these will more easily capture the interest of the average medical student than didactic teaching.

Derek R. Cullen , Consultant Physician Emeritus
Julian L. Burton, Senior Teaching Fellow, Academic Unit of Medical Education.