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
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

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.

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.

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.

The UK Medical Heritage Library – a free on-line resource of 19C published work



The UK Medical Heritage Library (UKMHL) is now available as an open access collection via the Historical Texts service:

The collection has been produced through a three year project funded by Jisc and Wellcome Library to digitise over 15 million pages of 19th century published works. Encompassing over 65,000 publications, the subject areas covered are broad and include topics such as consumer health, sport and fitness, food and nutrition as well as medicine and medical practices, providing a valuable resource for study in the medical humanities and beyond.

A range of visualisations have also been created to help researchers explore the data in various ways.

  • Image wall: displays all of the images extracted from publications in your search results
  • Hospital map: enables you to identify and explore content related to specific hospitals
  • Timeline: displays events that occurred in the time period of your search results
  • Ngram: compare word frequencies
  • Dendrograms: for body parts and medical conditions
  • Sunburst diagrams: for body parts and medical conditions

The UKMHL collection is currently in a separate Labs area of the Historical Texts service, but it will also be added to the main service ( ) in 2017. So, for institutions that subscribe to Historical Texts, it will be cross-searchable alongside the existing Early English Books Online (EEBO), Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) and 65,000 texts from the British Library 19th Century collections. The collection will continue to be freely available to the general public as well though.


Image link:  (publication is in the Public Domain)

Susan Anderton
Service Manager (Historical Texts and Journal Archives, JISC)

Pills, prescriptions and pharmacists: creating a new pharmacy history course

©Royal College of Physicians, photography by Mike Fear ©Royal College of Physicians, photography by Mike Fear

When I was asked by the Faculty of History and Philosophy of Medicine and Pharmacy at the Society of Apothecaries whether I would consider programming an entirely new 3 day course in pharmacy history, I jumped at the chance.  Working with my co-course director, Dr Stuart Anderson, we had the opportunity to shape a mini course from scratch.  But what to include from an enormous history with a very broad reach?  And would anybody be interested in attending?

We decided firstly to focus on British pharmacy history, although the course began with a very brief overview of the global story up to 1500.  We were keen to include various strands in the programme including the pharmaceutical industry, the growth of the pharmacy profession and (as I’m a museum curator) plenty of access to original sources.  We also decided on a multi-venue approach to appeal to delegates and make the most of the wonderful resources in London.

Day 1 at the Wellcome Trust and Library included sessions on alchemy, business history, and law and ethics, but also a very popular session from Peter Homan demonstrating various dispensing techiques and introducing us to prescription registers from the Library collection as historical sources. Day 2 was at the Royal College of Physicians with lectures on the pharmacopoeia, pharmacognosy in the 19th century, and delftware drug jars.  Delegates were then treated to a tour of the RCP’s medicinal garden, and a chance to get up close to a selection of their rare books.  The day ended with a tour of the new Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum.  The final day was at Apothecaries’ Hall with an account of their history, an exploration of their manufacturing operations, and a tour of the current building.  The final afternoon comprised a lecture on the development of the pharmacy profession in the 19th and 20th centuries, and two sessions on the growth of the pharmaceutical industry.

It was an incredibly rich and packed 3 days with some excellent speakers, all of whom had written their lectures especially for the course, and some fantastic visits and source-based sessions.  And the 37 delegates were, thankfully, suitably inspired and impressed.  Typical feedback has been “the combination of talks, visits and displays was well balanced, refreshing and stimulating” and “the event was excellent and covered such an interesting range of material and locations.” Maria Ferran, Faculty Coordinator, has already received enquiries about running the course again, which is extremely pleasing.  If you might be interested in attending a future course, contact Maria

Briony Hudson

Records of Medical Professionals



Records digitised by the Wellcome Library, which cover more than a million medical professionals, are now available for searching online. The data collections include:

UK & Ireland

Medical Directories 1845-1942
Queen’s Nursing Institute Roll of Nurses 1891-1931


Dentist Registers 1879-1942
Medical and Dental Students Registers 1882-1937
Physiotherapy and Masseuse Registers 1895-1980
Roll of the Indian Medical Service 1615-1930
The Midwives Roll 1904-1959

More information can be found at:

Edward Wawrzynczak


Poynter Lecture 2016

Dr Sam Alberti - Poynter Lecturer 2016

Dr Sam Alberti – Poynter Lecturer 2016

We are grateful to Dr John Firth for this summary of the 2016 Poynter Lecture.

The evening began with  a plug for the 2017 BSHM 27th Congress at Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh 13th – 16th September. The four themes of the Congress are “Women in Medicine” , “Scotland’s contribution and influence”, “Apothecaries and their successors”, “Art and photography in medicine”. Full details

The Poynter Lecture is the annual lecture organised by the British Society for the History of Medicine which this year was delivered on 12th October at the Wellcome Collection. Dr Frederick Noel Lawrence Poynter (1908-1979) was Librarian then Director of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.   He was a medical historian and wrote several books and articles specialising in Tudor Medicine.  He was also active in professional societies, being President of the British Society for the History of Medicine in 1972 and Secretary-General of the International Academy of the History of Medicine.

Dr Sam Alberti
The auditorium takes over 150 people and I estimated there were over 90 attending. The talk “Finding patients in the Medical Museum” was given by Sam Alberti whom I met when he organised a series of lectures at the Royal College of Surgeons where he was the Curator of the Hunterian Museum. Six months ago he became Keeper of Science and Technology in the National Museums of Scotland. Iain Macintyre, President of BSHM introduced Dr Alberti.

The patient objectified but the doctor remembered
The lecture  began by discussing the trends in medical museums, giving a historical perspective richly illustrated by historical examples such as Barts, the Wellcome Museum and the Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité (founded by Rudolph Virchow) amongst many others. Medical museums were at their peak in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Dividing Museums into “Wet or Dry” he suggested that each had a different trajectory. Museums in that era showed anonymised specimens as examples of disease, often with the patient’s story removed. He showed examples of the Hunterian Museum area devoted to Lister with instruments he designed and some given as gift that he would have been too critical of to use. Patients became objectified. Medical Museums commemorated the Doctor, not the patient (eg Lister, Jenner, Fleming). Dr Alberti pointed out that Henry Wellcome collected massively to represent the patient experience. Over 100,000 of the items he amassed  went to the Science Museum and patients were well represented.

Finding the patient
The Science Museum Galleries are being renovated and new medical galleries will open in 2019. Dr Alberti  used the example of the  Dittrick Museum in Ohio as a museum with a  more narrative approach and heritage function.( The Charité in Berlin is his favourite museum. Situated in  the old hospital wing each museum bay contains a  “bed” each showing the case of a patient.

Having been in his position in the National Museums of Scotland for just six months he recognises that it exhibits  “Science and technology with some medicine”. But the museum has incorporated examples of patient experience of bio medicine and the impact of technological change. He showed a small case study of asthma which focused on the experience of having asthma. Illustrated by a rugby player who lives with asthma Dr Alberti reflected that it is all very well what you can do with disability but there is a fine line exemplified by a patient who said “just because I have prosthetic leg  I don’t want to use it to run a marathon”

Disability explored
He showed some older prosthetic arms that were offered to those affected by Thalidomide but they were too clumsy and some individuals chose  not to  wear them. “Better without” they reckoned. Returning to some historical examples in museums he pointed out that some are not anonymised, like the Irish Giant Charles Byrne whose skeleton is in the Royal College of Surgeons.  He showed an embroidery from 1848 by Charlotte Waite who was one of the first children to be operated on using chloroform. Also in the Hunterian is a severe scoliotic spine now accompanied by an audio by the historian Ruth Richardson who suffers from the same condition. Dr Alberti says there is need “to reunite human remains with patients”. Incorporating art and photography in this endeavour, he showed an example of a laryngeal specimen taken from an opera singer and photoshopped to lie over her  neck. The exhibition Re-Framing Disability at the Royal College of Physicians consists of portraits which depict disabled men and women of all ages and walks of life, many of whom earned a living exhibiting themselves to the public. The hidden histories behind the portraits are examined.  (see )

“Disability in a box”
Dr Alberti referred to “Cabinet of curiosities” . Rather than term for the precursor of museums (see he was referring to “Cabinet of curiosities how disability was kept in a box” which was in 2014. Full details can be found at A more recent  series where art merged with museum was “Exceptional and Extraordinary” . This project invited four artists to explore behind the scenes of eight of the UK’s most renowned medical museums and, in collaboration with experts in medical history, disability and museums, produced a series of thought-provoking new commissions that examine our attitudes towards difference and aim to stimulate debate around the implications of a society that values some lives more than others. (see  and
In “Transplant” there is collaboration between artists  Tim Wainwright and John Wynne and the transplant surgery unit at Harefield Hospital. It began in 2006 with a year-long residency at Harefield Hospital where the artists recorded and photographed patients, staff and the hospital environment. The project eventually developed into a series of photographic and sonic works, exhibitions and publications.
See for full details.

War, Art and Surgery
“War Art & Surgery” exhibited at the RCSEng which was a contemporary response by the Artist Julia Midgley  to surgeon artist Henry Tonks’ WW1 pastel portraits of facial reconstruction. A YouTube video is available.

The lecturer  reflected on comments by soldiers that soldiers’ deaths make news more than the rehabilitation of the injured. One contrast between war injuries 100 years ago and the present is the rising proportion of limb losses from IED’s. He pointed out that capturing narrative is easier historically. The exhibition “Life Support” (see is about the support systems and the medical treatment. Curators worked with the soldiers words on the labels. The voices of the personal are there, but Dr Alberti pointed out co-curation can be risky. He asked if we are making the soldier a victim …. the hero versus the cripple.  A clinical support network had to be in place. He finished by saying that the perspective of clinicians,  nurses and ancillary staff need to be incorporated but the role is in the patient. The Science Museum currently has the exhibition “Wounded” which he recommended.

The lecture finished with the words “it is an exciting time to be visiting medical museums”.

All in all it was a thought provoking evening.



‘A Corporate Humanity’ – Cataloguing the Records of the Glasgow Public Health Department

Thanks to a generous grant from the Wellcome Trust, a project is ongoing to catalogue the records of the Glasgow Public Health Department and its predecessor authorities. Work is finished on the departmental records themselves and an item-level list of this important collection is available for the first time.

The Public Health Department’s work lent itself to statistical analysis and they produced a wealth of reports, the most important being the annual reports of the Medical Officers of Health. These date from 1863 and include sections on population; causes of deaths by age and district; infectious diseases; and the work of the hospitals and reception houses amongst others. They are supported by files of raw data used to compile the reports along with weekly and fortnightly returns of mortality statistics (1844-1973); and returns of infectious diseases (1920-1973). There are reports on specific events such as the typhoid outbreak in 1880 and the influenza epidemic in 1957 and records relating to particular areas of the Department’s work such as smoke registers and files on the inspection of shipping.

The project has not stopped with the records of the Department, however. Acknowledging the complicated history of health functions in Glasgow, current work is to re-catalogue the Police records. In the 19th century policing the city was seen as much more than a crime-fighting operation. Records of the Board of Police and its committees date from 1800 and cover such subjects as health, hospitals, cleansing, and sewage disposal.

Similarly, those burghs absorbed into the city had public health functions and their records will also be re-catalogued, including a substantial amount of previously unavailable material.


Report on enteric fever outbreak, 1878 (ref: D-HE/1/5/14)

Report on enteric fever outbreak, 1878 (ref: D-HE/1/5/14)


Children receiving light treatment at Baird Street Clinic, 1926 (ref: D-HE/7/2/1/6)

Children receiving light treatment at Baird Street Clinic, 1926 (ref: D-HE/7/2/1/6)

Regulations on excluding from school children exposed to infectious diseases, 1931 (ref: D-HE/1/5/37)

Regulations on excluding from school children exposed to infectious diseases, 1931 (ref: D-HE/1/5/37)

For further information contact Alison Scott, Project Archivist: