Buildings Talk - Hospital Histories

The George Marshall Medical Museum will be hosting its fourth annual evening of talks relating to the history of medicine and healthcare on Thursday 13th July, 2017. Please do get in touch with ideas for a 30 minute talk, which this year, will focus on the history of medical and healthcare buildings and how their architecture may have impacted upon patients' health.

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Events for 2017

For 2017, both venues wanted to highlight architecture, building and encourage our visitors to lookout for medical buildings around the city. The events leaflet for The Infirmary is now finished and newsletter subscribers will be getting sent their copies. 

The events are being added to the What's On area of this website and anyone interested in attending events is encouraged to book a FREE slot through Eventbrite as that helps us managed the resources required for the events. Look at bit.ly/TheInfirmaryTickets anytime for the latest events coming up. 

Winter 2016 Newsletter is out!

The Winter 2016 Newsletter has been sent with Season's Greetings and the latest news and activities from Worcester's Medical Museums. You can see it yourself and sign up for it above to get your own version in your inbox. 

Final Book Group at The Infirmary for 2016

The Infirmary had the final book club of 2015 for Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

It’s a story rich in medical references providing lots of opportunities to look around the gallery and see evidence of the outcomes of these references. “I knew my traveller with his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair. I recognised his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his full nostrils, denoting, I thought, choler; his grim mouth chin and jaw-yes, all three were very grim, and no mistake. His shape now divested of cloak, I perceived harmonised in squareness with this physiognomy.“ Jane’s description of her first sight of Mr Rochester is loaded with physiognomy, the belief that characteristics of a person were linked to their physical features. While Jane is scathing in her prejudices she is also at the receiving end from Dowager Ingram who exclaimed within earshot “I am a judge of physiognomy, and in hers I see all the faults in her class.” 

The idea we can assess someone’s behaviour without knowing anything other than what information our eyes see is such nonsense, when we work with young pupils they are quick to agree. 

There’s also use of adjectives like phlegmatic (stolid/calm), choler(anger), sanguine (optimistic) all referencing the four humours medical approach where the belief was the balance of liquids (blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm) controlled a persons behaviour or manifest in an illness. 

Many of the group had re-read the book and saw new things through the lens of medicine and good discussion surrounded the mental health of Bertha Rochester and we questioned whether Mr R should take any responsibility for her behaviour? The portrayal of Mr R is variable through the eyes of Jane and we were all a little dumfounded by the outcome and ventured into pop psychology about Jane’s background and her lack of male role models and also strong female characters who did not meet an untimely end. 

Lots of historical medical thinking from this 19th century classic has helped decide 2017’s list of books which are all contemporary in writing although not always in their content. Watch this space for a list of next year’s book group, or sign up to the Facebook group and hear more.  If a super fan then there's a Pinterest board with some useful links from recent books and free for all to add their own pins and ideas. Discussions can expand from the evening to Facebook to Pinterest, share your views your way!

The Struggle with Normalcy

During my placement at the George Marshall Medical Museum, I got the chance to curate an exhibition. The theme is the struggle with normalcy; how people throughout history have defined normality and its consequences.

In the first week I had to decide what theme I wanted to work with. For inspiration, I read a few historic books from the GMMM’s collection. One book was titled ‘the story of plastic surgery.’ It was written in 1952 and it told an interesting story about how plastic surgery has evolved from prehistory until the 1950s. The author seemed to believe that striving for perfection and a normal appearance would become the ultimate goal of the plastic surgeon. I think that he was right and I wanted to confront people about it. Many of the people who come to the Charles Hastings Education Centre, which houses the GMMM, are doctors, nurses or other medical professionals - a very interesting audience for this kind of exhibition.

Various surgical tools and other items. 

Various surgical tools and other items. 

Normality is not only related to appearance and plastic surgery. Normal behaviour and mental health are closely related. There were interesting stories about women being declared insane in the Victorian era for doing or saying things that were not normal. For example, a woman who wanted a life outside the domestic sphere would be labelled as hysterical. We have objects in the collection of the GMMM that are related to mental health such as the Powick Hospital Digest, ECT equipment and articles on LSD trials. For the plastic surgery story, I assembled a surgical set for a minor cosmetic operation. The operation was removing a benign tumour from the upper arm. I did this together with Mrs Margaret Ingman, a volunteer at GMMM who was a great help. I hope she enjoys seeing the objects in the case.

Before installing new exhibition

Before installing new exhibition

I had to take down the previous exhibition as well. That was pretty cool because I hadn’t done anything like that before. The objects of the previous exhibition were all loans so I went through the process of returning the objects to the owner and doing all the necessary paperwork. Afterwards, I cleaned the case. There was a lot of wax stuck on the case. That is where problem solving skills come in handy; with a ruler I got everything out.

Normality is not always negative. It is a great tool for diagnosing illnesses, either physical or mental. I wrote about this in the informative texts that go with the exhibit. Finally, I wanted to do something that would attract attention to the case. It is made of glass so Louise suggested I write on it with a white glass marker. The texts I wrote are all lines from the historic books or from literature. Source material included the short novel ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and ‘the Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath.   

Check out the Museum's Temporary Exhibitions page to find out more.

Finished product will be on show at GMMM until the new year.

Finished product will be on show at GMMM until the new year.

Lauren Romijn, MA student placement, University of Leicester