Stewart Emmens takes a look at the death of one of the greatest enemies of smallpox, Edward Jenner.
Curator of Community Health, he has worked in the museum for many years on a wide range of medically themed exhibitions and web resources as well as curating a number of medical collections. Main research interests are Limb prostheses, military medicine and urban public health. Recently the lead curator on our First World War centenary exhibition, Wounded: Casualty, Conflict and Care, and now one of the team developing the extensive new Medical Galleries.
After nearly a century’s banishment, one of the most notorious of all alcoholic drinks is set to return to its… er… spiritual homeland, France. Distinctively green and extremely powerful, sales of absinthe have been banned there since 1915. Its geographical origins may lie in Switzerland, but absinthe is forever associated with the bohemian and artistic circles of Paris of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Not that it was a peculiarly French habit. With its main ingredients of fennel, anise and the […]
The recent pronouncements by Scott Springer – Borough President of Manhattan – about the rat problem in New York received international attention. While they may have been motivated as much by politics as public health concerns, they once again highlighted our fractious relationship with these particular rodent. Few animals have attained such universal levels of loathing, although more than one friend of mine has enjoyed keeping pet rats – ‘Dave’ being one still remembered with great fondness. But even the […]
We spend most of our daily lives surrounded by things. Many of which we barely notice. They’re always just there. Lampposts, telephones, pens, kettles, books… They may change in appearance, but certain stuff always seems to keep hanging around. Until, those times you realise that you can’t recall the last time you actually saw one of these ubiquitous items. Typewriters anyone? I’m fascinated by how objects make that transition from commonplace and everyday to banishment, and the ranks of the ‘disappeared’. Fashions change and technological advances […]
One way or another we are a nation obsessed with history – be it through the books we read, the TV we watch, our hobbies or the historic houses we visit. Here at the Science Museum, we’re actively pursuing closer engagements with people who ‘do history for fun’. One area of this public history that I’m especially interested in is family history. The internet has revolutionised access to genealogical data – once the preserve of those able to spend days […]
Back in January, I posted about some unusual variations of one of our favourite pieces of cutlery – the fork. I guess it was inevitable that I’d be tempted to move on, delving further into obscure corners of our collections. While trying to avoid ‘me and my spoon’ type territory, let’s take a random peek into… the world of spoons. Made of soapstone, this small spoon is in the form of a diving girl sporting either a typical Ancient Egyptian braided […]
Many objects in our collections weren’t really meant to survive the long-term. Food stuffs are such an example. While food packaging is commonly found in museum collections, food itself is rarer. And if uneaten during their pre-museum life, these objects remain vulnerable. Destructive pests like the Biscuit beetle are so named for a reason. Within our stores are a number of foody objects, collected for a variety of reasons and which have so far eluded the appetites of both the […]
I’ve previously posted of how our feelings about objects can be influenced by associated stories or by knowing who once owned them. Such links can provoke powerful responses, but perhaps none stronger than when objects have personal links to us. This is why family heirlooms are so treasured – they allow you to make a connection, to hold the same thing that a long dead ancestor once held. At the Science Museum we like to consider that, potentially, every object can tell […]
My post on January 21st marked the anniversary of the execution of King Louis XVI. Clearly, January was a bad month for European monarchs historically, as the 30th marks the anniversary (the 362nd!) of the be-heading of another flamboyant ruler – Charles I of England – in 1649. The battered little heart-shaped jet pendant amulet above commemorates this particular royal execution. It would have been worn as a piece of mourning jewellery and, like other memento mori, a reminder of death […]
My colleague Katie recently posted about the upcoming royal wedding. But of course, public events involving royalty have not always been so benign. On January 21st 1793, ‘citizen’ Louis Capet – formerly Louis XVI of France – was taken by carriage to the Place de la Concorde (re-named Place de la Révolution at the time). Here, in front of a crowd of many thousands, the ex-king was beheaded. Although death at the hands of your people is about as low as […]
At lunchtime today, I was faced with one of those trivial, yet rather frustrating aspects of convenience food. Shunning those tasty looking crisps in favour of a healthy leaf salad, I queued and then paid – only to find that the post-checkout cutlery bin contained nothing but very small plastic spoons. Not a fork in sight. But before I get all Jeremy Clarkson, once back at the Museum a good old metal one was unearthed and the minor salad-based trauma […]
Many of us will start the new year pledging to eat (and drink?) a bit less after the indulgences of Christmas. We should spare a thought for Britons in January 1940 when, after the first Christmas of the Second World War, food rationing was introduced on January 8th. Originally restricted to favourites such as bacon, butter and sugar, other products were added to the list as the war dragged on. Issued nationally in October 1939, ration books became an indispensable – if […]