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By Stewart Emmens on

Brought To Life

Increasing public access to our collections is one of our main priorities. But what do you do when so many of your objects are in storage?

Artificial limbs
Artificial limbs in our London store (Stewart Emmens)

Our medical collections are built on the legacy of Victorian entrepreneur Henry Wellcome. He was a millionaire who collected far, wide and en masse. Even our main, highly object-rich medical gallery can only contain a small fraction of the vast number of objects we look after. At our London store, over 40 rooms are devoted to medical objects – and that’s just the smaller stuff.

Roman objects
Roman objects in storage (Stewart Emmens)

Luckily, the web provides an alternative form of access. For the past year Brought to Life, the Science Museum’s history of medicine website has been receiving both acclaim – and many thousands of visitors.

The site has long been the main project for us medical curators – pretty much consuming our working lives for the past three years. It was recently re-launched, with even more themed content, more interactives and hundreds more objects.

Indeed, objects are very much the heart of this website. Images of over 4,000 of them are now accessible, many of objects which have never been on display. It was a personal privilege to be given the chance to select most of them.

Wax model of decaying corpse
Wax model of decaying corpse, Italy c.1774-1800 (Science Museum)

New additions include one of the earliest stethoscopes, Islamic pharmacy jars, relics from Victorian asylums, a mobile X-ray vehicle and apparatus from the early days of penicillin.

Also tucked away are objects that reflect the eclectic fringes of Wellcome’s collecting. Look deep enough and you might find a hangman’s rope, a loveable netsuke, Queen Victoria’s slippers, relics from a doomed Arctic expedition – then there’s the just plain weird stuff.