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By Selina Hurley on

Recording Science And Medicine

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about the items in our collections used to record the thoughts and ideas of practitioners of science and medicine.

We have a great number of inkwells, pens and pencils belonging to scientists and doctors, some famous, like Louis Pasteur and others less so.

Louis Pasteur's inkstand, 1800s ( Science Museum, London )

Some of these items have almost a relic status about them having been owned by scientists and doctors who made a great impact on the history of science and medicine. Knowing who owned an item, to me, entirely changes how I look at it.

Pen owned by Alfred Chune Fletcher (Science Museum, London)

But why collect this item, a pen from a Mr. Alfred Chune Fletcher? Mr. Fletcher (1865-1913) was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and a Senior House Surgeon at St Bartholemew’s Hospital. Pens like this are often everyday tools of doctors, capturing their normal working lives rather than landmarks in the history of medicine.

Laboratory books have also been a common theme in the collections, especially when they detail important discoveries.

'Mouse Book, Factor IX', 1980-1985 ( Science Museum, London )

These laboratory books detail the experiments for the discovery of  a monoclonal antibody to Factor IX. Monoclonal antibodies are identical antibodies cloned from a single cell. Factor IX is one of the factors involved in blood clotting. Its absence causes a type of haemophilia.

In the electronic age should we be collecting email correspondence and scientists’ hard drives to represent the working lives of doctors and scientists? With rapidly decreasing storage space, deciding what objects to acquire is going to be a challenge for us and future generations of curators.