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medicine

Today is Armistice Day, more recently known as Remembrance Day. An event that always brings focus to the simple and terrible reality of the First World War – and of all subsequent wars – the overwhelming loss of human life.  I recently posted about the remains of a frontline medical unit I saw on a trip to Belgium. While such wartime remnants can be found, the most prominent features across that scarred landscape today are the numerous memorials and cemeteries. In the First World War, soldiers were […]

For the past six months, I’ve been working on an exhibition Psychoanalysis: The unconscious in everyday life which opened in the middle of October. Curated by Dr Caterina Albano, from Artark at Central St Martins and sponsored by the Institute of Psychoanalysis, the exhibition looks at the workings of the unconscious mind through historical and contemporary artefacts. As well as drawing on contemporary art by artists such as Grayson Perry, Tim Noble and Sue Webster and Mona Hatoum, some of our […]

In the last few days, an awful lot of web space has been devoted to the lady ‘time traveller’ filmed in 1928, who appears to be chatting away on a mobile. Of course back then, the film crew were focusing on a Charlie Chaplin premiere, rather than splits in the space-time continuum. But through the eyes of those living in 2010, where mobile phones are omnipresent, the first reaction of many is to reach a fantastical conclusion. Alternative readings of this […]

The Science Museum might not be the first place you think of when you hear the word sex, but we’ve got lots of artefacts from all over the world designed both to titillate and to treat sexual dysfunction and infertility. Some even claim to cast a love spell (Brian Cox watch out – I have the power…). To add to this collection we’ve been working with Jonathan Roberts, lecturer at Mount Saint Vincent University, to make some new acquisitions. Jonathan’s been […]

The witching hour is fast approaching and ghouls, ghosts and monsters are coming out to play – but I’ll bet you’ve never seen anything quite like this. I’m not sure what scares me the most about the chimera we lovingly call the ‘merman’ – the strange stitching together of bird, fish and monkey, or the rather creepy pose or the way the eyes follow you around a room. The merman is more reminiscent of an animal version of Frankenstein than a museum […]

My colleague Ali’s recent post focussed on the often gruesome relics of some of the great men of science. In between Galileo’s finger and Einstein’s brain, I was struck by the ghostly serenity of Newton’s death mask. Creating such portraits of eminent people – either in life or death – was not uncommon in the days before photography. But these masks found a new purpose during the 19th century in the pseudoscience of phrenology. What better tools to back up its claims and […]

I recently wrote about how even the most mundane of objects can be transformed by the associations they have with people or events.  But I’m also intrigued by how the unremarkable can be transformed in other ways. For example, through the powers they are said to possess or by physical transformation into something new.  These are nodules of flint, a common mineral found across Britain. They look a bit like feet or legs and it’s this resemblance that makes them special. All three are […]

Reading Trilce’s recent post, I was reminded of objects from Sir John Franklin’s Arctic expedition within our vast medical collections. Simple items and anonymous fragments, easily overlooked on their storeroom shelves. But they are reminders of one of the most obvious, yet magical things about museum collections – even the most mundane looking objects can be transformed through association. This razor belonged to a member of Franklin’s team. Physically, it’s virtually indistinguishable from others in our collections. But by association, this simple and very […]

Seventy years ago, the bombing Blitz on Britain was into its second week. London remained the main target and amongst landmarks damaged on the night of September 18th 1940 were the world famous Lambeth Walk and the John Lewis department store on Oxford Street. While across the city, around 200 civilians were killed and 550 injured. Such daily figures were typical in a month that left nearly 6,000 Londoners dead. But although the numbers were horrific, they were a fraction of those […]

In Britain, closure of public toilets has become a cause célèbre in recent years. Such facilities first appeared in numbers following the Public Health Act of 1848. But many of these older sites and their modern counterparts – regularly vandalised and expensive to maintain – have closed their doors. Yet while these often substantial buildings still survive, albeit boarded up or changed in use, most of the old simple public urinals have long gone.  This is less true in other parts of […]

I’ve recently returned from a fortnight’s holiday in Belgium (….a terribly underrated destination – no, really). While there, I persuaded my family to spend time exploring the World War One battlefields around Ypres.  I was particularly interested in surviving evidence of frontline medical services. This was once an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS), at a site known as Essex Farm. One of the largest surviving groups of military buildings in the area, these damp, claustrophobic structures were comparatively comfortable. Built in 1916, […]

As a warm up for Ask a Curator day tomorrow, I thought I would give you an in-depth look at one of our objects that has been generating a lot of comments on Twitter. You may remember a post by my colleague, Stewart, on Arms, legs and ex-Servicemen showing our 20th century collection of prosthetic limbs. The history of artificial limbs is inseparable from the history of amputations and closely linked to warfare.  This artificial arm was made for someone who had their left arm amputated above […]