Ruth Padel on Keats, Medicine and the Body (01/04/2015)

15.02.17_KeatsMemLectureA4 WMP bestThis year’s Keats Memorial Lecture marks the 200th anniversary since John Keats arrived at Guy’s to study surgery.

It is entitled Keats, Medicine and the Body: Imagining the Inside and will be given by Dr Ruth Padel in Guy’s Chapel on the 1st April starting at 6pm.

Ruth Padel is an award-winning poet, scholar, novelist, critic and Poetry Fellow in the Department of English at King’s, and former Chair of the Poetry Society.  Her talk will be followed by a drinks reception.

The Keats Memorial Lecture takes place every two years and is sponsored jointly by The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries and King’s College London.  The Lecture series was established in 1969 and rotates between the two institutions:

The 2015 Lecture will be hosted by Professor Edward Byrne, Principal and President of King’s College London.  It is a free ticketed event.  If you wish to attend please obtain a ticket at:

Rabbit Warrens and Foundry Bellows: A Tour of Blythe House

Our guest blogger, MSc Medical Humanities student Charli Colegate, tells us about a recent tour of Blythe House.

If a picture can paint a thousand words, an object can tell the story of a life time, or many, or an entire culture. This concept was no more evident than when a group of King’s MSc students visited Blythe House.

The building itself has an interesting story, originally built to be the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank. As their website explains: “This Government-owned bank was set up to provide a way of generating public investment and providing a way for the ordinary person to save some money.” Now its blackened windows and rabbit warren-like rooms hold a vast array of the Science Museum’s history of medicine objects. Of the Science Museum’s holding there are around 15,000 items currently on display in the Museum itself. The majority of  the 170,000 items in the stores have never been publically displayed. The collection includes objects belonging to the museum itself and those on permanent loan from the Wellcome Trust.

Wellcome’s objects tell a fascinating story in and of themselves but so much so when they reveal more about the man who ferociously collected them. They are a mixture of priceless artifacts and ‘tat’: from this we can conclude he was not a collector concerned with authenticity. The collections cover all aspects of health and medicine from surgery to prosthetics, occupational health to oncology. Items include an impressive hoard of surgical blades used in the practice of bloodletting, with beautiful filigree handles made of all manner of materials, from tortoiseshell to mahogany and often monogrammed – these evidently predate germ theory!


Imaging equipment, Blythe House

A particularly impressive store is situated in the basement and houses dozens of large, intimidating machines. Mostly comprised of imaging and cancer therapy equipment from the 20th century, it serves as a reminder of the rapid development of the fields of imaging and oncology in a relatively short period of history. It is almost cemetery like in its appearance, hulking masses of metal all shapes and sizes casting melancholy shadows against the walls that encapsulate them. One is also invited to consider the personal stories of those patients who would’ve lay on the tables, waiting anxiously to see whether the persistent cough they’d externally experienced was matched with a dark mass in their interior. The air seems almost pregnant with the emotion that would’ve been in the vicinity of these objects whilst they were still in service.

There is a relatively small collection of items related to psychiatry and mental health. Items range from phrenological busts of various forms, a selection of occupational psychology tests and even a leather truncheon, reportedly used at Narborough Asylum in the early 20th century; a poignant reminder of the brutal practices of days gone by.

Foundry bellows or iron lung? Blythe House

Foundry bellows or iron lung? Blythe House

One of the most fascinating objects in the stores is an iron lung, presumed to be Welsh in origin. During a particularly vicious polio epidemic, the number of iron lungs available to patients in the UK was worryingly low, this was believed to have been fashioned from a set of foundry bellows.

Examining objects and illuminating their stories addresses the fact that healthcare is not entirely an instrumental, quantitative field. It involves beliefs, experience, complex meaning and culture. From this perspective it demonstrates that medicine is not solely science based, it also properly involves the humanities.

The Neurological Turn at The Future of Medical History Conference

The Future of Medical History Conference, Mary Ward House, Bloomsbury, Hosted by The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, 15th – 17th July 2010

The Neurological Turn, Friday 16th July.

Last summer I attended this conference with a particular interest in the panel entitled The Neurological Turn which was to be held on Friday 16th July and chaired by Prof. Sonu Shamdasani (The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL). As my research focuses on neurology, psychological medicine and modernist literature I was hoping for some illuminating remarks, and was not disappointed. I attended along with a neuroscientist friend who also found much of use in the panel, which also featured Prof. Roger Cooter, Dr. Stephen Jacyna, Dr. Fabio de Sio  and Sarah Marks who are also all based at The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL.

The conference in general was a well attended, engaging and sociable affair, with drinks and food consisting of a barbeque in a nearby Bloomsbury square. This is a time in which The Future of the History of Medicine is something that really is in question, so it was heartening and inspiring for someone beginning a PhD in this area to see so many academics gathered to consider and discuss the topic.

The Neurological Turn panel focused on some of the sites of neural production and consumption, past and present and was devoted to exploring and discussing some of the pretensions and problems involved, as well as possible methods and directions.

The panel explored how in contemporary society a tendency has emerged to answer all questions of identity in terms of neurology, just as one hundred years ago there was a similar turn towards psychology.

The concern highlighted here was that if the neurological turn becomes the overwhelming focus behind our identities, could this mean that other types of subjectivity are overlooked? This is a repeated worry mentioned when brain scans and descriptions of neural processes are called upon to explain aspects of our subjectivity, and is called up as dangerously reductive by a number of contemporary writers such as Jonah Lehrer. The question the panel asked is that if the neurological turn has become so dominant, how is it possible to denaturalise it? This is perhaps something more easily considered when we compare it to the ‘psychological turn’ which they placed as happening roughly one hundred years ago and ask ourselves how easy it is to consider ourselves now without considering psychology?

There were some further contentious discussions on topics such as the relationship between politics and aesthetics, and whether or not the ‘neurological turn’ is or is not a limited perspective. The highly problematic question was also addressed – but by no means answered – concerning whether there had been a neurological turn in the humanities due to ‘discipline envy’, and whether humanities scholars are losing faith in their own methodologies and so turning to neurology and other sciences as a prop.

However, these contentious issues aside, the most exciting part of the discussion for me was to think about how and if the neurosciences may be opening up new stories and identities to us today in a similar way to what the emergence of psychology did for subjectivity around the turn of the last century.