Artist in Residence: Month Two with Joseph Lister

Our Artist in Residence, Marianne MacRae, tells us more about her work at the College and how she is getting on with Joseph Lister. 

My second month here at the College has gone a little quicker than I might have liked which is why this blog is a touch later than I’d intended! According to my notes I’m on “Lister, Day 26” as I write this, which makes it sound as though Lister has become my metaphorical Everest. Gargantuan as his achievement was, I don’t think I need to don my snow shoes just yet. In fact, Joe and I are (tentatively) getting along quite well. I’ve slowly but surely been reading through his Collected Papers, which show a lovely turn of phrase about his writing – I’ve managed to work some of his words into a poem about urine, which I’m quite pleased with. I’ve also been battling through some handwritten lecture notes by his students, but must admit this has been very stop-start on account of the fact that some of the handwriting is atrocious! Imagine a continuous line that occasionally peaks and troughs. Reading it is not unlike watching a heart monitor actually, so maybe these guys were just really in tune with their own rhythms? Either way, I was able, after much squinting, to decipher an interesting entry about his technique for removal of the tongue (we all have a preferred method, right??) and the ways in which the antiseptic technique had to be adapted to deal with wounds in the mouth.

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Pic. 1: Terrible Victorian student handwriting hurts my modern eyes.

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Pic. 2:Comparatively great presentation skills from this student.

I’ve also been reading a biography of Lister written by Hector Charles Cameron, son of Hector Clare Cameron, a student and advocate of Lister during his time at Glasgow. It’s been great to read more about him from the perspective of someone who actually met him. Some of my favourite discoveries so far have been the brief glimmers of Lister’s character. For example, he survived a bout of smallpox, he had vertigo and he was a terrible timekeeper. These small, human details are really helpful in making a connection to a historical figure, allowing me to form a well-rounded impression of his personality, which I hope translates well into the creative work I’m producing. It also turns out Lister’s ancestors were from Bingley, West Yorkshire, about 15 miles from where I grew up. To be fair, this is of little relevance since my own ancestors are conversely all from Glasgow so there could be absolutely no crossover, but it was nice to read a familiar place name all the same!
Speaking of which, I’ve spent some time this month wandering around the city, trying to get a feel for the history of the place from its atmosphere. We came here a lot to visit family when I was growing up, but this is the first time as an adult that I’ve had the chance to really experience the city. And (don’t tell Edinburgh) I’ve already written more “place” poems than I ever have about anywhere else! When it’s not threatening rain, lunchtime down at the Clyde is just the right mix of bustling and serene. I really want to make sure Glasgow itself, now and in Lister’s time, becomes a central feature of the project.

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Pic. 3: Sunny Lunch at the Clyde.

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Pic. 4:  Sun disappears, I get soaked.

Outside of the writing itself, plans are currently being laid to put together a wee video that will draw together the different aspects of the residency; namely Lister, the heritage collection here at the College, the city and my own poetic output. It should be a very accessible overview of the project as a whole and I’m quite excited to get started with it! Similarly we’ve been discussing some workshops that I’ll be facilitating with a group of local school children, with the aim of encouraging a creative response to Lister’s work from them. However I shall save the details of that until we meet with the school and get their input on the project.
To end, I thought I’d share this quote I found in the Lister biography last week. Supposedly Lister said this when he was teaching students on his wards – a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps? Either that or Cameron exercised huge poetic license and just pretended this was verbatim…I’ll let you decide!
“Trouble of the gravest kind is always apt to follow…when a wound of the skin is present. How is this? The man who is able to explain this problem will gain undying fame.”

Introducing our Artist in Residence

In June 2017 we were tremendously excited to welcome the College’s first Artist in Residence. Poet and performer Marianne MacRae will work creatively with our Joseph Lister collections and heritage, particularly exploring the influence of Glasgow on the famous surgeon’s achievements and legacy. Marianne is in the final stages of her PhD at the University of Edinburgh. The residency is a partnership between the College, the University, and the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities (SGSAH). It is a timely appointment as 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Lister’s public announcement of his antiseptic method in the Lancet, an innovation he developed and put into practice in Glasgow.

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Marianne MacRae

 

So what will an Artist in Residence do at the College?

The residency will tackle three main questions –

  • How were Joseph Lister’s achievements in antiseptic surgery shaped by his Glasgow experience in the 1860s?
  • How can we better engage the local community with this history that revolutionised health care across the world?
  • How can we ensure Lister’s spirit lives on in the College buildings?

Marianne will be based within the College 2 or 3 days per week between June and December 2017, researching our collections and soaking up the rich history of our building. She will organise workshops and events in which members of the public can learn about Lister through creative activities. We are already planning these and will announce dates very soon. We’ll be tweeting about the residency, and Marianne will blog about her progress, linking this to items she is discovering in our collections.

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Detail from table from Lister’s ward at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, 1860s

 

A creative residency is always about finding new stories to tell, and new ways of telling them. The ultimate aim is to create new work, in this case poetry. We hope to use Marianne’s work in ways that help bring Lister, his work and achievements to life in the College. This will link closely to one of our key Heritage themes – Innovation in Surgery. This theme will inform our new display spaces and will be central to how we tell the stories of the College’s past, present and future.

So what does poetry have to do with surgery?

Poetry has always been used as a way of memorialising or celebrating significant people and achievements, including in the discipline of surgery. College founder and surgeon Peter Lowe’s book The Whole Course of Chirurgerie (1597) has four poems in the preliminary pages, all dedicated to his skill and character. Lister himself was the subject of a number of poems by writer William Ernest Henley, when he was being treated by the surgeon in Edinburgh in the 1870s. Henley’s collection of poems In Hospital (1875) features the poem ‘The Chief’, painting a complimentary portrait of Lister (who had saved his leg from amputation) –

“His faultless patience, his unyielding will,

Beautiful gentleness and splendid skill…”

Marianne’s work is unlikely to memorialise Lister in this way, but will instead create a lasting, contemporary piece of work that will help illuminate the story of the surgeon, the city of Glasgow, and the impact of his innovations. Telling this story is more important than ever as we look towards April 2018, when we celebrate 150 years since Lister’s first public lecture on his antiseptic method, held here in our St Vincent Street building.

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Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society

As the College embarks upon a refurbishment programme, we’ve been delving into the historical uses of the rooms of our St Vincent Street building. The old Faculty Hall (now named Alexandra Room) was the venue for most of the College’s business until the new College Hall extension was built in 1893. In addition to Faculty meetings, and meetings of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Glasgow, this room hosted the meetings of the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society from 1876.

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Transactions, 1873 – 1883 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

We were keen to explore what these meetings involved, who attended them, and the history of the Society itself. We are extremely fortunate to hold the archives of the Society, from its foundation in 1873 until its merger with the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Glasgow in 1907.

There is mention of an earlier Glasgow Pathological Society (established 1850) in the 1852 Medical Directory. However, it appears to have only lasted for 2 or 3 years. The idea of forming a new Pathological Society came from four prominent Glasgow physicians and surgeons in the early 1870s – Thomas Reid, Joseph Coats, William Leishman, and William Tennant Gairdner. James Finlayson was the first secretary and describes the initial idea for “a society composed of working members“, creating an environment where “specimens could be quietly examined and discussed… in a friendly manner, without any temptation to ostentatious display or personal bitterness.”

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From Transactions, 1873 – 1883 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

The first meeting was held on 25th November 1873 in the rooms of the University Lying-In Hospital and Dispensary for Women on Wellington Street. James Finlayson and Hector Cameron constituted themselves interim secretaries, while Dr Gairdner (then Professor of Medicine at the University of Glasgow) became chairman. In addition to those already mentioned, the original membership included the young surgeon William Macewen.

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From Transactions, 1873 – 1883 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

From the first meeting, the format was established. The Agenda pictured above shows the list of specimens presented by the members for discussion. In further meetings, patients would also be presented. For example, in May 1874, Dr McCall Anderson showed a patient who had been treated for syphilitic paralysis.

In 1874 the name was changed to the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society, and with the number of members increasing to 30, a new venue was found at the Glasgow Eye Infirmary on Berkeley Street. Then, in the fourth session, beginning in October 1876, the venue settled at the Faculty Hall, in the College’s current building on St Vincent Street. The origins and early history of the Society were usefully added to the book of Transactions (RCPSG 4/1/6) by James Finlayson in 1879 (below).

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Memorandum by James Finlayson, 1879 (RCPSG 4/1/6)

An important part of the Society’s business was the publication of its reports, in both the Glasgow Medical Journal and the British Medical Journal. This placed the research and practice of the Society in the context of the wider medical and surgical literature, which was at this time exploring many new areas and innovations.

Notable in the records of the Society are cases concerning neurological conditions and physiology, the treatment of cranial injuries, and cranial surgery. For example, Glasgow physicians such as Alexander Robertson, who was pioneering in his approach to aphasia in the 1860s, and William James Fleming, who investigated the physiology of the ‘motions of the brain’, provide a stimulating context for the advances in brain surgery made by William Macewen in the 1870s.

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From Society Minute Book 1879 – 1891 (RCPSG 4/1/2)

An exciting discovery in the Society’s Minute Book shows that on the 11th November 1879, Macewen presented to the meeting in the Faculty Hall “two patients on whom trephining was performed, one for injury and one for disease.” One of these patients was the fourteen year old girl upon whom Macewen had performed the first removal of a tumour from the dura mater (minute book detail below).

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From Society Minute Book, 1879 – 1891 (RCPSG 4/1/2)

This procedure has since been identified as a major breakthrough in the history of neurosurgery. An editorial in the British Medical Journal (11th August, 1888) acknowledges the innovation and success of Macewen’s early brain surgery: “With indisputable justice… may Dr Macewen claim the proud distinction of having been the leader in this country, and we believe in the world, of this great advance in our art.”

These records of the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society not only provide us with a wonderful source of evidence of the innovative research and practice in the city in the late 19th century, but also provide us with inspirational stories to tell in our College rooms.

Art, Culture and Patronage in Renaissance Scotland

Last year we were very fortunate to host placements for four undergraduate history students from the University of Glasgow. The placements were undertaken as part of their class ‘Art, Culture and Patronage in Renaissance Scotland, 1406-1625’ and involved working with primary source materials from the collections of either the University’s Archives and Special Collections, the Hunterian Museum, or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. Each student spent time studying a single item from one of these repositories, thinking about how to interpret the source, assessing its significance, and imagining the curatorial possibilities it offers.

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A manuscript rental on a blank page in ‘The workes of the most High and Mightie Prince, James’ (1616)

The students’ work is now available to read on the class blog:

You can read more about the students’ work in other repositories on the class blog: https://glasgowuniscotrenaissance.wordpress.com/.

The College and ‘Clarinda’

Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns had many close and interesting connections with medical men during his short life. The College’s historical collections unfortunately don’t contain a large number of items relating to Burns. Naturally, the library holds William Finday’s 1898 book Robert Burns and the Medical Profession (Paisley: Alexander Gardner), among other 19th century texts on the poet. Burns’s connection to Dr John Moore is well-known, and we can illustrate this with our portrait of Moore, which hangs in College Hall.

A more hidden and subtle connection concerns one of the most fascinating of the poet’s relationships. His affair with Agnes Maclehose in 1787 – 1791 produced a famous, romantically-charged correspondence (in which Maclehose was named Clarinda). ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, one of Burns’s most beloved songs, was written for Maclehose.

Maclehose was born in Glasgow in 1758, daughter of surgeon Andrew Craig, who was a member of the College (then known as the Faculty). She married the lawyer James Maclehose at 18, but left him just before the birth of their fourth child in 1780. She returned to live with her father, then a widower, but he died soon after in 1782. As a dependent Agnes received a pension of £8 from the College. The Minutes of 1782 below show the application for the pension, and its approval.

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College Minutes 2nd September 1782 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

Maclehose moved to Edinburgh, still married but formally separated from her husband. The College minutes throughout the mid 1780s list her as a recipient of the pension, known as the Widow’s Fund.

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College Minutes 22nd October 1783 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

This continued until 1787, the year she was introduced to Burns (who was by now being celebrated in the capital as a literary star, after the publication of his Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions). Maclehose, a poet herself, was keen to meet Burns, and did so in December 1787. However, in the preceding month there was a change in her personal circumstances. In the Minutes of 6th November 1787, there is an entry stating that the Widow’s Fund committee “submit to the consideration of the Faculty, whether or not Mrs McLehose [and another recipient] are any longer objects of their charity” (see image below).

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College Minutes 6th November 1787 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

Days after, the decision is taken that “instructions as appointed to be given immediately to Mrs McLehose  [and another recipient] that they are struck off the list of Pensioners” (see image below). No further context or explanation is given in the Minutes for this decision. The exact date of this entry is unclear, but it appears to be sometime between 6th and 23rd November 1787.

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College Minutes, between 6th and 23rd November 1787 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

Less than two weeks after this she met Burns for the first time, sparking a relationship that produced remarkable correspondence, and one of the greatest love songs ever written. Further research into Maclehose’s circumstances leading up to this fateful meeting would be a useful avenue for scholars with an interest in the women who feature strongly in Burns’s life and work.

The manuscript of ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ will be on display at the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, on 25th January 2017. For more information, see the NLS website.

Maister Peter Lowe and Glasgow

Our first event of 2017 will be an informal gathering in College Hall on Thursday 19th January to hear our Honorary Librarian, Mr Roy Miller, discuss our founder Maister Peter Lowe and the town of Glasgow, c1599.

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We will hear about the background of this intriguing man, his arrival in Glasgow from France in the 1590s, and what compelled him to petition King James VI to set up what became the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1599. Lowe’s education and surgical training in France, and his writings on the practice of surgery, played a key role in how medicine and surgery developed in Glasgow at this early stage.

The event will take place in our College Hall, which features portraits of our founding members and of James VI. In addition, there will be a pop-up display of historical collections relating to our early history, for example our first Minute Book (1602 – 1688), rare copies of Peter Lowe’s 16th century surgical texts, and a pair of gloves belonging to the founder.

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Detail of first College Minute Book, summarising 1599 Charter (1602)

Our event is part of St Mungo Festival, now in its ninth year, which celebrates the life of St Kentigern, better known as St Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow. Find out more about the Festival and its programme of events at the St Mungo Festival Facebook page.

Here are the details of the event:

Date – Thursday 19th January 2017

Time – 12.30 – 1.30 with refreshments served afterwards

Venue – Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, 232-242 St Vincent Street, Glasgow G2 5RJ

To book – Email library@rcpsg.ac.uk or phone 0141 221 6072. This is a free event but places are limited.

16th Century Surgery & Comic Creation

Origin / foundation stories are so important to an organisation’s identity.  The foundation story should always address the questions – Why do we exist? Why do we do what we do? This theory has been well-used in marketing and branding, from products such as drinks and shoes, to film and literary franchises. We’re lucky at the College to have a very clear link from our foundations in 1599 to our current aims – to set the highest possible standards of healthcare.

Flyer for the event Glasgow's Marvellous Medicine - A comics workshop with Adam Murphy

Yet, there are challenges in how we communicate this. How do you engage audiences with the origins of a 16th century medical and surgical college? In November we worked with leading comic book artist and writer Adam Murphy for a creative workshop with families. Inspired by the 16th century foundations of the College and its enigmatic founder Maister Peter Lowe, Adam led us on a journey of comic creation. Under the gaze of the Maister himself in our College Hall, Adam used Lowe’s 1597 book The Whole Course of Chirurgerie and our 1599 Royal Charter to create graphic stories of surgical and medical improvement.

We invited families along and the event sold out very quickly, mainly through social media promotion and Glasgow event listings. It was important for us to hold the event in our main historical space, College Hall, where portraits of our 16th century founders are on display.

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The workshop kicks off in College Hall

 

Adam kicked things off by setting the scene of a character seeking medical care in the 16th century, and the various options available: the heavy-handed barber-surgeon, the expensive physician, or the unpredictable remedies of folk medicine. Then, via our 1599 Charter, he introduced the idea of surgical training and licencing of practitioners. Never before have the words “Out of the way, losers!” been attributed to the College founder!

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Adam’s initial rough sketches

 

The young people and adults taking part got hands-on instruction on the basics of comic creation, how to build characters, sequence stories, and most importantly, to take risks and make mistakes.

Participants spent some time viewing a pop-up display of our surgical instruments and old medicine cabinets, sketching these and incorporating them into their own stories. The audience chose a large amputation saw as the item for Adam to demonstrate some drawing tips (capturing the impact of the saw’s teeth, for example!).

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Viewing and sketching museum collections in the Lower Library

Wild ideas and the creative imagination took over, and participants let loose with a whole range of comic strip stories, all of which retained a link to the medical and surgical foundations of the workshop. Adam captured some of these ideas – particularly the introduction of a unicorn character which gets its horn cut off by a careless barber-surgeon.

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Adam capturing some audience ideas

The event was a great way to engage a completely new audience with our early history. Participants left knowing much more about the College’s place in Glasgow’s history and in Scotland’s medical history. And our feedback shows that many went home to draw more comics! We look forward to developing further creative events to open up our heritage and collections to a wider audience.

Find out more about Adam’s work at www.adammurphy.com.

The event was kindly supported by Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Scotland scheme.

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