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.

Marianne LP 21-04-17

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.

lister table

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.


Sir Ronald Ross: A Man of Many Talents

Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932) is one of the best known names in the study of malaria. His work allows us to understand how malaria is transmitted to humans by a malarial parasite carried in the gastrointestinal tract of the Anopheles mosquito. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1902 for his contributions to the malariology, and his work in malaria is generally held to be the crowning achievement of his career.

Sir Ronald was also a true polymath in possession of a great mind which was only partly occupied by malaria research. He was also a published novelist, a poet, an advocate of spelling reform, an artist and a mathematician. For our latest exhibition, we had a look through the College’s Ross Collection and selected some of his work from outside the field of malariology. The Ross Collection makes up about half of the papers of Sir Ronald Ross (the other half is known as the Ross Archive, held by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) and includes items covering Ross’s works in medicine, mathematics, literature and spelling reform, as well as his time at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the War Office and the Ross Institute. Ross meticulously collected and organised almost all of his correspondence, notebooks and works in progress, as well as press clippings about his work and other ephemera, so the Ross Collection is one of the largest archives held by the College.


Despite his contributions to medicine, Ross’s primary pleasure in life was literature, and he expressed regret in later life that he had devoted so much time to medicine at the expense of his true passion. He wrote a number of novels, mostly during his spare time while working in the Indian Medical Service. His first novel, The Child of Ocean (1899) is described as a romance and a later book, The Revels of Orsera (1930), is a fantasy novel which still has something of a cult following today. Manuscript drafts and notes for both editions of The Child of Ocean, plus another unfinished draft for a novel, can be found in the Ross Collection.

Ross's 2nd draft of 'Child of Ocean'

Ross’s 2nd draft of ‘Child of Ocean’


Ross wrote a large number of poems, many of which remain unpublished and can only be found in manuscript form in the Ross Collection. Of the ones that were published, the majority are collected in Selected Poems (1928) and In Exile (1931). As with his novels, Ross kept all the different drafts and versions of his poetry, filling dozens of notebooks in the collection. Below you can see some early versions of poems that were eventually published in the collection Lyra Modulata (1931).

Early drafts of poems from 'Lyra Modulata'

Early drafts of poems from ‘Lyra Modulata’

Spelling Reform

Ronald Ross had a wide range of interests outside medicine. One area in which he was particularly interested was spelling reform, and he made a number of attempts to develop simple phonetic spelling systems. The most noteworthy of these attempts were known as Aesthetic Spelling, Musaic Spelling, and Simplified Spelling. Ross would often use famous pieces of literature, particularly well known poems, to demonstrate his alternative spelling systems. Indeed, his system of Musaic Spelling was designed specifically for use in poetry. Here is Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard rendered in Ross’s musaic spelling, with the original text for comparison.

Gray's 'Elegy' rendered in Musaic spelling

Gray’s ‘Elegy’ rendered in Musaic spelling

And here is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Adonaïs rendered in Aesthetic Spelling:

Shelley's 'Adonaïs' in Aesthetic spelling

Shelley’s ‘Adonaïs’ in Aesthetic spelling


Although Ross was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on malaria, he considered his work in mathematics (particularly epidemiological mathematics) to be of even greater scientific importance. He published 5 short books on mathematics, and the Ross Collection includes a large number of notebooks filled with equations and notes on maths. His greatest contribution in this field was probably to do with pathometry (a word apparently invented by Ross to indicate the mathematical study of epidemics and the progress of diseases). In 1916 Ross was given a government grant of £150 to hire a mathematical worker, and the pair worked on a three part paper to be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The paper was eventually published as a standalone pamphlet, entitled A Priori Pathometry. A bundle of notes and a few different working copies and drafts of this publication can be found in the Ross Collection.

Items from the Ross Collection are on display in Crush Hall until 9th May. This area and the Library Reading Room are open to members of the public on Monday afternoons from 2pm to 5pm, and visitors are welcome at other times by appointment. For more information, email us at or telephone 0141 221 6072.