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'Great Medical Discoveries' Exhibition at Bodleian Library

Home > London > Free | Exhibitions | Libraries | Rainy Day
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Event: -
Around the main quad of the Bodleian library lie a number of rooms. Most of these are inaccessible to the general public, but a couple are open and are always worth visiting. One acts as an exhibition centre. From 22nd November 2013 to 18th May 2014 the exhibition is 'Great Medical Discoveries'.

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The Bodleian Quad


As you walk in, 'floorplans' are available to let you know precisely what is there. For a small room they can pack in a great number of objects.

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Great Medical Discoveries at the Bodleian


This exhibition celebrates a range of medical discoveries made over the past 800 years.

One case deals with malaria, and includes packets of tablets such as quinine, which has long been used (in tablet OR [gin &] tonic form) to treat the condition. There is also a mosquito net, as well as a pictorial leaflet demonstrating how such a net might protect you.

Another medication with a great focus is penicillin. How did people discover the mould's properties? How did they grow enough to be useful? How did they learn to synethsise it? How could they get it into a form which could be useful? The case addresses these questions with information panels, letters, sample bottles, photographs, and pills which would be dissolved in water in order to be injected.

The circulation of the heart and the flow of blood around the brain (as noted by William Harvey and Thomas Willis) both feature in some of the older works. The exhibition places their antiquarian books against modern sources and items, a juxtaposition which demonstrates eloquently how medicine has developed, and both relies on and responds to the work of previous generations.

Another small cabinet deals with the development of glucose sensors and the ways in which we can help to monitor diabetes. This management of disease theme runs through the exhibition. One particularly poignant example is the 'Ideas book' from a haemophilia book, where compassionate nurses at the John Radcliffe hospital wrote down their ideas for improving the care of children with haemophilia and research into the condition. This idea of learning from the patient, and caring for the person as well as the illness comes through in the discussion of 'Bedside Teaching' - it seems that it's been important to treat the patient holistically for longer than we might assume.

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Bodleian Library Tower


A range of glasses draw you to another case. We take glasses which are both corrective and fashionable for granted now, and it's brilliant to be reminded of what a revolution they were as a concept, thick black rims and all. Other important physical objects include the 'Oxford knee', which revolutionised knee replacements after John O'Connor's 1960s work

Whatever your knowledge of the area, the exhibition is bound to offer an unexpected and relevant insight. One case, for example, deals with research into brain trauma from impact, such as bike accidents. The 'case study' is one T. E. Lawrence. Better known as Lawrence of Arabia, not many people will be aware that he died as the result of brain injury from a motorcycle accident, which prompted the research and campaigning surrounding cycle helmets which subsequently made their use mandatory for motorcyclists.

There is also an online version of the exhibition. Throughout the room are printed QR codes which take you to the relevant sections of this online resource, offering both typed information but also relevant podcasts.

Photographs in the exhibition are not allowed, and the lighting is kept low in order to preserve objects.

The Bodleian Shop is also worth visiting in connection with the exhibition. Apart from having a great variety of bibliophile memorabilia, it also has specialist collections to accompany each exhibition. This includes postcards, and books, but in this case, even microscopes or pens shaped like a syringe.

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Exhibition merchandise


There is an exhibition book which helps to back up the information in the exhibition room. It's clearly written, with some illustrations. The exhibition covers so much ground that you're bound to find something to interest you, whether it's a condition, object, story or document.

All exhibitions at the Bodleian are free. There are associated lectures, for which you should check the website. You can't book to go in, but it is almost always easy to enter. If you are with a large group then it is worth checking on arrival that they can accommodate you all at once. Otherwise you can split the group to look around the area in shifts.The library is located about one mile from Oxford rail station, and less than that from the bus station. It is not easily accessible by car.
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Why? Medical enlightenment in just one room!
When: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9am-4:30pm, Sun 11am-5pm
Where: Bodleian Library
Cost: free entry
Your Comment
I had no idea this place existed. Thanks for the heads up.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|11560) 1418 days ago
This is great - I def have to go to this on my next visit!
by Erin Connelly (score: 2|522) 1418 days ago
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