Wednesday 10th April is when I will be giving my final talk dedicated to the fine collection, the Medical History of British India. Exploring the more gruesome aspect of life in British India, the talk explores the diseases the British attempted to combat and how their medicine moved into the lives of the indigenous population.
Come along to the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge at 6pm and meet me and my microbes!
Book here. It is a free event.
A new collection of medical documents from the British Raj is now available to browse and search on the Medical History of British India website. ‘Medicine – Vaccination’ shows British efforts to vaccinate the Indian population against smallpox using the latest 19th and 20th century western scientific techniques. Over 60 reports reveal the complex nature and the scale of ambition of the vaccination programme in India as well as the conflict between western colonial medicine and indigenous society, culture and systems. The project was generously funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust.
After five and a half years I’m hanging up my Digitisation Manager’s hat and saying goodbye to the Medical History of British India.
I’ve had a brilliant time and have been privileged to work with such amazing material and a group of very talented colleagues across the National Library. Special thanks must go to the procurement staff and the Digital Team, plus to Jan Usher who was one of the co-founders of the project.
I’ve been to some great places to talk about the project, including the Wellcome Collection in London and Brisbane, Australia, and have met some wonderful researchers along the way.
Most of all, I have been immersed in a world long gone but preserved in our reports, British India. I have met doctors and patients, pioneers of medicine, witnessed the horror of death and disease and the role of medicine in colonial power. From prostitutes who lived in rum barrels, to bowel gangs and rabid badgers, medical students, veterinarians and lunatics, it has been a colourful experience!
These reports are all still available for free on the website and on April 10th I will be giving a talk called ‘Painful Tales from the Raj’ at the National Library’s George IV Bridge Building at 6pm.
I’m doing another podcast on the asylums and mental hospitals and will be promoting the vaccination reports which are due online next month.
I have a new post as Digital Projects Officer, still in the NLS, working to bring more of the Library’s collections online.
The Library is applying for more funding to add further reports to the website so this may not be the end of the journey….
This post from the excellent Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine Library, Oxford blog introduces another Wellcome Trust funded project, the Devon County Mental Hospital website.
Like the National Library’s Medical History of British India Mental Health collection, this reveals life within the walls of an asylum, including admissions and treatments.
The Devon County site also contains multimedia interviews, appearing to be an interesting counterpart to the Indian records which the National Library made available in August 2012.
Happy New Year!
My talented colleagues in the National Library have made a film of me talking about the Medical History of British India project. The 4 minute film is available on YouTube and gives an overview of the content of the online reports.
It also shows what very few people actually see – the rolling stacks where the original reports are stored as part of the India Papers collection.
It is very satisfying that through funding from the Wellcome Trust, digitisation technology and the work of National Library of Scotland staff these pages can now be read around the world. For free!
Enjoy the video.
We’ve added an online resource page to the Medical History of British India website.
It covers some major library collections of medical and colonial history and NLS Discover magazine articles on the project plus a link to the SCRAN educational image pack.
We hope users find it useful to have library information on one page. We’ll be adding to it in the future, perhaps linking to podcasts.
Update on the online release of 20,000 vaccination reports from British India – the JPEGs and SIDs have been created, files and records checked and transciptions (htm files) ingested into the Library’s Access database.
So far, so good. After my colleagues in the digital team export the Access records to a test site I’ll be checking the metadata and functionability before the records are added to the existing Medical History of British India website.
Meanwhile, I have been editing my intern Simon’s web text about the history of smallpox and man’s attempts to contain and consequently eradicate it. There is also a great section on the vaccination programme in India, highlighting what to expect in the reports. This will be added to the ‘About the collection’ pages alongside some sample images.
We’re planning to have the vaccination reports online early next year if all goes to plan, so watch this blog for more news….
Currently I am creating JPEGS from each of the 24,296 pages of the Vaccination reports. This is done by a Photoshop action (.atn) which usually runs overnight. After this, there are Access queries to check that all the files are present on the Library network and that the sequencing of pages is correct.
Finally, I will ingest the htm transcriptions into the database where each page’s metadata is stored and the Digital Team will export the page records into a test site.
The Vaccination reports are a valuable addition to the Medical History of British India in that they show 19th century efforts to prevent the disfiguring, painful, often fatal epidemic disease and how the British imposed Western medical remedies upon a population that already had their own, much older methods.
The Wellcome Collection is one of my favourite places to visit in London. A destination which is billed as a place for the incurably curious, it houses exhibitions, conference space, shop and Peyton and Byrne cafe (with huge iced cupcakes) and the fantastic Wellcome Library.
Today it’s been announced that the Collection will invest £17.5 million in expanding its visitor facilities, creating more gallery, eating and reading space. It promises an even more immersive experience and I can’t wait until summer 2014 when work is completed.
I would also suggest to the Wellcome that they establish a Scottish Collection here in Edinburgh, particularly given the city’s medical heritage.
I’d like to say thanks to the many people who turned out to hear me talk about the Lunatic Asylums of British India on 10th October. The National Library of Scotland will be making the audio recording available soon on its website so please keep an eye out.
There were some interesting questions raised at the end and I’ve had time to do a bit of investigating to give fuller answers:
1. What is cardiazol? Cardiazol convulsion therapy was used in some Indian asylums in the 1930s particularly Ranchi Indian hospital in Bihar. Cardiazol was injected into a patient which induced a convulsion. This was painful, but the colonial doctors deemed that it was successful in treating those with schizophrenia.
Cardiazol itself is also known as pentylenetetrazol (INN), as metrazol, pentetrazol, pentamethylenetetrazol, or PTZ, and is a drug used as a circulatory and respiratory stimulant. High doses lead to convulsions.
This webpage about the history of shock therapy gives more information and puts the treatment into context.
2. Were there any blind, deaf and mute patients in the asylums? Yes, there were. A quick ’search book content’ search on the Medical History of British India website reveals that ‘amentia deaf mute’ was recorded in Tezpur 1877 (’amentia’ meaning ‘dementia’ or ‘mental deficiency’), blind patients were admitted into institutions in Bombay (1897) and Bengal (1880). In Patna (1912-14) it is reported that village simpletons and the deaf and dumb were accused of trivial offences and sent as inasane to the local asylum.
There were also questions about how the asylums were funded and where the staff came from. I’ll be looking into these this week and will post about these issues next week.