In the second post in our series about BSHS Engagement Fellowships, we hear about a project at the George Marshall Medical Museum (GMMM) in Worcester. Laura Mainwaring, PhD student at the University of Leicester, and Louise Price, curator at GMMM, describe their collaboration on local historical research that will complement the touring exhibition “Spanish Flu” (curated by the Florence Nightingale Museum, London) that will be arriving at GMMM early next year. Below they both describe the Fellowship activities and how their their findings will be used by GMMM.
Over the last three years the BSHS has run Engagement Fellowships. These Fellowships are opportunities for postgraduate students to collaborate with museums, archives and other heritage organisations. The collaborations generate new engagement activities, exhibition content or resources that are based on emerging scholarship in History of Science. The BSHS will be advertising for Expressions of Interest from heritage organisations to act as future Fellowship hosts in November this year. For more information contact Elizabeth Haines at [email protected]
Local Narratives of a Global Pandemic
by Laura Mainwaring and Louise Price
Laura Mainwaring, BSHS Engagement Fellow
One hundred years ago, the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, known as the Spanish ‘flu, wreaked havoc across the globe, affecting the health of about one-fifth of the world’s population. It caused the deaths of approximately 50–100 million people worldwide; more than the estimated 16 million lives claimed by the First World War. To commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of history’s deadliest pandemic the Florence Nightingale Museum are holding the exhibition “Spanish Flu” between 21 September 2018 to 16 June 2019. The George Marshall Medical Museum (GMMM) are hosting a touring exhibition from the Florence Nightingale Museum in early 2019.
I am grateful to have received support from the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), which has allowed me to carry out research about the 1918-19 influenza pandemic and bring local content to the upcoming touring exhibition at the GMMM. I uncovered the local response to the pandemic by delving into the collections held at the GMMM and the public archives held at the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service at The Hive. I spent most of my research time at The Hive, looking through health committee minutes, school log books, hospital reports, and local newspaper reports.The local government response was in-line with the many localities across the country, with the restriction of cinema opening times and the closure of schools. Looking through the school log books highlighted the scale of the outbreak, but reading the local newspapers bought home the extent of suffering for the local population, with the publishing of high-mortality figures and obituaries. The pages were also littered with stories of soldiers surviving the War but who sadly succumbed to the outbreak. The Kidderminster Shuttle reported in November 1918 that Gunner S. Powell spent the last two weeks of the War on leave from France, visiting his parents in Kidderminster. Whilst he was home he contracted influenza, which was followed by pneumonia, and this proved fatal. Powell died on the 24th November 1918, just thirteen days after the War ended.
The medical nature of the project and the fact that the records were just inside a 100-year closure period, albeit by a few months, meant that I was faced with data protection obstacles. In order to gain access to the hospital records held at The Hive I had to receive permission from the Caldicott Guardian at the Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust. As a result of this project, I now have more of an understanding of data protection and how to gain access to archives that contain personal sensitive data. I have also gained experience in turning archival research into engagement outputs. I created a research booklet on the impact of the Spanish ‘flu on the Worcestershire area, bringing together newspaper reports, advertisements, archival material, and collections from the George Marshall Medical Museum. This booklet will be available for visitors to the exhibition, as well as future researchers. I also had the opportunity to create a school workshop, using my research to inform the themes and activities.
I have enjoyed collaborating with the curator at the GMMM, Louise Price, who has given me support and guidance throughout the project. I look forward to speaking about my research at a seminar, held in conjunction with the University of Worcestershire, to be held at the GMMM on 5th April 2019.
Louise Price, Curator at GMMM
The George Marshall Medical Museum (GMMM) is a small medical museum housed in the Charles Hastings Education Centre (CHEC) on the site of Worcestershire Royal Hospital. CHEC is a Registered Charity, whose main aim is to train and educate future healthcare staff. The Museum is accredited with Arts Council England, and exists to interest, educate and inspire all members of the community in the development of medicine and healthcare, past and present (with particular reference to Worcestershire), through the presentation and preservation of artefacts within its collection. Worcester is lucky to house two small exhibitions of medical history, GMMM and The Infirmary, which is housed in the historic founding place of the British Medical Association in 1832.
We have been lucky that recently the history of medicine has been national news; 2018 was the 70th anniversary of the founding of the National Health Service, and we have also been part of Worcestershire World War 100, the largest Heritage Lottery Funded project to commemorate the First World War outside of London. As part of this project, we carried out a number of research projects and it became clear that the First World War had a huge impact on medicine and healthcare across the UK. In Worcestershire hundreds of buildings were given over to the war effort as VAD hospitals, women took on the roles of Resident Medical Officers in our hospitals for the first time, great strides were made in medical technologies and the mental health of the nation was on a knife edge. It also became clear that The Spanish ‘Flu, so-called because Spain was one of the first countries to report on the impact of the pandemic, was probably understood as just another problem to have to deal with. It was just part of the every day, and as such, never spoken about. I applied to host the Florence Nightingale Museum’s Spanish ‘Flu touring exhibition and looked for funding to research for some local stories to share the story of how Worcestershire was impacted by the deadliest illness the modern world had ever seen.
I turned to the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), who offered a bursary for an Engagement Fellow to carry out a research project and create useful outputs from that research. Perfect. I immediately put in an application, and was fortunate to be successful. After calling for candidates, I received six brilliant applications. It was difficult to choose, but with her passion for the history of medicine, and future aim to work in heritage, we had to pick Laura Mainwaring for the project.
After an initial meeting, we decided that as well as the touring exhibition from the Florence Nightingale Museum we would put together a local stories display pulling from Laura’s research with a focus on nursing, produce a Key Stage 2 schools workshop and create a research booklet to be shared for free from our website and in-house. Laura has produced a wonderful research report, along with the bulk of the text needed for display material and the themes for the KS2 workshop. It is our intention that this workshop will be offered to Worcestershire schools for free during 2019 while we’re hosting the touring exhibition.
Along with the initial grant for an Engagement Fellow, we have also been able to draw upon a further pot of money to purchase materials and resources needed for the workshop and display. We’re working with a brilliant historic costume designer for a dress-up element to the workshop and have found a fantastic early career illustrator who is working on illustrations to tie the workshop and displays together.
Since work began, I have also been working alongside Professor Maggie Andrews of the University of Worcester, History West Midlands and other colleagues within the #histmed heritage sector to host a West Midlands Spanish ‘flu study day on Friday 5th April, 2019 at CHEC’s Lecture Theatre. This will be a one-stop shop for historians and scientists to learn more about how the pandemic affected the West Midlands region so save the date for next year. I’m so pleased that the project has come this far; my initial aim was to bring the story of The Spanish ‘Flu to life for our various audiences, to add to our wealth of research material at GMMM, and to help Worcestershire remember the 1663 people who died from this deadly pandemic which killed between 40-100 million worldwide. With the grant from the BSHS and Laura Mainwaring’s passion for the project, I firmly believe that we will achieve just that in 2019.