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Monday, 25 March 2013

Exploring the Sick City of London

At the Ministry we love meeting, promoting and participating in all of the exciting multi-disciplinary projects that London has to offer. From Museums Showoff to UCL Researchers in Museums there are so many interesting people doing great things at the moment. So it was only a matter of time before we heard about the Sick City Project supported by the Wellcome Trust. Organized by Wellcome Engagement Fellow Dr. Richard Barnett, the Sick City Project takes the history of medicine in London to the streets. 
Starting out our snowy tour at the Royal College
of Surgeons in Lincolns Inn Field

Building on the cultural and historical geography of our great city, the Sick City projects aims to engage the imagination my immersing participants in the history of medicine by bringing them directly to the places where it happened. Why read about medicine in London when you could walk the streets walked by the historic persons themselves? Get out of the library and get into history!

Heading up the strand towards the heart
of the City 
Sick City offers a variety of tours from exploring tropical diseases in Greenwich to the sex trade of Soho, but I opted to attend Richard Barnett’s ‘Sensational Bodies’ walk organized through the Museum of London. Accompanying the ‘Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men’ exhibition, Barnett took us on a tour of anatomical teaching in the heart of London, covering the rise of the surgery from the four humours to the foundation of the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Even living in London, it’s sometimes hard to really appreciate the physical closeness of medical London. But walking from Holborn along the Strand to St Paul’s and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, its easy to see how the trade in bodies and anatomical knowledge was linked. Surgeons and student, physicians and booksellers, body snatchers and the poor, all milled together within a claustrophobic two miles at the centre of the city.
You can see why people weren't too keen on dissection
in the early eighteenth century. 

I was also thrilled by the amount of emphasis Barnett placed on the importance of the two brothers who revolutionized surgery and anatomy teaching in the 18th century: William and John Hunter. I know I am incredibly biased, but it made me happy. I also learned that the Hunters’ pioneering anatomy school in Covent Garden was located right where the Apple store is today. The history of London is all around us, if only we knew where to look. Throw in a ghost story or two, and I was one happy girl (despite the terrible weather- a danger of any outdoor adventure in London).

Without sounding like too much of an advertisement (note that the Ministry is not affiliated with Sick City!), you’d be crazy not to try and get yourself on one of these walks! You can find out more about the project at plus download their app, podcasts and see future Sick City events. You can also follow them on twitter @SickCityProject. 

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