Recipe Resources

Today I put out a call on Twitter asking for open access recipe resources of all sorts. I completed my MA dissertation on early modern recipe books so was familiar with some resources already out there, but I’ve been surprised by how many wonderful resources (and people!) I hadn’t come across. I thought I would list these resources here. I’ll definitely be adding to this as I explore my topic further and I will potentially make a separate section that focuses more on the medicinal side of my research too.

I hope this can be of use!

Pario Gallico is a YouTube channel dedicated to ancient cooking methods.

Historical Italian Cooking is a cooking blog which has recipes spanning ancient to modern.

Medieval Cookery draws recipes from a range of online sources.

Grene Boke has many medieval recipes. Scroll down to the bottom of each recipe to see sources.

Foods of England has online recipe books from the 14th to 20th centuries.

Wellcome Library has a vast collection of digitised manuscript recipe books (16th-19th century), which can be found here.

The British Library has just (end of Sept 2020) released some wonderful guides to their culinary manuscripts: 17th century, 18th century, 19th-20th century.

The Folger also has some great projects that look at historical recipes. You’ll definitely want to check out Before Farm to Table and First Chefs.

The University of St Andrews has an online recipe book collection.

Colleen Kennedy compiles a great list of her favourites here. This list includes the fabulous Cooking in the Archives, which is one of my personal favourites too. Continuing on with the early modern, there is also EMROC. The Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) is an international group of scholars and enthusiasts who are committed to improving free online access to historical archives and quality contextual information. Early Modern Maritime recipes examines recipes circulating before 1800 in print and manuscript in the area now defined as Canada’s Maritime provinces.

The Recipes Project is also invaluble, international resource which is interested in the history of recipes, ranging from magical charms to veterinary remedies.

Nursing Clio is just a fantastic resource all round. A quick search using the term food or recipe brings up a wealth of interesting articles, including Margret Boyle’s article on early modern Spanish recipes.

For information on where to find historical Mexican recipes, see this Smithsonian article.

Historic Food is a working early modern kitchen at Wreay Farm, a seventeenth century house in Cumbria. Their website has recipes and information on historical kitchenware.

18th century notebooks has a webpage dedicated to English, Scottish and American printed recipe books and household management guides.

Townsends is  a YouTube channel dedicated to 18th century American Life.

See also a video on pottage by Historic Echoes

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies showcases ‘curious recipes and hidden histories from Westminster City Archives’

The Regency Cook is great on Twitter but also has posts on A Day in the Live of a Regency House. For groups using historical recipes to teach or teach historical cooking see: The Time Travelling Cook and Historic Food

Egham Museum’s podcast on Tips for Tea, a cookery manual by Mabel I Rivers. This podcast features Dr Katie Carpenter.

RMIT university has open access material from The Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy which opened in 1927 was for many years the only institution in Victoria offering courses in domestic economy, cookery and dress making.

The National Archives have resources relating to  UK war rationing

Clare Gordon Bettencourt is a PhD candidate at UC Irvine studying America’s food identity standards, and a pedagogical fellow at UCI’s Division of Teaching Excellence. She has put together a handy list of American online primary resources.

Culinary Historians of Canada have a great resource, Canadian Cookbooks Online, which posts the cookbooks that tell us about the foods Canadians cooked, ate and shared in the past.

Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales has a digital version of Welsh Fare originally published in 1976.

Here is a blog on the history of fish fingers featured on the Tavistock Institute’s blog.

Reddit has a r/old_recipes which is a great resource for old cookbooks. It’s also really lovely for seeing how old recipes, especially family ones, can help people connect with each other.

A Love Letter to the Hospital Museum





As our favourite commericalised-holiday-that-profits-off-the-commodification-of-our-desire-to-be-loved-in-this-lonely-lonely-world rolls around yet again, I thought I’d write another love letter to a museum. Read last year’s Love Letter To A Little Museum, here.

This year my boo is a hospital museum, St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum and Archives to be exact. I had applied to volunteer at the museum before I had even moved to London. How did I initially apply you ask? I just slid into their DMs on Twitter asking if I could volunteer, of course 😉 How very Valentine’s. (I will point out, though, that I still had to fill out an application form and receive some NHS volunteer training before I could start!) The fact I starting volunteering at this museum as soon as I moved to London definitely contributes to my love of the place – the archivists and volunteers are some of the first friendly faces I met and the museum is probably one of the first places I felt at home in this vast city. Barts has also allowed me to continue gaining museum experience whilst I complete my MA and gain some archival experience too. Repackaging archival material has been a fantastic and interesting project – despite making my hands drier than a desiccated mummy and spurring a new hatred for staplers and pins. Who the heck pins together documents?!


The museum’s trusty staple remover. I call it Gnasher.

As much as I personally love the museum, neither the world nor the museum’s worth revolve around me. The role Bart’s hospital museum occupies within the hospital’s campus is both an important and undercelebrated one. Naturally, a large number of people who come to the museum or use the archives are academically interested in the history of Barts and the NHS. I have chatted to PhD students researching various aspects of our society’s relationship with medicine and regularly groups of art students come with their teachers to see our famous Hogarth staircase. GCSE history students have found the museum invaluable to their course. We also get the odd Sherlock Holmes enthusiast.


However, the museum is also a liminal space. It is both within Barts grounds and outside the wards and waiting rooms; a place to spend time, waste time or eat away some at waiting time. A place to feel like you’re not in a hospital whilst knowing medical aid is available quickly. Quite a lot of our visitors are patients, family of patients or people killing time before appointments. It’s a place to stretch your legs and stimulate your mind. It is also a place where sat at a desk as you enter is a person ready to greet you. An obvious detail, you may think, but it is not as inconsequential as you would think. Maybe I am just being romantic but it is Valentine’s Day, so I am going to unashamedly wax lyrical. As museum volunteer at Barts, I have found myself occupying a role that I haven’t in my previous museum work…That of listener. I don’t know whether it is the aforementioned spatial liminality of the museum or a freedom from the often sanitised and formal nature of medical interactions that brings people to my desk. Maybe it is the fact that I am not in a uniform and the very nature of being front of house means that talking to me about the museum (or life in general) will not distract me from any tasks or work that I have to do. Being available for a natter is my work.

People talk to me about a whole range of things and I listen and ask questions. I never advise and if the guest has a concern, I always suggest that they seek advice from their healthcare professional. I am painfully aware that I am only qualified as a listener but as of yet, that has been more than enough. Often people thank me profusely for talking with them and I always reply sincerely that it is, in fact, my pleasure. I acknowledge that this post would be so much more interesting if I went in to details of the amazing stories that I have been told, the poignant tales, the celebratory moments and the sad ones. But I won’t. It would seem uncouth and a transgression of trust. I am not just a listener but a keeper too and (providing there are no safeguarding issues) what’s said to me, stays with me. It is a moving and privileged position and one that I did not expect when I signed up as a volunteer.

Now, it wouldn’t be a BooksandGuts post if I didn’t get on my soap box and preach the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to medicine and the medical humanities, so I will continue to be #onbrand. If these experiences at Barts Hospital Museum and Archive have taught me anything, it is that there is a need for these liminal spaces within healthcare. They don’t have to be museums*, I am talking about access to green places, libraries, cinemas or film nights, theatres, and so on. I have found in my experience that children’s hospitals are already nailing this – when I look back on my time in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, my minor op was such a small part of my stay. I painted some pottery and read for a bit, popped in the theatre for an op, recovered and went home. Just because we age and understand the nature of hospital treatment doesn’t mean that a hospital stay is any less traumatic or draining on our mental resources. Should patients identify soley as a passive ‘patient’ or as a person, with interests, preferences and needs, who just so happens to be receiving treatment? There are valid practical reasons to disregard this argument; money is the obvious one as the NHS chronically has too little as well as the fact that hospitals are full of people who are sick and have limited mobility. However, I know through my NHS training that there are volunteers on the ward who can play board games, read to and have a chat to patients. They are a great way resource to ensure patients feel like they are being engaged with on a social level without mounting further pressure onto healthcare professionals.


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To conclude:


*No, I can’t believe I said that either!

In defence of #AccessibleAcademics

man holding remote control

Photo by on

This post was partly inspired by a discussion of historical fiction that took place in the Q&A section of the Hidden Histories: Gaps and Silences in the Archives, which I have written about, here.

When sitting down to first write this post, I had trouble defining what I actually want to talk about. After thinking hard and consulting Twitter, I think best way of defining the media I want to talk about is this…

Any media which aims to make academic and/or scientific topics accessible to the public aka #AccessibleAcademics. (This becomes complicated when critics argue that they aren’t ‘academic’ enough, but I will cross that bridge later.) I am talking about books, comic books, documentaries, childrens’s shows, twitter feeds, podcasts, public personalities &c..

OK, boring defining bit out the way. Why was I moved to write this? Because more and more regularly, I am seeing the producers or writers of this content be criticized for not being ‘academic’ enough or some how devolving their field into a ‘micky subject.’ This criticism turns caustic and especially volitile when it is directed towards female academics or educators. If I had a pound for every time an educated and qualified female twitterstorian was told she was ‘just a pretty face’ or pedantic because she expects to be addressed as ‘Dr’ as opposed to ‘Miss,’ I could fund a PHD myself (and probably experience the same ire).

This gets to me. Not only because it is both rude and factually inaccurate but because it points to the larger issue in academia of intellectual gatekeeping. I don’t want to believe it, but it seems that a lot the academics who criticise popular science or history do so because they don’t want the masses to have access to academic subjects and not because they are particularly worried about the calibre of such media. Sure, there are crap science and history books/shows out there, which perpetuate myths and falsehoods, but this concern wouldn’t account for why bonafide and qualified personalities are facing such criticism.

This upsets me even more, because I am a first gen university goer battling through her masters and I wouldn’t be at university without my TV. Is every home filled with books? Are all parents university graduates who take their family to the theatre or to galleries? Are all school teachers great at spotting and nurturing a child’s passion for a topic? No. Do most children have access to a TV? Yes.

As a child I watched BBC 4 relentlessly. I loved all things Ancient Egypt (Not going to lie, it was because of The Mummy) and so would watch Zahi Hawass’s documentaries. I bored the bejeezus out of my mother by demanding to watch Time Team so much that she banned it off the TV. I learnt about the history of food from Sue Perkins’s and Giles Coran’s Supersizers go… which I still love and rewatch. My (purely academic) love of syphilis comes from an episode of Historical Cold Cases in which they give a face to a nameless young sex worker who was afflicted with the illness. And I will never forget the day that I first saw Susannah Liscomb’s Hidden Killer’s of the Victorian Home – she was so enthused, so clever, so well educated, had her own show and she was a lady. You have to see it to be it – and in that moment, I saw an opportunity for myself.

Where all these shows suitable for a young person? No, absolutely not if you go by the offcom rating system. I watched science documentaries about obscure illnesses with graphic surgery scenes. I watched documentaries that sensationalised the Ripper murders and gave me nightmares for weeks. That’s why I am so glad that there are now Children’s TV shows like Operation Ouch and Horrible Histories. My younger sister had no interest in my Horrible History books but could she sing every word to “King who brought back partying”? Yeah she could, and near drove us insane with her renditions.

I could (correctly) assert that this media acts as a gateway for some people to pursue interests that would otherwise be off limits. I could wax lyrical about health and science educators fostering science literacy in a ‘fake news’ era. Yet I am aware that even this argument privileges the notion of academics being ‘above’ those who don’t pursue higher education. A person may just like watching Secrets at the Museum or reading Sapiens and that’s that – it is entertainment. Is that not reason enough to support popular and accessible documentaries and books? There is a market for it. People enjoy consuming it. What better reason do you need?

Now we have Twitter, podcasts, lovely friendly educators who love talking to their enthused followers, museums and collections are reaching out hosting fun and free events, popular figures are travelling on book tours and giving speeches. History Fest is happening this week (!!!) offering an amazing line up of fantastic historians on diverse subjects AND offering digital events too for peak accessibility. (I stan).

And if all this irritates some dusty ol’ academics then tough tatties. Accessible academics is in and it is here for the long haul.

This is the first in a series of #accessibleacademics post.

Event Review: Hidden Histories: Gaps and Silences in the Archives.

“How do you construct a historical narrative when you don’t have all the facts? To celebrate the launch of The US-UK Fulbright Commission Archive at the British Library, join historian and author Kate Williams, academics Tony Badger and Caroline Bressey, and British Library cataloguer Eleanor Casson, as they discuss archival research, the politics and practices of using archives and the purpose and value they have for historians, researchers and novelists.” – British Library ‘s Event Page forHidden Histories: Gaps and Silences in the Archives.

The different specialities and research interests of each speaker meant that multiple reasons for ‘silences’ in archives were discussed. For example, Eleanor Casson explained that collections are always socially determined, i.e. follow the collector’s interests and so will only reflect those areas. She also explained that the process of cataloguing and creating an order within an archive can cause gaps. This fact seems obvious but I had never considered it before. Casson explained that archival theory has to question a collection’s value; who created it? why does it exist? Do we have the resources (both money and time) to catalogue this? Eleanor gave a delightful introduction to the life of a cataloguer and spoke with such humour and passion about the subject. She suggested that there needs to be more transparency about the cataloguing process in order for trust to be built between researcher and archivist.

Kate Williams gave a very interesting presentation about the privileging of certain historic voices over others. That it isn’t that 16th- or 17th-century diaries of young maids or courtesans have been lost, it is that they never existed. The lower classes obviously had poorer literacy rates but also, probably didn’t believe their life stories to be worth preserving or worth researching. Even in the 19th century, when the voice of the working class was beginning to be recorded, it was mediated through census takers and upper-class researchers. The second half of Kate Williams talk focused on the archive material surrounding Mary, Queen of Scots and questions the motivations involved in preserving certain material over others. Have certain documents been kept because they portray Mary as especially treacherous? Probably the most enlightening aspect of Kate Williams talk was the idea that just because something survives and we have it, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is important. We shouldn’t privilege a letter, or book, or any other artefact merely because it still exists.

Tony Badger spoke about the wonderful work that archivists have done for him over the years; opening late, early or on a holiday in order to help further research. He spoke mainly about the difficulty of archiving the papers of senators; as the previous century progressed, the volume of papers has increased to the point archivists dread the prospect of having to catalogue them. This was yet another point where resources (time, money, space) came up as a limitation of archive work. Badger also spoke about willful silences. In particular, he spoke of the British Government deliberately sequestering evidence of colonial atrocities and denying their existence when those affected brought lawsuits against the government. This reminded the audience of the political nature of archives and was more than a wee bit unsettling.

Finally, Caroline Bressey talked about her research into the history of people of colour in Britain. She spoke of the difficulty of finding information regarding minority populations, especially because census records didn’t record race until very recently. Instead, one must deduce a person’s race from information such as occupation. As a result, Bressey focuses her research on the latter half of the 19th century after the development of photography. Bressey championed digital archives suggesting that such an archive would allow the whole run of periodical Anti-Caste to be accessible to scholars from all backgrounds and yield much needed scholarship on the paper. However, yet again the issue of resources came up. Who has the time and money to do this? There is a digital revolution to be had, but how do we go about funding it?

This event was a great introduction to both the importance and knowledge that can be gained from archives, but also the frustrations at the gaps within them. Whether those gaps be from the organisation of the archive, represent the disinterest of a collector towards a certain topic or worryingly, deliberate. It also became clear that archivists are now faced with coming up with ways to process born-digital material and keep up with our technological advancements, regarding websites, email, messaging etc.

The only question that I was left with after this event was the idea of who exactly should be filling the gaps in the archives, especially those silences which surround the lives of minorities. Kate Williams made the astute comment that we should be actively cataloguing and documenting things now as we go along. However, I wonder how this would be achieved without that aspect of mediation that was so present in the 19th century. What if certain communities don’t aren’t interested in being involved with such endeavours? Would that make our academic interest, although admittedly coming from a good place, exploitative or intrusive? The only answer I can see is that we must empower communities to preserve their own histories, in ways that they see fit and appropriate.  But again, the darn lack of resources seems to be a limitation to that idea as well!

To conclude, this was a great event with a great panel that opened up a much-needed topic for consideration.

Book Review: The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine by Thomas Morris.

Study breaks in beautiful multistory bookshops are dangerous. After a long study session in Senate House, I wandered into Gower St’s Waterstones and my day was made; a beautiful bookshop with artwork, study spaces and a WHOLE WALL OF MEDICAL HISTORY BOOKS. After an hour I left with a beautiful wee book, one that I had had my eye on for a long time, The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities.


First off, the cover is stunning. A beautiful shade of blue with lovely floating illustrations of the various cases featured in the book and little shards of a tooth. I live in a grungy student maisonette with no communal area but I wish I had a little coffee table to place this book on. It would bring to delight to all that peruse it.

My copy has a little advertisement on the front saying ‘Horrible Histories for Adults’ and I can see the comparison. The book features weird and unusual medical cases of the gross, mischievous and saucy. I will never look an egg cup in the same way again. Morris proves that history can be funny and that people never change. What’s lovely too, is the way Morris contains tales of misadventure without ever making fun of those featured, which could be easily done and would cheapen the humour. The book kind of seems like a celebration and acknowledgement of our enduring habit of being A* muppets. I don’t necessarily believe this book is purely for adults though; the book would be a great introduction to the history of medicine and also print history for a mature history-minded child.

The book isn’t just a collection of tales of ailment by misadventure. Some of the cases are touching, mildly terrifying or a poignant reflection on the mental and physical conditions that have plagued us for centuries. You will also thank your lucky stars that you’re are alive now! The medical treatments of the past are not for the faint of heart.

Another thing I like about this book is its breadth. The cases are from multiple countries giving a broader overview of the history of medicine than if it was just anglocentric. But my absolute favourite thing about this book is the fact it contains sections of the print journals and articles from which the cases are taken. As somebody who is interested in the medical humanities and studying book history, I loved seeing little snapshots of the print media. It was lovely to have print, archival work and archives feature within the book.

This book is an enjoyable, easy read. I devoured it all in one go, but the book is also dip-in-able. A perfect coffee table book to surreptitiously make your guests fall in love with the history of medicine and ‘make you grateful for modern medicine.’

Follow Thomas Morris on Twitter at @thomasgmorris . Check out his blog at

Book Review: The Ravenmaster

The nights are drawing in in London. When I moved here in September, the days were still summer-like, sunny and lingering. But now it is dark when I get up to commute into town and it is dark when I come home. It is blustery, the leaves are dropping off the trees and London’s historic nature seems to tint the banality of the rat race with a hue of mystery. This is the season The Ravenmaster was written for. It is the perfect book to come home to. Shake off your brolly, put on a warm knit, make a brew, light a candle and let Skaife’s storytelling envelop you into the world of the Tower of London.

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife offers a window into the inner workings of one of England’s best loved historic attractions, the Tower of London. He tells us about the high standards, the routine, the diligence and care that goes into ensuring every guest has a magical experience.

But most of all, Christopher Skaife tells us about the ravens…

Out of all the birds, the raven that has captured our imagination like no other. They are present in our myths and legends and in some of our scariest stories. Intelligent. Regal. Fickle. Beautiful. More than a little deadly. Christopher Skaife, current Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, introduces us to the Tower’s ravens, past and present. Make no mistake, they are BIG personalities. As you read about each raven and their idiosyncrasies, prepare yourself for the inevitable desire to want to meet the ravens, to be accepted by them, to form a bond with them…Whilst also recognising why that A) Is highly unlikely and B) might be the worst idea you have ever had. Just because you may love a raven, doesn’t mean that raven may take kindly to you. (Well, that’s unfair, they may take a fancy to one of your fingers.) This book will make you simultaneously crave raven companionship and recognise that they are beautifully dangerous birds that defy ownership, even by the Tower!

As much as I loved reading about the Ravens, I would argue that the real star of the book (although I doubt he would see himself as such!) is Skaife himself. My favourite thing about this book is that Skaife isn’t just a great storyteller and an interesting character in his own right, but he also seems like a down-to-earth, stand up guy. His personality emanates through his narrative and his own life story is fascinating. I think he should be considered a national treasure. His love for the birds shines throughout The Ravenmaster. His tenderness for them is something truly special. He loves them even when they are being mischievous little buggers. In fact, I think he finds their sandwich stealing habit just a tad bit amusing. I use this term inaccurately and romantically, but Skaife is their sentinel; watching out for them, risking life and limb for them, passionately advocating for their welfare and mourning their passing like they are family. Skaife’s storytelling is wonderful too. He is hilarious but also modest. He asserts multiple times that he is ‘no expert’ but he weaves in bird facts and literary references in his narrative with skill. One of his most impressive feats is his ability to describe the science of ravens without detracting from their folkloric and mysterious appeal. In Skaife’s writing, the two inform each other.

Why you should read this book…

When I am squished on the Tube, tired and a bit fed up of modern London’s industrial and faceless grind, I think about the Tower, about the Ravenmaster and the ravens. It brings a smile to my face to think that amongst the corporate sprawl there is still a vestige of myth and magic. The Ravenmaster is an antidote to the weariness of modern life.

Curating: Thoughts from The Learning Curve.

Recently, I had the opportunity to act in a curating role for an exhibition. The exhibit was lottery funded and commissioned by a local theatre. The exhibition, While I Breathe, I hope, focuses on the St Andrews community during the First World War.


Due to having a very small team of two volunteers, I was able to have hands-on experience at every step of the process, from conception to the installation. At first, I was nervous about the weight of the task – to honour the sacrifice and courage of St Andreans, both on the home front and in foreign fields, is no mean feat. The experience was definitely a learning curve but I feel like I learnt so much more through this hands-on learn-on-the-job experience than I would have from a book or lecture.

Here are three lessons that I learnt along the way…

1. Don’t think you have to squeeze every single nugget of information into your exhibit.

Trust me. You’re going to find out so many amazing stories and facts relating to your topic and you will want to include every single one of them – but you can’t. If you did your exhibition would be too large and lack focus. We started with the idea to include information and stories not just from the war, but also examples of the make-do-and-mend attitude from which inspired the theatres opening in the interwar years. As well as that, we were also going to focus on showcasing the community spirit which has continued to grow around the theatre – people have met their spouses there, the theatre has always worked to include local schools and children in their productions. As you can see – this was just way too much content to produce in the few weeks we had to put the exhibition together. Once we had streamlined our brief, we were able to concentrate on a few stories that really spoke to the town’s motto “While I Breathe, I Hope.”

2. Be warned, you are going to get very attached to the people you research.

It was an absolute privilege to learn about and honour the memory of St Andreans involved in the war effort – both on the fields and the home front. There were tales of hope, love and plenty of examples of the cheeky and ballsy Scottish spirit that I have come to love over the past few years I have lived here. Jock Ripley, a veteran, pretended to be younger than he was so that he could go to the front and fight. When asked about his actions, he argued that his “pen must have slipped.” He survived being shot in the head – being awarded the VC for continuing to support his fellow soldiers despite his injury and the odds of their survival. His courage and cheek made me laugh, Ripley was a real rogue one, a man with principals who knew he could help and had no qualms about bending the rules to recruit himself back into active duty.

But there were also tales of tragedy. I remember losing my temper when transcribing a letter from the front informing of a local teen’s death. The language of the letter was beautiful – if there is any comfort at all to be had at this moment, it will come from the knowledge that your brother lies amongst some of the bravest men who have ever fought for King and country – but the soldier’s name was spelt wrong multiple times. I had read so much about this young man and his brother (one came home, one didn’t), poured over pictures of him, seen his “dead man’s penny” and the local newspapers report of his death. The carelessness of the letter felt like a gross indignity. I was raging. Then I realised how many letters like this must have been written, how much of a toll it would have taken on those who spent hours writing “I regret to inform you…” over and over again. Each letter signifying another life lost in a bitter and brutal war. By learning and relating to one man from a small coastal town – I was able to grasp (or rather realise that I could never grasp) the enormous scale of lost lives, lost hopes, lost loves. It was humbling, profound and harrowing all at the same time and I am so grateful for the experience. This is why museums are so important- they encourage powerful moments of connection between the present and past, they transcend personal experiences and tap into the shared human condition. They are a thousand times more effective than a textbook.

3. Plan all you want, the installation is going to throw a few spanners in the works.

First of all, Publisher is a cruel, cruel mistress. I am sure there are better programmes to use to produce posterboards, but it was all we had to hand. Don’t get me wrong – it worked and the posterboards look clean and neat, but my god did formatting them (and reformatting them…and reformatting them) lead to sleepless nights. Before finalising the content of the exhibition, we visited the space again and drew 2D plans on where we wanted everything. It was a logistical task and we still needed to arrange printing and transport for a glass case but we thought we’d sorted everything…
Except that we’d assumed the theatre would be coming up with means of actually hanging our posterboards but that wasn’t the case. They told us that they have a wire to hang from the ceiling and that all we needed was to attach hooks to the boards. Our boards were foam though and flat, there was no way we could drill picture hooks into them. Our curator came up with the ingenious idea of attaching velcro to the walls and the posterboards and so that hiccup was solved. However well you plan your layout, the practicalities of the installation process will cause you to tweak things like where things are placed, sometimes very last minute. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there is just a difference between seeing a layout in theory and seeing the reality of that space when it is occupied.

A bonus lesson…

I learned most of all that I love heritage and museums, that whatever I end up doing, I want to in some way be a preserver and communicator of history. This exhibition was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!

Book Review: Jack Hartnell’s Medieval Bodies

It has been a long time since I have fallen for a book as hard as I have fallen for Jack Hartnell’s Medieval Bodies. The blend of art history, medical history and history of religion and empire gives a depth to the work, which I have rarely seen in a book smaller than a hefty and inaccessible tome. The book’s scope ties together the forces within a medieval person’s life which would have impacted the way they understood their body, how their bodies interacted with the world and also the bodies of others, be that friend, foreigner or foe. In this way, the text presents a much more well rounded and three dimensional discussion on medieval bodies than a book purely focused on medicine, or art, or religion.

A book like this could easily become overwhelming and muddled, but the structure of Medieval Bodies maintains a clarity over the whole text. Each section focuses on one aspect of the body or bodily experience. This allows Hartnell to explore the significance of each body part in great depth, without having to sacrifice any content for the sake of a specific or restricting sustained narrative. This layout is also unbelievably valuable for people like me, who often write on medieval understandings of the body (and specifically on how the intersections between medieval understandings of religion and medicine clash with post-reformation doctrine) and a text divided by body part would have been an amazing starting point for so many of my projects and essays. This is a book that I am definitely going to use time and time again within my academic career and in my blog.

Medieval Bodies was bought for me by a friend as I struggled with my last undergraduate exams and I managed to have the willpower not to touch it until I had finished. The book doesn’t just detail historical curatives, my tired eyes found it to be a curative itself. Resurrecting my love for learning and reading after it had been bludgeoned by the exam diet – the book is stunning, exquisite even, and not just the cover. One of my pet hates is when a book sticks all its photographs and illustrations in an index at the back. Medieval Bodies is chock full of beautiful images of relics, medical texts and art, which have all been arranged on the page in a way which compliments the text around it. This means that the reader will never be taken out of the reading experience by having to flick back and forth to locate images. It is always a great moment when a book about art can marry its own artistry with an accessible reader’s experience. Medieval bodies is a work of art in its own right.

The issue that cropped up with this book for me is that the dust jacket has become worn very quickly. This is partly (if not wholly) my fault, though. As I said, I fell for this book hard and fast and I have taken it everywhere with me – to work, to the park, in my weekend bag. I haven’t loved it gently. That being said, I do wish the cover had a plastic or laminate or at least a more sturdy cover. As much as I am fascinated by material book culture and the analogous relationship between books and bodies, it makes me sad that the beautiful cover of my book has become tarnished and scuffed.

To sum up, this book strikes a balance between being a work of art and providing a detailed and nuanced discussion of medieval bodies that is so far unsurpassable by any other book that I have read, both in my studies and spare time. I know that this is a book that I will come back to again and again, whether that be to inform my academic writing or to rejuvenate my love of learning and soothe my reading tired eyes.

Event/Book Review: All That Remains by Sue Black

Is this a book review, an event review or review of the author? I am not sure. There is no way this could be impartial as I have followed Sue Black’s work since I was in high school and I admire her greatly. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Sue Black talk about her first non-academic book All That Remains and she did not disappoint.

Let’s begin with the book. All That Remains is beautifully presented. The cover is understated and elegant; a lone skeleton on a cream background and each chapter is demarcated by a relevant image or illustration and quote. The beauty of the book took me by surprise – you should never judge a book by its cover but the look of All That Remains is as fantastic as its content. The book is a poignant blend of science, memoir and unintentional motivational life guide. Having penned textbooks, Black excels in her elegant descriptions of the body’s systems, which highlight the beauty and complexity of our bodies whilst still allowing the layperson to digest it. As a humanities student with no link to medical science, I felt like Black was divulging secret information that I shouldn’t be privy to – quatsch of course, but a fun thought none the less. Isotope analysis fascinated me when I was younger and saw it discussed on archaeological shows and Black’s own History Cold Case, it was amazing to hear of how this process worked and hear mind-blowing facts about how our bodies are maps of where we (and even our parents) have been. It made me laugh to think that, in an age in which we are so paranoid about CCTV and smart trackers, our own bodies will reveal our secrets to anyone with the knowledge to ask the right questions. Black reveals our bodies to us with expertise, humour and a skill for teaching complex ideas.

It’s no surprise that Black explains well as she is, amongst many other things, an educator. What you wouldn’t expect, necessarily, is the wit and poignancy with which she writes; from her descriptions of her first dissection to her ruminations on human frailty, identity and family. I didn’t expect All That Remains to have such poignancy, but one thing that really struck me was Black’s focus on the interconnectivity of not only humanity, but our actual bodies. I think because of our individualistic culture, we acknowledge that our bodies follow roughly the same spec; they share limbs, blood types and so on but focus on the divisiveness that our differences in strength cause. We ignore the commonality of our frailties or the fact that the location of our pregnant mothers can be traced through our skulls. Our bodies are a testament to the places we come from, the places we are, and will map where we will go. From our hair to our bones, we exist within a context and I find that comforting.

Now for the woman herself…

I hate the phrase down to earth. When people say it I always have the mental image of someone’s face being smushed into mud. That being said, Sue Black is amazingly gracious and relatable for someone who has done such good in the world. She held the attention of the room effortlessly, not through any artificial showmanship but by being a genuine and interesting person. Her talk wasn’t rote either – when a man coughed whilst she described her grandmother’s lung cancer, she zeroed in on him like a hawk, laughing at the misfortunate timing of his coughing fit. There were two things that I especially appreciated about Sue Black’s talk and by extension her book; that was her focus on family and her delight in the folktales that she grew up with. In her book and within her talk, she spoke about the importance of family and folktales or the spooky ways our grandmas claim to have a sixth sense. She told us to write our loved one’s stories down, not out of vanity but out of ‘family’; our children and children’s children will want to know from whom they came from. I loved this, as a girl who grew up in a family of Irish descent, I grew up with ghosts and have always found the conflict between faith and science uncomfortable. I asked Black about this in the Q&A, ‘Science and faith/the folk are presented as the antithesis of each other, how do you balance the two?’

‘Balance’ She said, ‘Is exactly the right word.’

Black’s book gave me an insight into the body, to the important work Black has done, to the poignant frailty of life. Black herself gave me a friendly memento mori, a reminder to laugh and love my family and a desire to head to Paperchase to buy a notebook in which to chronicle my family’s mad, mundane but equally wondrous tales.

Event Review: New Weapons, New Wounds

New Weapons, New Wounds: Medicine in War and Rebellion is the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh’s contribution to Edinburgh’s International Science Festival. The event is running 3-5 April at the Royal College. The event focused on medicine’s relationship with war and featured talks on shell shock, the dual duty of field medics, the evolution of the field kit and venereal disease within troops. What made this event stand out from other RCPE events I’ve attended was the dynamic way the talks were presented; attendees were split into four groups and at the ringing of a bell, shuttled to different areas of the building for each talk. This allowed each presenting academic to fill their station with displays of relevant books and artefacts and gave guests the opportunity to explore the college and its stunning decor.


The first talk I attended was by Napier lecturer and author, E.S Thomson, and discussed the diagnosis and treatment of ‘shellshock’ during WWI. Despite being a lecturer at Napier University, where the building of the famous Craiglockhart Hospital still stands, Thomson only briefly mentioned its most well-known patients, the war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Thomson argued that there is perhaps too much focus on the war poets link to the hospital which ignores the larger context writing war poetry had within Dr Arthur Brock’s ‘Shell Shock’ treatment. This certainly mirrors my knowledge of Craiglockart, which I acquired by studying Pat Barker’s 1991 novel Regeneration which explores Owen and Sasson’s relationship and treatment by the now renowned psychiatrist W.H.R Rivers. ‘Shell shock’ or what we would now term P.T.SD. Hysteria, a traditionally female illness, did not fit as a diagnosis for these men who were debilitated in the most masculine of pursuits, and so neither did Weir Mitchell’s ‘bed rest cure.’ (Although those who have read Perkins Gilmore’s The Yellow Wallpaper may argue that Weir Mitchell’s treatment was equally as useless for treating women!) Thomson’s talk charted the attempts of healthcare professionals to define, name, and treat the psychological trauma sustained by those who witnessed the horror of the trenches.


Illustrations showing a single bullet wreaking enormous havoc by perforating the small intestine.

Next up was a talk by PhD candidate Sam Klein of The University of St Andrews. I found this talk particularly interesting as I had never considered its subject matter before. This segment highlighted the complexities of providing medical care during wartime. Usually, on some basic level, the interests of a health provider and their patients are same – they want the condition of their patients to improve and, if that is not possible, provide sufficient palliative care. During wartime, a doctor is not only accountable to his patients but to the War Office and this inevitably has repercussions for the patient. An example Klein gave was the way in which the triage process is reevaluated. Usually, triage is quite egalitarian – those whose are most in need, whose life hangs in the balance are prioritised. However when under the pressure, triage on the field becomes more utilitarian in efforts to fit with military principles. Those who can be treated in the shortest time are prioritised in an effort to ensure a higher number of active soldiers than the enemy. For example in WWI, 5 patients could be treated per patient with an abdominal or chest wound and so these patients were at an extreme disadvantage. Therefore despite needing urgent care, patients with a chest or abdominal wound were pushed further down the list. For me, the most interesting aspect of this talk was the consideration of how the ethos of medicine, which dates back millennia, does not exist in a vacuum and as a result must interact with politics, bureaucracy and circumstance.


In the beautiful blue coloured Cullen Room, Prof Angela Thomas OBE showed us the medicine chest of Bonnie Prince Charlie. This was an amazing artefact and being allowed to interact with it and see it up so close was such a great experience. The design of the cabinet is deceptively intricate with compartments that pop out when pressed and multiple drawers containing all manner of substances. These would be used to make poultices, liniments and potions for whatever ailment was troubling a patient. As well as looking like something that belongs in a magician’s or alchemist’s study, the chest was a great artefact to springboard discussion concerning the advancement of medicine and the evolution of military medical kit. A large amount of the substances within the cabinet were botanical (although the chest does feature a ground insect or two!) and were made by grinding up or treating plants and roots. Since the 1700’s many of the active ingredients of these plants have been identified and used in modern medicine. Seeing this chest in person also highlighted the how difficult it must have been to use in a war zone. The chest is made of lead and wood and is enormously heavy. It is hard to imagine it being used to treat the wounded during the Jacobite uprising. Field kits which soldiers carry today are only 1lb and there is now an onus on soldiers being trained to carry out immediate first aid on themselves and their peers whilst waiting for medical attention. The 40 hours first aid training which all soldiers now receive has drastically improved survival rates of those wounded in battle.


Finally, Mona O’Brien, a doctoral scholar at the University of Glasgow, gave a talk about the history of venereal disease in the military. Specifically, she talked about syphilis, which is one of my favourite diseases of all time from both an etiological and sociological point of view. Syphilis has always been linked to the military with outbreaks being linked to the movements of troops for centuries. One of the most interesting aspects of O’Brien’s talk was the examination of military attitudes to syphilis and how they contributed to the spread of the disease. For centuries blame was attributed to the women soldiers had sex with and this blatantly ignored the fact that armies left outbreaks in their wake. This led to acts such as the Contagious Diseases Act which allowed the forcible internal examination of any woman suspected to be a prostitute or of having VD. If deemed to have a venereal disease, a woman could be essentially locked away and confined. These acts did nothing to stop the spread of syphilis and instead were a method of shaming and punishing the vulnerable. Syphilis was even a major issue during WWII, Winston Churchill himself instructed supplies of penicillin to be diverted from the wounded to soldiers who found themselves inflicted with syphilis. A personal highlight of this talk was talking to O’Brien about William Clowes, a royal physician on whom I wrote extensively in my dissertation.

The talks themselves all approached the relationship between the military and medicine through different angles and provided a time travelling and comprehensive exploration of the subject. The range of artefacts and books on display was also impressive and was definitely one of the best features of the event for me! The dynamic structure of the event allowed attendees to see the beauty of the college building as well as ensuring our brains were awake. By moving around to different locations, I felt like I was able to absorb a lot more information than I would if I had just sat in the main hall for four talks.

To summarise, this event was one of the best heritage events I’ve ever been to and I hope this format is adopted for future talks!