Earlier this week a group of fourth-year medical students from the University of Manchester interrupted their busy schedules working on wards and clinics across our city’s hospitals to squeeze in a seminar in the John Rylands Library, led by Dr Anne Kirkham and me.
Anne, who is a historian of art and visual culture, regularly assists with the supervision of student projects on the history of medicine and asks us to host collection-based seminars of this kind because they form a valuable part of the students’ research experience. The session this week was no exception as we examined a number of books and manuscripts, dating from the fifteenth century to the twentieth, on a range of medical topics including pharmacy, anatomy, surgery, blood letting, insanity and sexually transmitted disease. We had particularly lively discussions about the importance of images in the diagnostic process and the transmission of medical knowledge. We also explored how medical texts books have historically been shaped by the traditions of artistic conventions especially within the context of the dazzling illustrations in Andreas Vesalius’ On the Structure of the Human Body from the sixteenth century (one of which is shown below).
Bowled over by the materials they saw in the seminar, the students all vowed to return to use the collections in their research for their projects.