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Monday, 28 November 2011

Archives of voluntary bodies

It's gratifying to see that people are beginning to take seriously the problem of the archives of voluntary bodies of various kinds. There is a good blog post here on the Voluntary Action History Society blog, A New Campaign for Charity Archives and the British Records Association annual conference taking place tomorrow is Beyond the Fringe: the archives of pressure groups. These are the kind of organisations that may not even have a permanent HQ, so that their records get passed around as responsibilities change, and in addition they may be understandably devoting all their funds to the core activity for which they were founded.

Records of local organisations may find a home in the relevant local record office, and organisations which fall into specific areas may find that there is a specialist repository that may take them: in the Wellcome we hold a significant number of collections of Medical Charities and Pressure Groups as well as records of International Organisations. But there are still many organisations which do not fall into existing archival safety nets.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Cambridge Interdisciplinary Workshop on Reproduction

I attended this workshop last Friday, a very full and exciting day covering a remarkable range of historical periods and disciplinary approaches, from medieval fertility charms to the impact of contemporary surrogacy on families. Besides giving me information I did not know (I was not aware that there was a noticeable decrease in infant mortality in the C18th - although it then stuck at that plateau pretty much until the C20th) it provided new perspectives on various matters I thought I did know something about.

Perhaps particularly relevant to my own interests, I was intrigued by Anne Hanley's paper on the differing views of French and English physicians in the late C19th about how long a young man should defer marriage if he was discovered to have syphilis, by the attitudes to unwanted extramarital pregnancy and the prospect of abortion in UK 'Kitchen-Sink' literature and film of the 50s and 60s delineated by Fran Bigman, and the possibility mooted by Jesse Olszynko-Gryn that pills meant to act as a pregnancy test in the 1960s were being deployed as abortifacients. I also liked the suggestion that seemed to underlie the evidence put forward by Sarah Jennings from research on children and young adults with lesbian and gay parents, and Susan Imrie on the impact of surrogacy on the children of surrogate mothers, that perhaps children tend to take their family as the norm and consider it ordinary; even perhaps when aware that it is perceived as different by those around them.

A most stimulating day, productive of thoughts I am still mulling over.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Monday, 7 November 2011


Well, apparently they're broadcasting a programme on Radio 4 on lobotomy that I recorded an interview for some while ago (since we have a pair of Watts-Freeman Lobotomy Tools, with catalogue, among the William Sargant papers in the archives, and these are apparently quite rare items).

Not only did I only just find out about this by indirect means, I discover that they are using a photo of me in Ms Frankenstein mode brandishing one of the tools for their website announcement.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Exciting news from the Wellcome blog

While I have previously expressed my views that almost certainly too much attention has been paid to the eugenic discourse in the early C20th and seldom enough to other less clearly focused and visible movements based on a more environmentalist/improvability of the human product philosophy, I'm still very excited indeed about this project at the Wellcome:
Papers of the Eugenics Society to be Digitised
This is an extremely significant collection which has a lot to offer beyond the mere story of eugenics in the UK. True, it's had a lot of use over the decades since it was acquired and catalogued by what was then the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, but there are still quite a lot of areas that have not been explored as fully as they might be. For an indication of some of the work that's already been done, see the Birth Control/Eugenics bibliography: secondary works (pdf)on the Wellcome Library website.