Tapeworms in/as Body in Early Modern Europe – Talk with Lianne McTavish

All are warmly invited to the second talk in our free public Collections Lecture Series to hear Professor Lianne McTavish of the University of Alberta speak on the fascinating topic of ‘Tapeworms in/as Body in Early Modern Europe’ . The event will take place in the Kelvin Hall Lecture Theatre, Glasgow on 7 July 2017 from 5:30-8:00pm, including a wine reception.

Attendance is free but please click here to book a place.

Full description and details

Join us for what promises to be a fascinating talk with art historian Lianne McTavish from the University of Alberta, on representations of tapeworms and the body in Early Modern Europe.

How can the written and visual contents in early modern treatises on tapeworms shed new light on understandings of reproduction, pregnancy, and digestion during this period?

Tapeworms were regularly described in terms of pregnancy, for instance, with swollen bodies that perceived internal movement before “delivering” one or more worms. In some of these stories, mostly written by physicians, the worms are portrayed as harmful invaders, but other accounts praise the worms as inevitable cohabitants that helpfully feast on excess humours, providing health benefits. This talk explores the ways in which worms were subjects of fascination during the early modern period, considered both part of and other than the human body.

The talk will take place in the Kelvin Hall lecture theatre, Glasgow on Friday 7th July 2017. There will be a Q&A after the talk followed by a reception with refreshments. This event is free but spaces are limited so please so register to ensure a space!



Saving the Mona Lisa: Misdiagnosis and Historical Malpractice

Something from our Mona O’Brien on retrospective diagnosis, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and, of course, the great pox.

A Network Of Lines

On February 6 Jonathan Jones asked ‘Did the Mona Lisa have syphilis?
The answer is, very simply, no.

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa (1503-1506).  Attributed to Albrecht Dürer, Syphilitic Man (c.1496).

Indeed, nobody in the sixteenth century had ‘syphilis’. What they did have was a disease that went by a host of names including the great pox, the French disease, the plague of Job and the sickness of Naples. They did not have ‘syphilis’ a name which, though coined in the sixteenth century, only came into common usage around the nineteenth century.

To be able to definitively state that Mona Lisa, Henry VIII, or any other early modern individual had ‘syphilis’, the disease caused by the Treponema pallidum bacterium, you would need the results of a scientific analysis on their remains, something which can prove notoriously difficult at times. Show me positive results from such a test and…

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Genetics and the use of the ‘Holy Grail’ metaphor: Virtue or Sin?


Have we chosen wisely?


By Michelle McGachie

The culmination of 50 years of work into genetics by researchers in multiple fields resulted in the discovery of the double helix structure and the constitution of genes in 1953. The discovery was considered the ‘holy grail’ of biological thought.

At the turn of the 21st century, sequencing of the human genome itself was again described as the new ‘grail’ of molecular genetics. Like the grail itself, it was elusive, ‘invisible’. As popularised by Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’ and other theorists, for some, the grail embodied inheritance itself.

The comparison between the quest for greater genetic knowledge and the quest for the Holy Grail has been impressed into the public psyche for the past 20 years. Anderson explored this phenomenon in 2002 in his paper entitled ‘In search of the Holy Grail: Media discourse and the new human genetics’. He notes ‘frequently geneticists are portrayed as on a quest for the ‘Holy Grail’, giving the scientific process an air of mystique and authority’.

It is true that the developments in the last half-century have deeply impacted and changed the landscape of human biology and health. Serefini points out the importance of this discovery as being ‘the first time science had an explanation of how Mendel’s laws of heredity operated at the deepest level of the biological organism’. It was both the end of classical genetics and the beginning of molecular genetics. DNA studies would go on to dominate biological research for the rest of the century; ‘the story of life’ was said to be unfolding and DNA was the book.

However, has this mystique surrounding genetics allowed it to become something beyond mere mortal understanding? Does the elevation of such discoveries to divine heights aid researchers in making genomics a publicly accessible subject? Surely comparing ‘pure’ scientific discovery to popular myth seems contradictory to scientific aims. It could be argued that the ‘Holy Grail’ as a turn of phrase has lost its religious sentiment – yet it’s shadow still suggests something fantastical.

Or, on the other hand, should we continue to use this metaphor to impress the life-changing implications of genetic knowledge on the public? A reminder that this knowledge allows scientists to change the very chemistry of life. One virtue of the Holy Grail metaphor is its ability to suggest an otherworldly power considered beyond humanity’s grasp. Does this metaphor actually support an ethical viewing of genetic knowledge?


Michelle McGachie

John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London at the Victoria and Albert Museum

For some current collections reading, with thoughts on collecting crafts here’s Lydia‘s review of John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Definitely one to see!


My blog posts have been sporadic across the two years I’ve been the sole writer viewreviewrepeat.wordpress.com. My output has been anything between one a day, one a week, one a month, one a quarter even. Sometimes I have a real itch to write about a recent public history experience, at other times I just want to write. My post today sits somewhere in between these motivators. On the one hand, the John Lockwood Kipling exhibition at the V&A was a visual triumph and totally relevant to my PhD research, and, on the other, I’ve had five days off in London and I really want to commit something productive to the screen.

Now then, to something more important than my incentives for writing today after a lengthy absence, the exhibition itself. I went to see Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London mainly because my PhD research centres on Indian material…

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Re-collections: The beautiful sadness of a black dog and second-hand books

Mona O’Brien on the life-cycles of personal collections, looking at dispersal and re-collection.

A Network Of Lines

On a recent Sunday I found myself standing in an antique shop in Frankfurt, close to the Römer. There was the usual random assortment of things, old furniture, crockery, photographs… Browsing through the warren of rooms, which extended much further back than the shop’s modest exterior suggested, I caught site of a framed photograph lying on the floor.


It is a photograph of no particular artistic merit. The shopkeeper certainly hadn’t given it pride of place, but obviously hoped to get a few euros for it. I was struck by it because it reminded me of the countless photographs that I’ve taken of my beloved cat, Shots. My photos are equally unartistic, and they capture a beast devoid grace or nobility. Shots is a cuddly (fat), lazy, cowardly cat. But he’s my cat, and the photo of him that is blue-tacked to my office wall makes me smile when work…

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Honeywood Lodge, Carshalton

The most recent post from our Lydia Murtezaoglu’s excellent blog – a must read for any ‘Culture-Vultures’ out there, covering museums, galleries, cultural goings on, books, fillms and more!


Honeywood Lodge is my local museum at home in Greater London and, as such, it holds a special place in my heritage heart. That said my first visit wasn’t until 2014 following the shameful trend that the closest things are often the least likely to be visited. To this day I’ve never been to Whitehall in Cheam, despite the fact I went to school there for seven (long) years. Yet I’ve visited museums on the other side of the world, odd really.

I’m aware Carshalton might seem like quite a niche market, but Honeywood Lodge is situated next to the really lovely Carshalton Ponds. The Ponds, regardless of the traffic, are rather charming once you’ve dodged around the over-enthusiastic duck feeders and that one swan with a really mean look in its eye. Perhaps the location is especially appealing because it is so unexpected in Zone 5; a hop, skip…

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International Association of Bioethics 2016

Dominic Reed

Attending conferences is still a new experience for me. The thought of gathering in a pointedly large building with hundreds of people (some known only as a name from the spine of some illustrious tome) remains daunting.  I wonder whether there is valuable research to be done in this area? Perhaps a thoughtful analysis of the relationship between anxiety levels suffered by PhD student and the number of letters succeeding the name of the academic engaged in conversation?


A thought that often occurs when approaching an eminent attendee (name memorised from a University webpage above a sickening number of publications) is what interest can this person possibly have in speaking to me? With the considered observational talents and openness to self-reflection peculiar to all University of Glasgow students, I have come to realise that I myself go through a three stage process in engaging a figure of particular academic renown. With scant reference to modesty I have decided to term this ‘the Reed method’.


Let us begin with the beginning – approach. As words like “eminent”, “trailblazing” and “intellectual-powerhouse” flash before my eyes (snatches from reviews of their most celebrated works), I tend to wonder what interesting new point can I make that they haven’t heard before? What sufficiently clever and incise comment can I usher forth which will lead to an immediate insistence on collaboration, publication and scholarly stardom? This is usually tempered by the second stage – second guess. Nervousness reigns as I picture my comments followed by shaking heads, sneering derision and pointed silences, ears ringing with accusations of “unjustified funding” and “feeble arguments”.  By the turning of besuited shoulders back to exclusive discussions which I, a peon of the academic world cannot be expected to understand. They’ll be dining off tales of my poor research methodology for years! Somehow though, as I materialise in front of them, committed, a manic glint in my eye, the third stage arrives – serene resignation. Mercifully, concerns fade away and as I open my mouth to speak all mental faculties are redirected to simply getting my name right.


The International Association of Bioethics (IaB) conference was for me, notably lacking in scary, unapproachable figures. Set across three days, the itinerary was typically built around a mix of keynote speeches interspersed with the chance to visit individual presentations of research, either verbal or in poster form. Regardless, there was a real opportunity to engage with those individuals presenting their research, not just in formal question sessions but also more informally when the presentations were over. The coffee breaks, lunches and ceilidh dinner fostered a relaxed and friendly atmosphere to approach individuals whose work you admired. It was great to find that they had time not only to listen to what you had to say but also to make suggestions, provide encouragement and requests to keep them updated. This respect for junior researchers was also evident in the number of early career researcher events that took place throughout the conference, dealing with topics like presenting, publishing and funding.


There was a lot of freedom in choosing what kind of talks you wanted to see. Bioethics is a pretty broad church and there were researchers presenting topics from a range of different perspectives. The keynote speeches themselves were well worth attending. Of particular interest to my own research was the address by Baroness Ilora Finlay, consultant palliative care doctor, former BMA President and member of the House of Lords. Finlay’s speech dealt with maintaining and promoting ethical standards both in practice and through implementing legislation. Giving the example of assisted dying, she made a case for caution in discussions of euthanasia, reminding delegates of the human costs in practise of abstract decisions made by legislators.


I was able to find many presentations which faced issues similar to those arising in my own project and there’s far too little space to relate them all here so I’ll just list a couple of favourites. Lisa Schwartz’s work on the difficulty of conducting research in the environment of emergency medicine was very informative. Focussing on the role of substitute decision makers in a paediatric resuscitation study, Schwartz’s presentation highlighted the importance of maintaining appropriate research methods when working in a sensitive environment, giving me ideas for how to approach similar concerns as my own research takes shape. Similarly, the collaborative project on (Neuro)Interventions was fascinating, researchers relating the ethical issues associated with state intervention, by medical means, into the world of criminal justice.


Overall, given the huge and varied program, the friendly presenters and attendees and the excellent food, the Iab Conference was fantastic experience, one that would be well worth repeating in two years in New Delhi! A great deal of thanks is owed to Graeme Laurie and everyone else who helped make the event so worthwhile.

My First Conference as a PhD scholar: The 13th World Congress of Bioethics

M McGachie
Informed consent and genetic collections

In June of this year, Edinburgh played host to 700 delegates at this year’s International Association of Bioethics World conference.  The Conference was a fantastic success with inspiring keynote speakers including bioethics reigning Queen (all hail), Baroness Onora O’Neil. The team from Edinburgh University put together fantastic social events including the HeLa play and the Ceilidh which was held in the beautiful newly refurbished Edinburgh assembly rooms; it was a rip-roaring night of dancing, whiskey, and of course, haggis, neeps, and tatties.


A view of Stormy Edinburgh as I headed to the EICC


For me, the week was dominated by talks on informed consent and data. Whether it was my shuttered focus on the topic or the ethical ‘sexiness’ of the subject within academia at this time, it seemed as though everyone was talking about consent in some form: whether it was consent for vulnerable individuals (Mangadan-Konath); or arguing for the removal of consent for the use of secondary data (Ballantyne).

The use of genetic data also proliferated throughout the conference. Some of the highlights were hearing Cunningham-Burley talk about public engagement with large data collections, Labude giving a much-debated paper on relationships between donor and researcher, and talks on the conference theme of data as a ‘public good’ (noun) and for the public good (verb) which weighed in on debates on genetic data collection.


Parallel Session on Relational Ethics
Parallel session on Health research Resources


A personal highlight was meeting Jane Kaye, director at HELEX in Oxford and hearing her speak about the concept of dynamic consent. Dynamic consent has a structure that covers both the complicated ethical and legal requirements for biobank data collection and the added bonus of integrated participant involvement. I believe the dynamic consent Jane and her team are proliferating is paving the way for a future unified consent model.

The fantastic thing about my first conference was how eager every person was to talk about each other’s research. Everyone was very enthusiastic, and it was extremely infectious.

“I left the end of the week absolutely shattered, not just from listening and contributing, but from coming down off an academic high.”

The debates and topics pushed me to consider possibilities I hadn’t realised and discover the excellent work being done in bioethics across the globe. All the delegates were from vastly diverse backgrounds; from the very practical (doctors, lawyers) to the theoretical (philosophers, concept academics) the combination of the two was interesting and at times tense which only added to the engaging atmosphere.


Fellow Leverhulme Collections blogger Dominic pretending to read


Now to the important stuff…

The food: yes the food was great, some highlights were the mini croissants, the haggis in a bowl and the pack lunches, which I think everyone will agree, were fantastic. They not only brought feelings of nostalgia from school lunches but also added to the fun of feeling like we were all on a giant school trip. Nothing quite tickles me more than seeing distinguished academics comparing crisps and sandwiches from mystery brown bags.

The Drink: but forget the food – beverage wise the event was stocked with booze, booze, booze; and more coffee and tea than you could shake a stick at. Although my preference for a milky hot chocolate went unsatisfied I won’t complain; I’m still too much of a child to handle coffee and tea feels like I’m playing into a British cliché.

The Ceilidh: swinging round my poor colleague Dominic until he was about to pass out was a great way to relieve some of the conference fog. I had the pleasure of discussing Guinness with Baroness Onora O’Neil for a short time and was truly flustered from the encounter – what an inspiring lady. Relaxing by the ceilidh dance floor I spotted a true Scotsman in the dance troupe, let’s just say I was sitting at the wrong height when he passed by, kilt fluttering in his wake….

At the end of the conference I felt inspired, I felt pumped; I was ready to write my thesis in a week and march into my viva voce within the month! However, I had a strange case of what my colleague terms ‘post-conference flu’ which incapacitated me for the following few days… so maybe the viva can wait a couple of years.

Until next time IAB, see you in New Delhi, 2018!

Big thanks to Graeme Laurie and his team for making it such a tremendous experience.