An interactive exhibition exploring the wonder and fear of 19th Century medical science in a family-friendly way is currently displayed at The Atkinson in Southport.
Dr Jekyll’s Study: Science and Medicine in the 19th Century is set in a Victorian doctor’s study, complete with real surgical instruments and medical equipment from the period, and exhibits to test if visitors have the steady hand and nerve needed by a surgeon of that era.
The 19th Century was a time of rapid advances in science and medicine. Researchers made new discoveries about the human body and mind that were thrilling, but could also seem terrifying.
Some of the most famous monsters in fiction were inspired by the scientific discoveries of their times and this exhibition allows visitors to explore the connections between 19th Century medicine and the literary works that it influenced, such as Frankenstein (1818), Dracula (1897) and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886).
Visitors can learn about the women like Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, who pioneered new nursing techniques and paved the way for the first female doctors, and see first editions of the Sherlock Holmes stories whose author, Arthur Conan Doyle, also trained as a doctor before turning his hand to writing fiction.
The exhibition has been developed and curated by Edge Hill academics Dr Laura Eastlake, Dr Andrew McInnes and Dr Bob Nicholson, all from the Department of English, History and Creative Writing and Dr Douglas Small, a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow from the University of Glasgow. The contributors are all specialists in 19th Century literature, history and medicine, and the exhibition which is sponsored by Alcohol Research UK and the Past and Present Society, follows Edge Hill’s 2018 conference Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century. The medical equipment, which includes anaesthetic and ophthalmological instruments, is loaned by the Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds.
Andrew said: “Our key idea for this exhibition is to explore the fear and wonder that existed in Victorian times linked to new medical technology. So while people were afraid of the surgeon’s knife, they appreciated that these developments were not just at the cutting-edge of science, but were life-saving and could have a miraculous effect to make things better.”
Laura added: “We want to show how interconnected the arts and sciences are, and how literature becomes a space where cultures can explore the wonder, but also the fear of new medicines and therapies. In this respect Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula are very similar to modern day superheroes created from radioactive spider bites or lab experiments gone wrong.
“The exhibition is the product of the very latest research in 19th century studies but all the content is aimed at families. It has been really exciting to think about how we can convey our research to younger audiences in a very visual and hands-on way.”
The exhibition features original artwork by Hannah Halliwell, a third-year doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. Hannah won a creative competition run by the organisers of the conference, which challenged researchers of 19th Century medicine to capture their research ideas in one image. Her artwork will be displayed in the exhibition as a tongue-in-cheek guide called ‘How to paint a morphine addict for the French fin-de-siècle annual Salon’.
Douglas said: “The exhibition features materials from right across the arts and sciences, from medical objects and diagrams to photographs and books from the period, so The Atkinson is a great venue for it because it has such a broad focus that spans all of the arts and culture.”
Dr Jekyll’s Study marks the beginning of an ongoing collaboration between Edge Hill and The Atkinson. An exhibition about Victorian Laughter, led by Dr Bob Nicholson is planned for later in the year.
Dr Jekyll’s Study: Science and Medicine in the 19th Century runs until Saturday 25th May 2019 between 10am and 4pm at The Atkinson. Admission is free.