Talking Nutrition

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By | From the Collections

As previewed on this Blog, ‘Nutrition and History in the Twentieth Century’ was held last week (15 September) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). This one-day conference, organised by the School’s Centre for History in Public Health and their Archives department, was a great success, attended by over 50 people.

The LSHTM’s nutrition collections were recently catalogued through a grant from the Wellcome Trust. Browse their online catalogue here.

The archive collections of the LSHTM and the Wellcome Library both complement and overlap in many areas, particularly in the field of nutrition. This was illustrated in conference talks by the archive departments of both organisations which focused on the history of nutritional science, diseases of malnutrition, nutrition and war time and nutrition propaganda during the twentieth century.

This first session was followed by recollections and analysis by former staff and students of the School. Their experiences of working at the institution over the last few decades were recorded for the archive’s oral history collection. The two afternoon sessions were devoted to a variety of papers on historical aspects of nutrition, including a summary of UK food policy since the 1970s presented and discussed by Professor Tim Lang of City University.

Amongst some of the collections highlighted in the paper on ‘Nutrition Archives in the Wellcome Library’ were those of Harriette Chick, Edward Mellanby, Robert McCance and Elsie Widdowson, Robert McCarrison, Surgeon Captain ‘Peter’ T L Cleave, Cicely Williams, Frederick Le Gros Clark, the Society of Medical Officers of Health, the British Medical Association and Francis Avery Jones. Details of these and our other archive collections on nutrition can be browsed via our Sources Guide on Nutrition or through the links to our online Archives and Manuscripts catalogue given above.

The papers of the London Food Commission (LFC), founded by Tim Lang, were also discussed. This collection is held by the Wellcome Library and cataloguing is due to commence in October 2010, with the papers becoming available to researchers before Summer 2011. The LFC archive will undoubtedly provide valuable insights into food issues and policy in the 1980s and 1990s, including food labelling, safety, composition and standards, and the school meals campaigns.

As one of the Wellcome Trust’s five research challenges, ‘Connecting environment, nutrition and health’, nutrition is a hot topic on Wellcome Library’s outreach menu. Early in 2011 a new Insights session will be held, focusing on various aspects of the Library’s diverse and vivid primary and secondary source collections on food, diet, nourishment and health. Keep an eye on the Wellcome Collection website– and the Wellcome Library Blog – for details of this session.

A taster of the wealth of our resources can be instantly experienced by searching the Wellcome Images website. Amongst its holdings are a wide range of historical and contemporary images on nutritional matters, such as those which have illustrated this post.

1/ Health and Beauty in Wartime (Ministry of Food leaflet) (GC/198/B/2/1)
2/ Page from from McCance and Widdowson’s Food Analysis research notebooks (GC/97/A/7)
3/ Community health worker in rural Jamaica showing a mother a leaflet promoting good nutrition

Author: Amanda Engineer

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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