Tuberculosis: A Short History – a new exhibition

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By | Events and Visits

Tuberculosis (TB) has long been regarded as a major danger to public health, and is now widely seen as a disease that is not only endemic across the world, but also one that has developed new strains that threaten to explode in epidemic proportions. A new exhibition mounted by two Wellcome Trust supported Centres at the University of York focuses on the impact of TB from the nineteenth century up until the present day.

On show from 21- 22 June at the York Medical Society, the exhibition features a range of extraordinary images from the Wellcome Library’s collections, illuminating different episodes from the history of the disease, including, a haunting watercolour by Richard Tennant Cooper depicting  Death rising over an invalid suffering from TB.

Watercolour by Richard Tennant Cooper ca.1912. WIno. V0017058

Watercolour by Richard Tennant Cooper ca.1912. WI no. V0017058

From photographs of children’s sanatoriums to public health posters designed to curb the spread of TB, one is afforded a captivating insight into different stages in the fight against the disease.

Poster for a children's sanatorium for tuberculosis

A girl with tuberculosis appealing for funds for a sanatorium for tuberculous children in Zürich. Colour lithograph after H.C. Ulrich, 1905. WI no. L0073310

Also featuring photographs from the World Health Organization, which supports and is associated with the exhibition, the story of TB is brought right up to date with the rise of drug-resistant strains and the need for innovations both in health system process and in the tools used to combat the disease.

Photograph of girls at Stannington Sanatorium

Stannington Sanatorium. The first British sanatorium for tuberculosis children, Morpeth, Northumberland. ‘Senior girls – surgical cases’. WI no. L0016013

The accompanying publication: Tuberculosis: A Short History, contains images from the exhibition in addition to a wider selection of supporting material drawn from a variety of repositories.  Copies of this 44-page, hard-backed book will be distributed free-of-charge to exhibition-goers (subject to availability) and is also  free to download from the Centre for Global Health Histories website.

Tuberculosis: the head of the Medusa representing the disease, and advertising an exhibition against tuberculosis in Basel. 1913 lithograph. WI no. L0034019

Tuberculosis: the head of the Medusa representing the disease, and advertising an exhibition against tuberculosis in Basel. 1913 lithograph. WI no. L0034019

On the opening night of the exhibition (21 June), Dr Helen Bynum, author of Spitting Blood: The History of Tuberculosis, will deliver a free guest lecture, entitled: The longest and most dangerous of all chronic diseases.

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders and the Centre for Global Health Histories, both based at the University of York. It forms part of the ‘health’ strand of the York Festival of Ideas, which runs from 13 – 19 June.  The exhibition is free and open to all, from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd June .  The York Medical Society is based in a beautiful Grade II listed building in the heart of York, a short 10 minute walk from the railway station, so head up to York next weekend and take a look!

Author: Dr Alexander Medcalf, Outreach Historian at the Centre for Global Health Histories, University of York

Lalita Kaplish

Lalita Kaplish is Web Editor at the Wellcome Library. You can also find her on LinkedIn and Twitter @LalitaKaplish.

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