2018: A Year in Review

2018 has been the busiest year ever for Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Libraries and Archives. We’ve had a wide variety of different events, two temporary exhibitions and we launched our walking tours and the Henry Wade Project. We have also welcomed more of you than ever through our doors!

This year we started #SpeakToTheSpecialist, a series of intimate talks given by people who work behind the scenes at the Museums. Talks were delivered by our Human Remains Conservator, Senior Research Fellow, Director of Heritage and Assistant Curator. We also invited speakers to deliver talks on topics such as the history of women in surgery and traditional Chinese medicine techniques.

Fair Field
Dr. Elaine Thomson delivering her talk ‘A fair field and, no favour’: Edinburgh’s Medical Women c. 1869-1920

Alongside the talks, our events programme featured a variety of workshops from eye dissections for kids to comic book creation for adults. We were delighted to participate in the International Science Festival again, this year hosting heart dissection workshops for kids. Our Learning Officer took part in Midlothian Science Festival, spending the week visiting schools and teaching them all about germs. She also attended the Midlothian science gala at Lasswade, which you can read about here.

‘You Won’t Believe Your Eyes: Eye Dissection Workshop for Kids”

The Library and Archives participated in the second year of Edinburgh’s Rare Book Festival. They displayed copies of ‘The Book of Hours’ and ‘The Nuremberg Chronicle’ both of which date from the 1400’s.

In March we were very proud to be a part of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh’s unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the courageousness of the Edinburgh Seven during the Surgeons’ Hall Riot. The plaque was unveiled by Caroline Doig, a retired paediatric surgeon and the first woman to be elected to the RCSEd Council in 1984 and the first female chair of the General Medical Council.

Caroline Doig unveiling the commemorative plaque.  (Image courtesy of RCSEd)

In June we launched our ‘Blood and Guts: The Twists and Turns of Edinburgh’s Medical History’ walking tours. These were initially supposed to run on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons for 6 weeks. However, due to demand we ended up running them right through until the end of October.

In October, we played host to ‘The Edinburgh 7: A Celebration’ as part of Museums at Night. This was two evenings of history, performance and song celebrating the fantastic women that made up The Edinburgh 7. The evening featured highlights from a new play with songs by award winning writers John and Martin Kielty and Jordanna O’Neill. The events were compèred by writer and historian Dr. Elaine Thomson and, featured the Phoenix Gospel Choir who provided a fantastic end to the evening with their rendition of the song ‘Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained’. The cast also preformed a full rehearsed reading of the play. These three events were backed by Creative Scotland.

Cast and compère during ‘The Edinburgh 7: A Celebration’

Late November saw the Library and Archives launch the Henry Wade Project. The team have spent hours uploading 3000 digitised photographs and historic manuscripts which visitors to the site can search view and download. The website also has a Surgeons Database which allows you to find the name of every surgeon who received Fellowship; Fellowship; Licentiateship; or Diploma from 1505-1918, with further information and additional recommended reading where available.
If you would like to see more for yourself then you can visit the website here: https://archiveandlibrary.rcsed.ac.uk/

Wade site

2018 saw us open two very different temporary exhibitions. In April we opened ‘A Quest for Healing’ which was a contemporary art exhibition created by Chinese artist Zhang Yanzi. Zhang Yanzi had completed a residency in Edinburgh in 2017 and some of the pieces that were on display were inspired by items in our collections. The artist linked traditional Chinese medicine concepts with art as she feels there is a strong link between the two. The main focal point of the exhibition ‘Wishing Capsules’ was made up of hundred of pill packets filled with wishes of Chinese children.  The whole Museums team worked alongside the artist to install the piece, it was then dismantled and sent back to the artist, who plans to reassemble it back in Hong Kong.

Installation of ‘Wishing Capsules’

Our second exhibition opened in November. ‘Field Notes: Reflections on Camp Life at the Scottish Women’s Hospitals’ has been created by Edinburgh based artists Joan Smith and Susie Wilson. The artists were inspired by the glass lantern slides created by the women on the Front Lines of WWI which are held in our archives. You can see some of the images that inspired the exhibition on the Library and Archives Digital Collections website. ‘Field Notes: Reflections on Camp Life at the Scottish Women’s Hospitals’ will run until the end of March.


We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who visited the museum, came along to an event or interacted with us on social media. We couldn’t have had such a great 2018 without you all!

If you like to keep up to date with what’s happening at Surgeons’ Hall Museums in 2019? You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You can also sign up to our events mailer which will allow you early access to our events tickets.

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