Main menu

Mind-Boggling Medical History

1) Eating too many bananas makes you grow more body hair by increasing the level of potassium.
2) Maggots are used in hospitals to clean infected wounds.
3) Excessive cycling can cause permanent damage to the muscles in the face.*

Look at the statements above. What do you think when you see them? Do they refer to current medical ideas? Are they medical practices from the past? Or are the theories mentioned entirely fictional? 

These are just some of the weird and wonderful statements we put to people who play Mind-Boggling Medical History, a game developed by Dr Sally Frampton (University of Oxford) and colleagues, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Mind-Boggling Medical History is an educational game which is designed to challenge preconceptions about history and show how ideas in medicine change for a variety of reasons. From floating kidneys and wandering wombs to transplanted heads and dogs who detect diseases, the game challenges players to look at a series of statements and decide which concern current medical practice, which are based on historical ideas or practices no longer used, and which we have … well … just made up! Players can choose from a number of rounds related to different medical themes, including ‘sex and reproduction’, ‘animals’, ‘mind’ and ‘treatment’. We have produced both a physical card pack, available to those working in education, nursing, public engagement and museums, as well as an online version that is freely available to all here.

Developed in collaboration with the Royal College of Nursing, and drawing on the interdisciplinary work of the ‘Constructing Scientific Communities’ project (headed by Professor of English Literature Sally Shuttleworth), Mind-Boggling Medical History has been created with museum visitors, school students, and University nursing and medical students in mind. Accompanying lesson plans and learning resources for use with GCSE History and BSc Nursing students are available to download for free on our website.

The game is intended to show players how historical theories can prompt questions about current understandings of medicine, the need for health and medical practitioners to stay up-to-date in their field, and the impact that changes in medical knowledge can have on patient care. The game was developed into a more sophisticated resource after playing it with museum visitors at a series of public engagement events in both Oxford and London. The aim is to get people thinking about medicine in its past and present contexts and show that the differences between the two are not always clear or straightforward. Faced with tobacco enemas, heroin-laced medicines and an enthusiastic reliance on smelling urine to diagnose disease, it can sometimes be difficult to see beyond our own incredulity at how illness was treated at different points in the past, and to instead consider why certain theories and practices emerge when they do.

Mind-Boggling Medical History encourages users to look more closely at how ideas change in medicine, how they can often come in and out of fashion (think leeches!) and how modern-day medicine can equally play host to bizarre and unexpected ideas and treatments. Sometimes the truth can seem stranger than fiction.

Constructing Scientific Communities.

*A: (1) Fictional; (2) Present; (3) Past