2015-16: Pharmacy as a Laboratory of Modernity

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'Pharmacy as a Laboratory of Modernity'


Knowledge Exchange Fellow:
Professor Barry Murnane   |   Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages   |   University of Oxford

Partner Organisation:
Science Museum London


Pharmacy can be identified as a laboratory of modernity: the cultural, scientific and medical practices of making and consuming medicines unite modernity’s master narratives of medical, scientific and industrial innovation with cultural production. Working with the curators and experts of the Wellcome Medical Collections at the Science Museum in London, Barry Murnane's project focus was laid on the material dimensions of medical therapy to tell the history of medicines and the technological, economic, and cultural conditions of their discovery and delivery. Focusing especially on the treatment of lung disease in the nineteenth century through the lens of the smallest of objects and simplest of technologies (pills, steam, inhalation devices) can enable powerful and provocative accounts of both the private and socio-historical dimensions of medicine.

As Science Museum Research Fellow, he spent the first half of 2016 in the Science Museum’s new Research Centre where he worked in partnership with the museum’s curators while they redesigned their Medical History display (which was due for completion in 2019). Alongside this major long-term project, activities included workshops with lung-disease stakeholders and education specialists, outreach sessions, and public events during 2016. Finally they created a web presence with a view to finding new forms of disseminating research on pharmaceutical history.

Click here to view the Digital Dispensary website

Past Events

MEDICAL OBJECTS An interdisciplinary workshop Wednesday, July 13, 2016 (All day)



Wednesday, July 13, 2016 (All day)

Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

Keynes Library


Birkbeck School of Arts is hosting 'Medical Objects: An Interdisciplinary Workshop' on the13 July 2016. An interdisciplinary enquiry into objects in medicine, featuring papers on medical technologies, texts, therapies and research objects, and the theoretical and disciplinary questions they raise.

Registration is free but essential. Click here to register.

Generously supported by the Wellcome Trust. Lunch and refreshments provided.

**Travel bursaries are available for those wishing to attend who are based outside London. (Subject to availability, and if oversubscribed preference will be given to students/unwaged). To apply please contact lj.mullen@bbk.ac.uk  by 8 July 2016. **


Dr Barry Murnane (Oxford University) ‘The Pharmacology of Medical Things

Dr Harriet Cooper (UEA) ‘Medical Objects, Medical Subjects: Some Reflections on Disciplinary Objectives and Attachments'

Dr William Viney (Durham) ‘Is That a Twin Thing?

Dr Heather Tilley (Birkbeck) ‘Neurological Casenotes, 1860s-70s

Dr Fiona Johnstone (Birkbeck) ‘Medical Objects or Works of Art?: The Adamson Collection

Oisin Wall (Science Museum) ‘Cultural Optimism and Midcentury Modern Design of Medical Technology

Dr Sophie Jones (Leeds) ‘The Prescription

Dr Hallvard Haug (Birkbeck) ‘Dead Set on Staying Alive: Intensive Care Apparatus and Post-Mortem Preparation for Cryonics

Harriet Barratt Dorling (Birkbeck) ‘Stomach Pumps and Dressing Tables: Absent and Insistent Objects in the Life and Work of Virginia Woolf

Dr Lisa Mullen (Birkbeck) ‘Podcast: Bodies and Objects’: Featuring interviews with doctors and patients about their experiences of the material culture of medicine.


Knowledge Exchange

Pharmacy as a Laboratory of Modernity

Contact name: 

Barry Murnane

Contact email: 



Open to all

DISPERSING MISTS IN THE PHANTOM MUSEUM Barry Murnane uses museum objects to tell the story of lung disease in the nineteenth century Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 7:00pm


Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 7:00pm

* This event has now been cancelled *

A talk as part of the Oxfordshire Science Festival 2016.

Barry Murnane reveals the latest discoveries from his TORCH partnership with the Science Museum London, using unusual objects from its collections to tell the history of lung disease in the nineteenth century.

Suitable for 14+

Tickets £5/ £4 concessions/ £16 family. Visit the Oxford Science Festival website to book and for details of the other festival events.

Pharmacy as a Laboratory of Modernity


Open to all