Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Edinburgh Interiors

How do you create a world?
Answer, if you are a member of the Pox and the City team:
Through hundreds of photos, reams of archives, and not nearly enough opportunities to sample the variety of Edinburgh restaurants.

And so in May 2012, Hannah Ueno, Laura Zucconi, and I went to Edinburgh on a Six-Day Mission: To boldly explore the streets, wynds, closes, interiors, and archives of the city, so we can create the virtual world of medical Edinburgh. We'll have more on the process in later blogs, but for now, I'll concentrate on Edinburgh interiors, as a small way to say "thank you" to all the hospitable folks who let us wander purposefully throughout their historic buildings, cameras at the ready.

What better way to begin our exploration of early 19th century Edinburgh intellectual life than with a trip to Old College (University of Edinburgh) and the Playfair Library. Even though we did not have an appointment, the helpful staff at reception allowed us upstairs to visit what is surely among the most ornate settings for final exams in the the world.

Yes, we know it had not yet been constructed in 1802 -- we are historians, after all -- and that young Dr. Robertson would never have taken an exam with hundreds of others, as students do today. But he might well have sat with that many in his Anatomy and Surgery class, or carved graffiti on one of the desks, as we saw in our minute examination of the desks pictured on the right.
We decided we couldn't get enough of ornate libraries, and we were very fortunate that Ben Bennett, of the Scottish Council on Archives, provided us with a wondrous tour of General Register House, built by Scottish Enlightenment architect Robert Adam. Not only is it a classic example of an Edinburgh dome, but also its search rooms revealed any number of Pox and the city gems: blueprints of the New Jail on Calton Hill and Parliament House, letters from Scots lairds to their physicians about precautions to take against smallpox, and treatment if the precautions proved ineffectual. One minister called together all his parishioners -- or as many as would agree to attend -- and, with doctors and vaccines at the ready, carried out a kind of mass vaccination then and there, praying that the Lord "look favourably on the endeavours used to soften the effects of a loathsome disease to the children  of this Parish and Neighbourhood."

No reconstruction of  Medical Edinburgh would be possible without a visit to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Many thanks to Iain Milne, Sibbald Librarian, for inviting us to a reception and special viewing of some of the College of Physicians' treasures, including the library...
the archive room...

and the most beautifully preserved 18th century interior in Edinburgh.
Many thanks as well to Marianne Smith, Librarian at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, for giving us a tour of the library and a glimpse of some of the most "special" of the collections, including an illuminated Book of Hours and a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle.

And no trip to Medical Edinburgh could be complete without a visit to the Surgeons Hall museums! Photography isn't allowed inside the museum so I'll add one of my favorite images from their collection...
a preparation of the arteries of the foot. Gruesome, right? 
Stay tuned for more world-building as Pox and the City comes to a virtual environment near you...


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  2. Edinburgh is beautiful city in itself but its interior makes it more beautiful. A good point to write about in a post.

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