Students on our Introduction to Medicine course delved into the weird and wonderful history of international medicine on their trip to the Wellcome Collection in London. Students were captivated by the Collection’s Medicine Now exhibition―amongst the exhibits on display is a plasticinated slice of a human body (willingly donated to science upon the subject’s death), a printout of the human genome, and forehead readers used in the 18th century to interpret the character of a potential marriage partner before tying the knot.
At the Alexander Fleming Museum, students stepped straight into a scene from medical history as they entered the very room in which the famous Scottish scientist discovered penicillin in 1928. They learned the story of accidental discovery: Fleming had been researching staphylococci in his lab, which was famed for its constant state of disarray, and had left a stack of cultures on his desk while he holidayed with his family over the summer; on returning, he noticed that one culture had developed a fungus, which had caused the staphylococci surrounding it to be destroyed. He is reported to have remarked “that’s funny”, and after a couple of months of experimentation with this “mould juice”, declared the existence of penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic. Now, thanks to Alexander Fleming, we can fight bacterial infections, and children the world over can mount a convincing defense when ordered to tidy their rooms.
In the evening, it was time to get to know those parts of Oxford history that we’ve all tried to forget, as students went on a ghost tour of the city: they heard from their guide about the martyrdoms of Ridley, Cranmer and Latimer on Broad Street in 1555, and the St Scholastica Day Riot of 1355, where bitter tension between town and gown (locals and university students) in Oxford―now more of a good-humoured rivalry acted out in charity runs and other sporting events―came to blows and bloody brawling. Locals from the wider countryside poured in, and shouts of “Havac! Havoc! Smyt fast, give gode knocks” could be heard in the streets; 63 scholars were killed, along with over 30 locals.
Happily, our students passed peacefully through the city, and returned to LMH to finish off their assignments in Homework Club, or toss a frisbee in the college grounds.