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Based at The University of Edinburgh, the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum is part of the ESRC Genomics Network and pioneers new ways to promote and communicate social research on the contemporary life sciences.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The stories have been told. Ann Lingard

by Ann Lingard - Novelist, journalist, former ESRC Genomics Forum Visiting Research Fellow

Two hundred people had booked tickets for our "Tell them our stories" event in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre! Why so many? Someone commented that people have always been fascinated by the exhibits in the Surgeons' Hall Museum; it has long been one of the City's 'must-see' places, and indeed, the Tansey & Mekie 'History of the Museum' (1978) refers to a time when 'Visitors of the lower classes, mechanics, sailors and soldiers have uniformly been quiet, careful and most orderly…visitors of the lower classes seem to take more interest in the specimens than those of the higher, many of whom, especially ladies, merely walk through the rooms without looking at the objects particularly.'

The programme included me talking about my background research on some of the exhibits, and reading extracts from my partly fictionalised stories of the 'donors'; poet and novelist Diana Hendry talking about her work as Writer in Residence at Dumfries Infirmary, and how she had come to write a poem about the Museum's 'Man with Three Legs'; and Andrew Connell, the Museum's Collections Manager, talking – in front of a background of constantly changing images from the Collection – about new uses for the Collection.

So the three of us represented a broad range of interests in the exhibits, perhaps appealing to a mix of medical historians, poets, writers, ethicists and scientists.

Or perhaps some just came to enjoy the experience and atmosphere of the lofty, steeply-raked Anatomy Lecture Theatre: no central table with a cadaver, though, just a pile of our books for sale!

Andrew often refers to the exhibits as 'patients' and that was one of our themes for the evening – to think about the human stories and why the patients had ended up in hospital (or a grave) and then in the Museum's Collections. This is Edinburgh, after all – think Robert Knox, and 'Resurrectionists'.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom. Michael Flett – a writer and reviewer – did a hilarious reading of part of 'Janet's story', bringing Janet's son, the young Caesar, to life and laughter. And Diana sent us on our way smiling, with a reading of her 'Poem for a Hospital Wall' (from her collection, Late Love)

And so I have finally 'drawn a line' under the research, writing and collaboration that I carried out while a 'Bright Ideas' Visiting Fellow at the Forum. Thank you to everyone, friends, collaborators – and 'Janet', 'Andrew' 'George' and others in the Museum Collections. It was a great experience!

See a selection of photos on the Genomics Network Flickr Channel >>

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