Brookes launches interview archive of the 20th century’s most pioneering scientists

Thursday, 01 February 2018

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Oxford Brookes University is celebrating the launch of an important digital collection of interviews with leading figures in the world of medical and clinical science.

The newly digitised Medical Sciences Video Archive is a collection of over 130 interviews created between 1985 and 2002. The legacy videos provide a rich picture of the history of modern medicine spanning the 1930s to the end of the 20th century.

During the interviews, the pioneering scientists talk about their lives, early influences, schooling, university education and medical training, as well as giving a personal view of the role they played in the development of clinical medicine and science in the period.

As well as covering a variety of topics, the collection provides special insights into the culture and practice of British biomedical science in the second half of the 20th century.

Dr Viviane Quirke, Senior Lecturer in Modern History and History of Medicine, Oxford Brookes University

Dr Viviane Quirke, Senior Lecturer in Modern History and History of Medicine at Oxford Brookes University said: “The Medical Sciences Video Archive is a precious resource for anyone interested in the history of modern medicine or in oral history.

“As well as covering a variety of topics, the collection provides special insights into the culture and practice of British biomedical science in the second half of the 20th century."

Scientists who took part in the project include:

  • Dr Denis Burkitt: the first to describe a form of cancer common in children in Africa, now named Burkitt’s Lymphoma
  • Professor Sir Roy Calne: Pioneer of transplantation
  • Sir Richard Doll: Pioneer in linking smoking and lung cancer
  • Sir Anthony Epstein, co-discovered the Epstein-Barr virus
  • Professor Dorothy Hodgkin: Awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on structures of penicillin and vitamin B12
  • Sir Andrew Huxley: Awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for work on nerve action
  • Sir David Jack: Pharmacologist associated with new medicines for asthma, hypertension, peptic ulcer, nausea and migraine.
  • Dame Cicely Saunders: Pioneer of the modern hospice movement
  • Professor Sir John Vane: Awarded Nobel Prize (jointly) for Physiology and Medicine for work on prostaglandin
  • Professor Maurice Wilkins: Awarded Nobel Prize (jointly) for Medicine for work on structure of DNA.

The collection covers a wide range of subject areas such as anaesthesia, epidemiology, immunology, medical genetics, pharmacology and respiratory medicine, neurophysiology, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, nutrition, occupational medicine, transplant surgery and x-ray crystallography.

A number of the interviews also relate to policy areas such as health services administration, health education and promotion, and science funding.

The Medical Sciences Video Archive project began in 1985, when Oxford Polytechnic, Oxford Brookes University’s predecessor institution, and the Royal College of Physicians agreed to record on videotape, interviews with fellows of the College and distinguished medical scientists.

Professor Max Blythe, then of the School of Biological and Molecular Sciences at Oxford Polytechnic, founded the archive in 1985. He was instrumental in developing the collection and conducted most of the interviews himself.

Thanks to funding from Wellcome, Library staff at Oxford Brookes University, were able to have the tapes professionally digitised, catalogued and made freely available to view online via the University’s Research Archive and Digital Asset Repository (RADAR).

Eleanor Possart, Archivist for the Special Collections at Oxford Brookes University said: “It is an incredible collection and I feel privileged to have played some part in helping preserve it for future researchers.

“What’s great about RADAR is that it allows you to browse the collections by interview participant, subject and date, making it much easier to use the collection.

“I hope that now it is more accessible, more people will use and enjoy this wonderful resource.”

Image: Sir Christopher Booth in interview with Sir Gordon Wolstenholme, Oxford Brookes University.