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Thursday, April 15 • 10:25am - 10:50am
Borderlands | Medics on the Move: Travelling Doctors; Tourists, Witnesses or Prospectors?

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Medics and doctors have been in a privileged position historically: their profession is not only borderless, but is a passport to normally inaccessible places. In light of our understanding of colonial encounters, how problematic are these filmed meetings? To what degree do they represent historical fact or myth? The session looks at the surprising scope of medical film archives, focusing on several films shot in the Americas 1930-70s from Wellcome Collection, London. Henry Wellcome, an American by birth, founder of the museum and library now known as Wellcome Collection, travelled to South America as an agent to a pharmaceutical company in the 1870s in pursuit of cinchona, used in the production of quinine, a treatment for malaria. Through film depicting a series of journeys in the Americas, three film ‘encounters’ are viewed. The first, World Tour of 1935, when hundreds of members of the British Medical Association with their families embarked England and travelled across the Atlantic, through North-America/Canada, and then by sea to Melbourne, Australia, for an annual meeting. One of the itineraries took the travelling doctors fleetingly through a ‘remote’ Indian village at Isleta, New Mexico, Grand Canyon and beyond. Wellcome’s laboratories had obtained samples of curare derived from tree bark, used in arrow poison by indigenous hunters in South America. This was developed into a drug used as a muscle relaxant for surgery and ECT in the 1940s. South East Ecuador, where quinine had been discovered, visited by Wellcome on plant hunting expeditions in the 1870s, was also the location of Dr Wilburn Henry Ferguson’s anthropological medical research amongst the Jivaro people. Ferguson set out to find out the secret behind shrinking human heads with the view that this might help combat cancer. Needing further funding in the 1960s and 70s, he co-opted his indigenous hosts in re-creating their encounter. Both Wellcome and Ferguson laid claim to preserving indigenous rights, although the filmic record suggests mixed feelings from those First Nation Peoples.


Angela Saward

Wellcome Library

Thursday April 15, 2021 10:25am - 10:50am PDT
Stage A