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Medicine of Downton Abbey period ‘almost terrifying’

Viewing the current Downton Abbey exhibit at the Wangensteen Historical Library left graduate student Jeff Moulton feeling a bit queasy as he thought about medicine of the early 20th century.

Exhibit info

“Downton Abbey: Behind the Scenes of Health and Illness” runs through May 16 at the Wangensteen Historical Library at the University of Minnesota.

Hours, location, details

“There are some things that are almost terrifying,” Moulton, a big Downton Abbey fan, said about some of the exhibit artifacts that include “a lot of pokers and tweezers.”

“I’m glad I live now,” said Emily Hagens, a Ph.D. student who is co-curator of the exhibit, “Downtown Abbey: Behind the Scenes of Health and Illness.”

“It was hard because there wasn’t good anesthesia (and) they didn’t have the antibiotics that we have now,” Hagens said. “So there was a lot of danger in living in the time period.”

“It’s hard to imagine,” Moulton said. “It makes me wonder, a century ago, did the people who actually lived those lives, what kind of faith did they have in their doctor.”

About the exhibit

Someone suggested to Lois Hendrickson, curator of the Wangensteen Historical Library, the idea of creating an exhibit by combining medicine and Downton Abbey. Hendrickson and Hagens, both fans of the show, jumped at the opportunity.

“The vast majority of the materials in the exhibit does belong to Wangensteen,” Hendrickson said. “In addition to the books, the Wangensteen has a nice artifacts collection, which you see exhibited as well.”

To get started the two watched all of the shows again, trying to identify themes for the exhibit.

“We focused on the medical events that happened around World War I,” Hagens said. This included shell shock, amputations, civilian nursing, and development of civilian hospitals.¬†“We’re ¬†really interested in showing the changing role of medicine during this time period,” Hendrickson added.

Why you should visit

Hendrickson and Hagens say the exhibit is popular with Downton Abbey fans and for non-fans who are simply interested in history and medicine.

“I think people who come see the exhibit, who love Downton, will come away with a new understanding of the show,” Hagens said.

Said Hendrickson: “People who are not fans of Downton Abbey can still enjoy the exhibit because it really lays out how medicine changed during this time period and how World War I, for example, influenced medicine.”

Filed in Health Sciences Libraries, News, Video by on March 14, 2014 0 Comments

About the Author ()

Mark Engebretson is the director of communications at the University of Minnesota Libraries and editor of continuum. Previously, Mark served as director of digital media strategy for the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and before that as electronic communications manager for the University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center Office of Communications. Mark is a former journalist who has written about politics, health, business, and sports for a number of newspapers and magazines. Mark has a B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in health journalism from the University of Minnesota.

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