By Erinn Aspinall
Minnesota Public Radio News and Dr. Jon Hallberg toured the Wangensteen Historical Library’s exhibit, “Downton Abbey: Behind the Scenes of Health and Illness” on April 22.
What was Hallberg’s take on the practice of medicine a century ago?
“What was true then is true now,” Hallberg said. “When people have a primary care provider — they had a GP, a general practitioner back then, a family physician now — we do our jobs well. We know the families. We know them at a very deep level.”
Hallberg, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School and MPR medical commentator spoke at Wangensteen with Tom Crann, the host of All Things Considered on Minnesota Public Radio News.
Downton Abbey’s medical themes
Medical themes are threaded throughout Masterpiece Theater’s wildly popular Downton Abbey, from Matthew’s temporary paralysis during the Great War to Sybil’s tragic death from eclampsia. “Downton Abbey: Behind the Scenes of Health and Illness” illuminates the medicine of Edwardian England. The exhibit explores such themes as nursing, surgery and combat injuries in WWI, maternal and child health, and household medicine using books and artifacts from the library’s extensive early 20th century collections.
Hallberg’s conversation highlighted the topics of the exhibit. This included Sybil’s death during childbirth, Matthew’s spinal injuries and recovery, and the role of the family doctor in the time of Downton Abbey.
Hagens: convalescent homes were common then
Emily Hagens, exhibit co-curator, also contributed to the conversation, touching upon the use of Downton Abbey as a convalescent home for returning soldiers, a so-called “convalescent castle.”
“It was very common, actually,” Hagens said. “And the reason for that was that there were just not enough beds for all the soldiers who were coming home, so they needed to take the available space and shift it around so there was enough space for the soldiers.”
Downton Abbey has introduced many medical topics to its viewers; “Downton Abbey: Behind the Scenes of Health and Illness” continues to explore these instances of bodily trial through books and artifacts found in the Wangensteen Library’s collections. The exhibit features cookbooks, surgical manuals and instruments, newspapers, photographs and drawings, and clothing and other accessories from Edwardian England that highlight the experiences and concerns of 19th and 20th century medicine.