Placement Student develops new KS4 history of medicine session

We were really lucky over the past three weeks to have two fantastic placement students  from UCL, one of whom helped us to develop a brand new Secondary workshop focusing on the history of medicine and the use of primary sources!

Here’s a post from Elizabeth Roberts about her experience at the Museum:

“I arrived in Manchester at the start of May having flown several thousand miles from Doha, Qatar to begin a placement with the Learning and Engagement team at the Manchester Museum. The three-week placement is part of my MA course in Museum and Gallery Practice with UCL Qatar. I spent my time at the museum planning a workshop for Key Stage 4 History students on ancient medicine designed to develop their understanding of primary sources. The workshop was trialled with a group of Year 7 pupils from Newall Green High School and it was fantastic to work with a local school and to get feedback from the students.

Etruscan womb

Etruscan womb, 4th/3rd centuries BC on display in Ancient Worlds

One of the objects that we looked at in the workshop was this Etruscan model of a woman’s womb from the 4th/3rd centuries BC. The Manchester Museum’s collection is vast and incredibly diverse so it’s hard to pick favourite objects but, if I had to choose, this model would undoubtedly be on my top 10 list. It shows a detailed anatomical understanding of how the womb functions but it was not produced for further scientific study, rather it was most likely given as a votive offering at a shrine. The woman who left this model may have been trying to get pregnant and was looking for divine intercession or she may have become pregnant and wanted to offer thanks to the Gods. It is interesting to explore this object with students to get them to think about the co-existence in ancient societies of spiritual beliefs with developing understanding of anatomy and physiology.

In preparation for the workshop, I met with many of the subject specialist curators responsible for the different parts of the museum’s collection. Over 90% of the Manchester Museum’s collection is in storage and it was a real privilege to go behind the scenes to access the vast store rooms that are tucked away behind the galleries. Sometimes there are objects in the most unlikely places and in order to get to the Materia Medica, part of the Botony collection, I was led up a stone spiral staircase into an attic room stuffed with jars and specimens that would not be out of place at Hogwarts. A selection of plants and herbs from the Materia Medica are now on display in Nature’s Library and were also part of the object handling session for my ancient medicine workshop.

The Materia Medica in storage and on display in Nature’s Library

The Materia Medica in storage and on display in Nature’s Library

My behind the scenes look at life in the museum also included a peek at the Conservation department. Conservators are the unsung heroes of the museum and work tirelessly to protect the collection, be it installing new exhibitions, preparing objects for handling sessions with schools or wrapping objects for loan. A major focus for conservators here in Manchester is protecting the collection from insects because of the large number of natural history objects. At the first sign of pest infestation, objects are whisked away and placed in huge freezers before too much damage occurs.

The vast collections at the museum make it one of the UK’s leading cultural institutions. But it wouldn’t be the success that it is without the dedicated and innovative museum staff. The Learning and Engagement team are particularly active, planning sessions for schools, building community partnerships, organising family events, hosting international conferences – the list could go on and on. Just one of the projects that is being planned at the moment is the Midden Project in conjunction with Matthew Moss High School. This has already been trialled and the results can be seen in one of the display cabinets in the Exploring Objects section of the Ancient Worlds gallery.”

The session that Liz developed – examining what primary sources can tell us about ancient medicine, with examples from Ancient Egypt – will be available from the Autumn Term. We will be offering some FREE sessions for schools: if you want to know more, please contact me.