Manchester University has a much celebrated and prestigious reputation in scientific scholarship. Our current superstars are the likes of Brian Cox and Konstantin Novoselov but historically this scientific excellence can be reflected in the breadth of material available to researchers in the Special Collections.
Amongst the collections, we have the papers of chemist and innovator of atomic theory John Dalton. Material from the John Dalton Papers is particularly fascinating and rare. The small but important archive held here in the John Rylands Library consists of more than two hundred items, many of which are fire-damaged. These are the remaining papers of a larger archive, most of which was destroyed in an air-raid in 1940. The library is also host to a collection of printed material written by Marie Stopes a botanist, birth control campaigner and true pioneer. Stopes was the first female academic at Manchester to join the scientific staff of the University; she was appointed as assistant lecturer and demonstrator in botany in 1904. Eminent past members of the Physics department include Ernest Rutherford and Hans Geiger. Rutherford is generally considered the father of nuclear Physics and his colleague Hans Geiger was co-inventor of the Geiger counter. The library also houses the Jodrell Bank Archive deposited by Sir Bernard Lovell who established the Jodrell Bank Observatory. Although the scientific disciplines vary, all these alumni shared a common urgency to experiment, to push the boundaries of our understanding and to better interpret of the world around us.
- Rutherford & Geiger
Inevitably there will always be resistance to exploring new and unchartered territory. Perhaps one of the most controversial areas of scientific research has been the study of human anatomy. Way before the notorious bodysnatching days of Burke and Hare, dissection of the human
body had been a contentious subject. Galen, one of the greatest contributors to the early study of anatomy (c.129-216 CE) was forced to vivisect pigs and apes as substitutes for cadavers as the dissection of human bodies was prohibited at the time. Amazingly his work stood for centuries and was not really interrogated until the 1500’s when Andreas Vesalius published perhaps the most groundbreaking books on human anatomy De Humani corporis fabrica, in which he naturally contradicted and corrected a number of Galen’s findings. Throughout October there are a number of events being held here in the Rylands Library with a decidedly anatomical theme, including The Body Stripped Bare a rare chance to view a second edition of Vesalius’ work as part of the Manchester Science Festival.
There has been a faculty of Medicine at Manchester since 1873 (at Owens College) and the John Rylands Library holds extensive printed, manuscript and archive Medical collections. One of the most noted Manchester anatomists was John Stopford, Professor of Anatomy at the University in the early 20th century. The name will be familiar to many of us as it is after Lord Stopford that the University’s Stopford Building (and Stopford Library) is named. There are many fantastic images charting the history of medicine amongst the collections but this one we have digitised of the Anatomy Museum c.1890 is rather wonderful. Please note the sinister figure loitering on the mezzanine amongst the skulls, bones and specimen jars.
The long and happy marriage between science and fear is going to be celebrated here at the library with a number of events this October. There are two events available in the afternoon of October 31st in the library: Blood and Guts a close up of some of the Library’s rare medical books and Skeleton’s in the Library’s closet which is all about bones. The hysteria culminates in the early evening with a screening of James Whale’s Classic retelling of Frankenstein. All together now, it’s Alive!!!!!