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The Editor’s Eye

December 5, 2014

Final issue: focusing on the stories of the medical humanities – by Elizabeth T Hurren

The stonemason discovered the vermilion carving when cleaning the back wall of my cottage for repointing this summer:

Sharp frost

May 29th 1914 

Still, in a building dated 1654 it was a surprise to find a weather report carved just before the eve of World War I. Lime plaster has to be frost-free when repairing stonework, so the young mason must have been anxious about the inclement ground frost as war threatened on the village horizon in the summer 1914. In a hurry perhaps to get the delayed job done, soon he – and all the young men in Rutland, the smallest county in England – would be packing up for France. It was touching to feel the carving with my fingers, to reconnect to village tradesmen who became unknown soldiers in 1914 on the Western Front.

Royal Army Medical Corps stretcher-bearers lifting a wounded man out of a trench. By Gilbert Rogers. Wellcome Images

Royal Army Medical Corps stretcher-bearers lifting a wounded man out of a trench. By Gilbert Rogers. Wellcome Images

This 2014 winter issue of Wellcome History features those that should never be forgotten in this World War I centenary year. It touches on themes often associated with wartime medicine: plastic surgery, mental ill-health, suicidal tendencies, force-feeding of conscious objectors, and those dislocated across the British Empire.

This is also the final issue of Wellcome History. In future, the Wellcome Trust will be sharing research in the medical humanities online, to make faster connections across the world in a digital age. Would Henry Wellcome like the e-revamp? Well, he always had a pioneering spirit and was a supreme self-publicist, so it seems very likely that, as a business entrepreneur with a passion for medical history, Henry would have been at the forefront of using the web to engaging the public wherever he could. I hope therefore that contributors will continue to uphold his pioneering spirit by sending in new ideas and ways of thinking to meet whatever human challenges the future of medicine and science holds.

In 2014 the Trust launched Mosaic, publishing weekly stories on any aspect of biology, medicine, public health, history or ethics that in some way touches on human or animal health, or the human condition. Articles with a historical aspect so far have included Hungary’s struggle with polio in the Cold War, Alan Turing’s contribution to developmental biology, and the many decades of efforts to understand blood groups, Alzheimer’s disease and the dangers of asbestos. The editorial team is always looking for new contributions (find out how to contribute).

Meanwhile, the Wellcome Trust blog features news about work the Trust supports, in the medical humanities and public engagement as well as in science, and the Wellcome Library blog showcases historical research activities and resources.

As the closing editor of this final printed issue, I would like to thank everyone who has contacted me from around the world. It has been a privilege to engage with your cutting-edge research, and I shall continue to follow debates and discussions online as our future innovations give voice to the medical humanities of Henry Wellcome’s extraordinary legacy.

My kindest regards,

Elizabeth Hurren

Dr Elizabeth Hurren is Reader in Medical Humanities, University of Leicester (

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