Wellcome Collection has developed one of the largest audio-visual collections of 20th-century healthcare and medicine from Europe and the USA aimed at anyone interested in the evolution of medicine and health over the past 100 years. There are about 10,000 items with over 1000 being digitised and online available under Creative Commons licences. The earliest item in the collection is a recitation by Florence Nightingale on behalf of the veterans of Balaclava in 1890.
Wellcome Collection is a free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health. Our collections are at the heart of what we do.
215 Euston Road
Phone: 0207 611 2222
Access: DVDs and audio cassettes can be accessed in the library (please see our website for opening hours) on a first-come, first-served basis (joining the library requires two forms of identification). At the moment (November 2021) it isn't possible to watch non-standard videos or 16mm film material due to COVID-19 measures, although we are operating a digitisation on demand service within the available legal frameworks. Sometimes these digital files are available onsite only.
We publish our Collections Development strategy on our website. Here is the current one (last amended 2018): https://wellcomecollection.cdn.prismic.io/wellcomecollection%2F6438039a-7787-4fcb-9a09-8774b1d7e808_wellcome+collection_collections+development+policy_march+2018.pdf
Archive films are key documents from the twentieth century and can provide windows to the past. By watching the films of the 1920s and 1930s we are truly watching the medical pioneers of yesteryear and tuning into a time when these historical films were made for professional audiences and there was little faith in people understanding healthcare decisions. Distribution would have been limited to the medical professions in their cloistered worlds, but due to digitisation, these films can now be viewed by everyone.
A film of considerable historical interest is ‘Acute encephalitis lethargica’ from 1925, which is about an illness resulting in extreme sleepiness, neurological abnormality or even death which caused a pandemic lasting from 1916-1927. The resulting 'sleepy sickness' was popularised in the writer and neurologist Oliver Sack's book and 1990 film, ‘Awakenings’. The original film from 1925 showing a case study with this condition has been viewed many times on YouTube. In Wellcome Collection, films, videos and audio frequently feature in the exhibitions and there are many ways in which the digitised collections can be accessed.
Angela Saward, Research Development Specialist (Moving Image and Sound)