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Institute for Medical Humanities (IMH) public talk

(6 February 2019)

IMH is delighted to host a talk by Julie Anderson, University of Kent, entitled 'Independence, Dependence, and Interdependence: Embodiment and the Stick' on Tuesday, 26 February at 5.30pm in CA20, Caedmon Building, Leazes Road. The event is free, and wine and refreshments will be provided. Please email imh.mail@durham.ac.uk to reserve your place.

Walking sticks are relatively simple objects which are enhanced through materials, design, and purpose. Their enhancement exposes an inherent complexity in the stick itself. Sticks are embodied objects that denote power and vulnerability; a stick can be a weapon or a mobility aid, it can wound and support. Some thoughts about the multiplicity of meanings, functions, and complex relationships between user and stick are presented in this talk.

Abstract

Currently on display at the Wellcome Trust are two whalebone walking sticks owned by Charles Darwin, which were purchased from a London auction house in 1928 to add to Henry Wellcome’s collection of objects. One is a curved shape, reminiscent of a narwhale’s tusk, while the other is topped with a skull, with two striking bright green glass eyes, complete with bone fissures and a set of very healthy looking teeth. The sticks are well-preserved, yet look far too delicate to help their original owner to explore the countryside.

Darwin’s sticks were objects for personal display, for posing, their purpose was ornamental, not practical. Sticks are relatively simple objects which are enhanced through materials, design, and purpose. Their enhancement exposes an inherent complexity in the stick itself. Sticks are embodied objects that denote power and vulnerability; a stick can be a weapon or a mobility aid, it can wound and support. Some thoughts about the multiplicity of meanings, functions, and complex relationships between user and stick are presented in this talk. The human body is fundamental to the relationship, with both stick and body capable of making indelible marks on the other – whether emotional or physical. Time, place and identity reveal the embodied and emotional meanings associated with the user and the stick; it might be a source of pride or embarrassment, and it may be temporary or permanent. While a person’s body gives insight into the relationship between an individual and an object, sticks have significance beyond the user’s body and the object itself. The paper will explore medical, social, cultural, and human interpretations to offer some analysis of the complex relationship between the body, the stick and the wider world.

Julie Anderson is a Reader in History at the University of Kent. Her research interests encompass the history of medicine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and she has published books, chapters and articles on war, orthopaedics and ophthalmology. Julie is particularly interested in the cultural and social history of physical and sensory disabilities, and has recently completed a monograph called Modern Eyes: Cultures of Seeing 1900-1950 (2019). Social and physical rehabilitation is another interest, and is the subject of her monograph War, Disability and Rehabilitation in Britain: The Soul of a Nation (2011). She co-authored a book for the Wellcome Trust called The Art of Medicine (with Emm Barnes) which focused on the Trust’s diverse collection of images and art. In addition, she has written on medical technologies, and published a book on the history of hip replacement, Surgeons, Manufacturers and Patients: A Transatlantic History of Total Hip Replacement (2007, with John Pickstone and Francis Neary). Julie is co-editor of a series on the history of disability (with paediatrician Walton O. Schalick) with Manchester University Press. She is planning a new book on orthopaedic hospitals.

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