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Durham University

Research & business

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Durham University offers an exciting year-round calendar of lectures, seminars and exhibitions. Events are open to the public, so take the opportunity to engage with current debates, explore some of our beautiful buildings and grounds, expand your knowledge or learn more about our cultural artefacts.

A Social History of Spirometers

24th January 2019, 18:00 to 19:30, Palace Green Library (The Courtyard Cafe)

In this relaxed evening talk,Dr Coreen McGuire, Research Associate in the History of Medicine (University of Bristol) and Researcher on the Life of Breath project, will tell the story of the spirometer in Britain, illuminating the significant connections between measurement and disability.

Measuring lung capacity through spirometry was necessary to define a standard of normalcy – there can be no abnormal without an initial definition of normal. However, questions about whether normal breathing was universal or varied between groups marked all such attempts: normal breathing for whom?

Measuring the body seems characteristic of objective scientific practice. However, decisions about the types of measurements we prioritise and the types of bodies we choose to measure as standards are heavily weighted with historical biases and discrimination. The process of making breathlessness visible has therefore been characterised by a focus on objective precision measurement tools, exemplified in the story of the spirometer.

This event is part of the programme of events for Catch Your Breath (24 November 2018 - 17 March 2019), a free winter exhibition at Palace Green Library.
The evening talk will take place in the Courtyard Café and will include a free glass of wine. Due to limited ticket numbers, please ensure that you book in advance to avoid disappointment:

Image credit: Science Museum, London.

Contact for more information about this event.