Monthly Archives: November 2013

Alan Dronsfield: two talks on the history of medicine

An old friend of the Williams Project, Professor Alan Dronsfield from the University of Derby, gave us two separate talks on medical history. The first, ‘To Sleep, Perchance to Dream – the early chemical history of anaesthesia’, set out the nightmare world of surgery before anaesthetics, and carefully took us through the, er, painfully slow development of methods of pain-relief, from nitrous oxide and opium to chloroform.

The second, ‘Marie Curie, the discovery of radium and its early use in medical therapy’, outlined the discovery of radiation, and the lives and research of Poland-born Marie Curie and her husband Pierre, and then explained the medical uses to which radium has been put, from the Finsen Lamp, used to clear skin lesions caused by lupus, to methods of applying radium to tumours deep in the body and the flourishing of radium hospitals across Europe. Alan then, to much wincing and a little giggling, showed us pictures of pseudo-medical products, from condoms to chocolate, claiming to harness the ‘energy’ of radium for general and specific health benefits, all of them spurious, and some of them harmful. Radioactive thermal underwear, drinks coasters and cigarette holders were some of the other highlights.

Throughout Alan, for a long time now Chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Historical Group, held his audience fully engaged, and inspired some excellent questions. We hope to see him again.

Peter Tatchell: “Opposing the EDL and extreme Islamicists”

For a second time Chigwell School was lucky enough to hear the incredibly busy and well-known Peter Tatchell. His subject was the importance of opposing both Islamists and the EDL, and he carefully outlined his subtle position with regard to the threats to human rights posed by organised religion, particularly, at this time, to women and LGBT people from extreme Islamism, and the threats to Muslim communities posed by right-wing white extremists. He described how twice he has challenged both groups simultaneously, supporting East London Muslims against EDL intimidation, while at the same time opposing homophobia in those same communities. As ever he spoke clearly, with a controlled and reasonable passion, with a powerful command of facts and arguments.

Questions covered areas such as the relative priority of defending gender and sexual rights as against economic ones: it was argued by some that economic justice was more important.

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