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Writing ‘the prescription’—creative responses to our College archives

17 May 2024

In the latest issue of College Voice, we learned about a project using our College archives to inspire new creative works.

Our College archive, an extensive collection of medical texts and equipment dating from our earliest days, has long been a resource for Fellows and Members. In 2023, it inspired a new audience through a creative writing group, ‘the prescription’.

“Sometimes writers need prompts,” explained Dr Gillean McDougall, leader of ‘the prescription’ workshops. “I knew that if I brought in exciting and curious minds, they would find something in the archives.”

And prompts they found: anatomical drawings, medical equipment, diaries, photographs and more to be discussed with the help of College staff.

Gillean first came to our College to speak at a Heritage event about her project on Gartnavel Royal, Writing the Asylum. Her use of archival materials to generate new responses in medical humanities sparked an idea to use our own archive as a jumping off point for creative exploration – thus ‘the prescription’ was born.

Each workshop covered a theme: Bones, Breath, Delinquents and Death. Our Heritage team introduced objects from the collection, sharing the stories behind them. In addition, the writers explored existing texts from the medical humanities, examining how others had handled similar subjects.

“We were not just looking at the items, but exploring the history and context around them,” said Gillean. “It was fantastic to have the expertise of the Heritage team informing our discussions.”

The group included poets, playwrights and prose writers, several of whom have medical backgrounds. The sessions included round-table discussion as well as quiet, communal writing time, with close reference to the archive pieces.

“These were special moments, reaching across centuries of medical history, uniting us with physicians and patients from the past,” said Gillean.

Creative ideas abounded, and ‘the prescription’, was published in October 2023, featuring work by 14 writers.

Log in to read the full article and excerpts of work in College Voice. Copies of the book are available in the College Library.

We also ran an open competition asking writers to respond to items from the Collection on our Heritage website. The winning entries for poetry, prose, hybrid, and a special judges’ prize are posted on our Heritage blog.

Image shows the front cover of College Voice magazine, which features a large green box-like tool with a dial on the front. This is the Lucy Baldwin apparatus, from our College archives, which was used to help women in childbirth. Text on the cover reads Drawing inspiration from our achives, Exploring sustainability, A personal view of NHS care, Equality, diversity and inclusion at the College, the impact of mentoring, and exams, courses and conference schedules.

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