Philip's cover image

Philip Thomson

Year of Award: 1995 Award State: Tasmania None > Museums, Galleries And Libraries
To study medical history and pharmacy displays at significant museums - UK, USA

On my 12-week Fellowship I visited over 50 Medical History Museums in Canada, the USA and UK to study how these collections are managed. Some of them had very few visitors, others were poorly funded and hidden away – and a few had huge public profiles. The Smithsonian in Washington DC, the Dittrick in Cleveland and the Wellcome in London were enormous, with over a million items in each collection. As with all museums, only a small fraction of their amazing wealth of material was on display.

The easy access to information on the Internet has changed the relevance of all museums. My experience was that most of the collections had minimal interest from the public (apart from aficionados), with many unlikely to survive. I did visit some institutions that had embraced modern technology, with interactive displays and imaginative approaches to relating to their visitors.

One of the privileges of being a Fellow was that I could also visit behind-the-scenes storage facilities. From earthquake-proof shelving in Vancouver to bank vaults containing invaluable classic medical books in Baltimore, I had doors opened for me that few have the opportunity to experience.

The hardest part of being a Fellow was leaving my wonderful wife Carmel at home with our four children. I think that the shorter trips Fellows take nowadays, with family accompanying them to share the experiences, are a much better way of travelling.

I was able to learn how objects and visual material from museum collections can be used to tell stories about the astonishing growth of medical knowledge over the past 170 years. Since returning from my Fellowship I have been fortunate enough to work with an experienced museum curator in mounting many small displays around Tasmania on a variety of subjects and for a variety of time periods. My most recent display in Hobart on the medical peccadilloes of Winston Churchill has accompanied the CFA (Tas) 50th Anniversary display in Hobart, Launceston and Burnie.

I have taken my turn on the CFA committee and have enjoyed the opportunities it has given me to meet many Fellows, Panel members and Churchill Trust staff. I regard my Fellowship as one of the significant events in my life and am grateful for the ongoing benefits of this experience.

Excerpt from “Bringing Knowledge Home” published by the Churchill Fellows Association of Tasmania (2016) 

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