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Opening Up the Body: The project

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About the project

SGUL Archives and Special Collections received funding from the Wellcome in 2017 to conserve, digitise and catalogue the post mortem volumes held at the Archives and Special Collections, St George’s, University of London.

The first phase of the project saw the casebooks being sent to the London Conservation Centre (LCC) in Northampton where the leather covers were treated for a condition known as ‘red rot’.  They were then transferred to the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) in Clerkenwell where the interior pages were repaired and digitised.

Cataloguing and making the collection available began in 2019, and the project is due to finish in September 2021.

The project team:

Juulia Ahvensalmi - Project Archivist (2019-2020); Archivist (2020-2021)

Natasha Wakely (Shillingford) - Project Archivist (2019-2021)

Alexandra Foulds - Project Archivist (2020-2021)

Carly Manson - Archivist (2017-2020)

Cathy Corbishley - Volunteer, medical expert

What are the post mortem casebooks?

The Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books were created jointly by St George’s Hospital and the Medical School. The post mortem records contain manuscript case notes, with medical notes both pre and post mortem. These include details on patients’ admission to the hospital, treatments and medication administered to patients and the medical history of patients; the medical histories were copied into the volumes from hospital registers, which are no longer extant. The post mortem cases include detailed pathological findings made during the detailed examination of the body after death. From the 1880s onwards the case books contain original anatomical drawings and photographs.

Post mortems were routinely conducted on patients who died at the hospital. The examinations were conducted by the curator and the assistant curator of the museum, who were also responsible for the Pathological Museum; they were appointed annually by the Hospital Board from among the senior pupils of the Medical School on the recommendation of the Medical School Committee. Prescott Hewett was the first curator, appointed c.1840, and he introduced the practice of keeping post mortem books. The curators were further assisted by students appointed as post mortem assistants on rotating one-month terms. Registrars were responsible for filling in the post mortem cases each month, under the supervision of senior doctors.

The post mortems formed an integral part of the teaching of surgery and anatomy for the students of the medical school, and were routinely observed by the students, and some cases contain notes indicating the body was taken to the Medical School for dissection and teaching of anatomy. The Medical School Committee minutes from the 19th century onwards frequently refer to the post mortem records, in particular where omissions or mistakes in the keeping of the records were noticed.

Find out more and search the catalogue
The post mortem casebooks are freely accessible online through our catalogue.

Alongside digital images of each case the catalogue records include information about the patients (name, age, gender, occupation, the disease(s) of which they died) and a brief summary of the case notes.

There are different ways to explore this unique resource and to find your way around the collection. You can

  •     Browse or search the whole collection and find out more about the post mortem casebooks
  • Browse the cases by disease type or anatomy identifying the cause of death or other diseases, such as respiratory tract diseases or diseases affecting the nervous system. The names of the diseases have been transcribed as well as standardised using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), and can also be explored with free text search
  • Browse or search for St George's doctors. The catalogue includes authority records for each of the doctors recorded in the volumes. These can be used to for instance browse all the cases of Henry Gray or one of the first female doctors at St George’s, Helen Ingleby
  • Browse all the illustrations and photographs in the collection
  • Browse all the cases where the death was caused by trauma or accident, homicide or murder or suicide
  • Find more inspiration and learn more about the collection through our visualisations

 Post mortem cases 1841-1917-woutcopyright


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