Royal College of Physicians Museum London: Catch Your Breath

Catch Your Breath 1

blurred Large crowd of peoplePause, consider, how every single aspect of our bodies need oxygen to survive. This happens because we breathe; the brain, as it detects the amount of oxygen present in our bodies, ensuring they will run efficiently.

Ferraris medical ltd. peak flow meter, c.1990s_ Quain stethometer, 1860–80_ Laennec-type stethoscope, c.1820_ Vitalograph Pneumotrac Spirometer, c.2010s courtesy Royal College Physicians London

Ferraris medical ltd. peak flow meter, c.1990s, Quain stethometer, 1860–80, Laennec-type stethoscope, c.1820, Vitalograph Pneumotrac Spirometer, c.2010s, courtesy Royal College Physicians London

Speaking to the vital importance of breath itself and the atmosphere we all share, Catch Your Breath, a new exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians Museum at London April 2 – September 20, 2019, will seek to map the unique role of respiration in both human life and culture.

Poster with an anti-smoking message, featuring a drawing of a child with a teddy bear, looking up at a hand holding a cigarette with the message 'Do not poison the air he breathes', produced by the Central Council for Health Education, London, England, c1960-1969, courtesy Royal College Physicians Museum, London

Poster with an anti-smoking message, featuring a drawing of a child with a teddy bear, looking up at a hand holding a cigarette with the message ‘Do not poison the air he breathes’, produced by the Central Council for Health Education, London, England, c1960-1969, courtesy Royal College Physicians Museum, London

Today it is a medical fact one in five people in the United Kingdom has breathing difficulties or respiratory illness; respiratory disease is the third biggest cause of death in that country.

Yet, despite this startling revelation for many people breathlessness as a condition is, like the air, invisible. Seeking to break through silence and stigma, from ‘a babies’ first cries to our final dying gasps, breath is our constant companion on the journey through life.

Occasionally harrowing, often hopeful, never less than intriguing and frequently inspiring, the exhibition will combine new research with contemporary art and some extraordinary objects, to provide extensive information on the ‘art, history and experience of breathing and breathlessness.

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Group of five heads_ three men smoking pipes and a cigar and two women taking snuff. Coloured lithograph by F-S. Delpech, c. 1825, after L. Boilly – detail . (c) Wellcome collection

It will bring together the voices of patients and clinicians from past to present and objects on show will include the earliest ever stethoscopes to an advertisement for ‘asthma cigarettes’.

The display and the many events planned, will also reveal how and why breathing is so much more than a bodily function.

Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), Doctor Botherum, the Mountebank, 1800

Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), Doctor Botherum, the Mountebank, 1800

It’s a long time now since the Mountebank thrived, because there was little or no control over the practice of medicine. They used a public platform to espouse their abilities and performed their cures in a type of carnival style act.

The Quack usually rode around on horseback, dispensing pills and plasters entertaining and offering alms and free drinks so that he could gain a foothold among the unwary.

Copy Interior RCP LondonEstablished in 1518 by a Royal Charter from King Henry VIII, the Royal College of Physicians of London is the oldest medical college in England, which from its foundation to the present day has been ‘patient centred and clinically led.

Its charter was all about driving improvement in the diagnosis of disease, the care of individual patients and health of the whole population, both in the UK and across the globe’.

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Nevrologie_Hirschfeld, 1866 pl68 Mike Fear Oct-2018, courtesy RCP London

Breathing, like many of our body functions, is one of those ongoing aspects of who we are that we more than often take for granted. A special opening event for Catch Your Breath will feature enlightening talks by the Professor of Medical Humanities at Durham University Jane MacNaughton together with Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bristol, Havi Carel.  Both have a considerable amount of expertise in their fields.

Did you know there is a history of Singing for Breathing? On Tuesday 30 April 2019, the Royal College of Physicians Museum has partnered with the Singing for Breathing groups at Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, to present a special performance; and there is more to discover.

Breathe easy, stand firm, ‘Catch Your Breath,’ and find out about how you can improve your life.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2019

Catch Your Breath 1

People causing a nuisance by smoking in the street. Coloured etching by H. Heath, 1827 – detail (c) Wellcome collection

Royal College of Physicians Museum
Presents
Catch Your Breath,

April 2 – September 20, 2019

Royal College of Physicians
11 St Andrews Place, London, NW1 4LE

ENTRY FREE

Supported by the Wellcome Trust, by combining research with artist commissions and objects from RCP collections and beyond, exhibitions at the Royal College of Physicians Museum, are designed to expand public knowledge about our bodies, how they work and why they work the way they do.

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