History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group

The History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group (HoMBRG) is an academic organisation specialising in recording and publishing the oral history of twentieth and twenty-first century biomedicine. It was established in 1990 as the Wellcome Trust's History of Twentieth Century Medicine Group,[1] and reconstituted in October 2010 as part of the School of History [2] at Queen Mary University of London.[3][4][5]

History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group
Formation1990 (1990)
TypeHistorical research body
Parent organization
Queen Mary University of London
Formerly called
History of Twentieth Century Medicine Group


The project originated as The Wellcome Trust's History of Twentieth Century Medicine Group, and later functioned as the Academic Unit of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. It was originally established at the Royal College of Physicians in 1990 and comprised Sir Christopher Booth (the Harveian Librarian) and Professor Tilli Tansey.[6] Its purpose was to devise ways of stimulating historians, scientists & clinicians to discuss, preserve and write the history of recent biomedicine. The Group's activities were originally overseen by a Programme Committee, which included professional historians of medicine, practising scientists and clinicians.[7] From 2000 to 2010 it was a constituent part of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London. In October 2010 it moved to the School of History, Queen Mary's University, London. In 2011 the Group received a Strategic Award from the Wellcome Trust to embark upon a new project, "Makers of Modern Biomedicine".[8][9][10][11][12]


An archive of oral and written history, plus videoed interviews, has been compiled by the HoMBRG and consists of three projects: Witness Seminars, Today's Neuroscience, Tomorrow's History and SAD at 30. All material and documentation related to the project is deposited with the Wellcome Library. The resultant publications are open access,[13] and made freely available online via the HoMBRG website, a partnership with the Medical Heritage Library,[14] and iTunes.[15]

The topics covered by the archive fall broadly into five themes: clinical genetics,[16] neuroscience, global health and infectious diseases, medical technologies and ethics of research and practice.

Resources from the archive are online at The History of Modern Biomedicine Archive[17] and the internet archive[18]

Today's Neuroscience, Tomorrow's HistoryEdit

The Group's 'Today's Neuroscience, Tomorrow's History' initiative (2006–2008) was funded by a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement grant. It recorded interviews on three themes, neuropharmacology, psychiatry/neuropsychology, and neuroimaging, with twelve neuroscientists, including Geoffrey Burnstock, Salvador Moncada, Michael Rutter and Uta Frith.[19]

The Witness SeminarsEdit

A series of witness seminars began in 1993, with regular meetings being held, about four per year. These recorded the voices of those who have contributed, in diverse ways, to the development of modern biomedicine, using oral history methodology. The aim is to make the series widely available for education, research and outreach purposes.[20][21][22][23][24] The results are published online,[25] with most edited transcripts appearing within 18 months.[20]

Witness Seminar participants have included Usama Abdulla, Thomas Brown, Professor Dugald Cameron, Professor Stuart Campbell, John Fleming, Professor John MacVicar, Professor Peter Wells, Dr James Willocks, Sir Douglas Black, Sir John Gray, Sir Raymond Hoffenberg, Dr Sheila Howarth, Professor Peter Lachmann, Sir Patrick Nairne, Professor Sir Stanley Peart, Dr Peter Williams and Professor Anthony PM Coxon.[26]

Each witness seminar is transcribed and published by HoMBRG.[27] Recent volumes have been edited by E M Jones, C Overy and E M Tansey. As of May 2017 there are 62 Volumes.[28] Titles include The Development of Brain Banks, Narrative Medicine; Migraine; The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles;[29] and The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)[30] The publication of these works are often referred to by specialists in their fields of medical practice.[31]

The first two volumes were reviewed in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1999, with the comment, "Few books are so intellectually stimulating or uplifting."[32] Reviewing the series in the British Medical Journal in 2002, medical historian Irvine Loudon wrote, "This is oral history at its best...all the volumes make compulsive reading...they are, primarily, important historical records[33]

In 2014 a seminar, chaired by Professor Sir Brian Follett, with Norman Rosenthal and Alfred Lewy, entitled 'The Recent History of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): 30 Years of SAD' was undertaken on the topic of Seasonal Affective Disorder.[34] This resulted in a number of podcasts,[15] and Volume 51 of the Witness Seminar publications.[35]

Clips and ConversationsEdit

In 2015 the Group began producing oral history interviews with notable scientists and clinicians. This material is made freely available on YouTube (in the case of video interviews) and the Group's website, as are the transcripts of both audio and video interviews.[36]


As the HoMBRG project came to an end, a Wikimedian in Residence was engaged, to create Wikidata records for the publications and those people interviewed in them.[37]


  1. ^ "The MHL Welcomes a New Content Contributor". Medical Heritage Library. 13 March 2013. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  2. ^ "Research Centres - School of History". www.history.qmul.ac.uk. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  3. ^ Trust, Wellcome. "History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group celebrates 21 years of innovation".
  4. ^ http://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/items/hss/140113.htm
  5. ^ Trust, Wellcome. "History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group celebrates 21 years of innovation". Wellcome Trust. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  6. ^ Aronson, Jeff (July 1998). "Wellcome witnesses to twentieth-century medicine". Cambridge Journal Medical History. 42 (3): 404–405. doi:10.1017/s0025727300064188. PMC 1044055.
  7. ^ Pickstone, John V. "A brief history of medical history". Making History. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  8. ^ Society, The Physiological. "Hidden voices and human stories". The Physiological Society. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  9. ^ "Wellcome Library Encore -- History+of+Biomedicine+Research+Group.+". search.wellcomelibrary.org. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  10. ^ "Five-year, £1.4 million project to reveal "unsung heroes" of biomedicine". Culture24. 31 January 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  11. ^ "News & Events". Genetics and Medicine Historical Network. Cardiff University. Retrieved 6 May 2017. The History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group, based at Queen Mary, University of London, continue to build upon their work documenting the recent history of clinical genetics research and practice.
  12. ^ "Pioneering work in biomedicine celebrated". University of Surrey. 25 August 2015. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  13. ^ Medical Humanities, Centre for. "New Open Access Publication – The Development of Narrative Practices in Medicine c.1960–c.2000". Durham University. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  14. ^ Library, Medical History. "The MHL Welcomes a New Content Contributor". Medical History Library. Medical History Library. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  15. ^ a b "Today's Neuroscience, Tomorrow's History - Professor Sir Peter Mansfield - Free Podcast by Queen Mary University of London on Apple Podcasts". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  16. ^ Historical Network, Genetics and Medicine. "The History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group, based at Queen Mary, University of London, continue to build upon their work documenting the recent history of clinical genetics research and practice". Cardiff University. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  17. ^ "The History of Modern Biomedicine". Queen Mary, University of London. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  18. ^ https://archive.org/search.php?query=publisher%3A%22London%3A+The+History+of+Modern+Biomedicine+Research+Group+at+UCL%22
  19. ^ "About Today's Neuroscience, Tomorrow's History". HoMBRG. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  20. ^ a b Jones, E.M.; Tansey, E.M., eds. (2014). Monoclonal Antibodies to Migraine: Witnesses to Modern Biomedicine, An A-Z. London: Queen Mary, University of London. p. 223. ISBN 978 0 90223 895 4.
  21. ^ "Migraine: Diagnosis, Treatment and Understanding - Migraine - Patient". patient.info. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  22. ^ Jones, Emma M. (2016). "A witness seminar on the history of the Human Gene Mapping Workshops". Gene. 589 (2): 123–126. doi:10.1016/j.gene.2016.02.030. ISSN 0378-1119. PMC 4925380. PMID 26906256.
  23. ^ Messenger, Ben (15 January 2016). "An Oral History of Waste Management by University Historians in London". Waste Management World. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  24. ^ Tansey, T; Wilkinson, A.; Yabsley, A.; Zarros, A. (2016). "Physiology at the heart of modern biomedicine: Evidence through oral testimonies". Proceedings of the Physiological Society. The Physiological Society. 37.
  25. ^ McConville, Sean; Bryson, Anna (2013). The Routledge Guide to Interviewing: Oral History, Social Enquiry and Investigation. Routledge. p. 149. ISBN 978-1-134-70170-4.
  26. ^ Young, Jacy. "New Neuroscience & Applied Psych History Resources". Advances in the History of Psychology. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  27. ^ http://www.medicalheritage.org/2014/10/mhl-partner-history-of-modern-biomedicine-research-group-celebrates-21st-anniversary/
  28. ^ "Wellcome Witnesses Volumes". History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group. Retrieved 2015-05-31.
  29. ^ Social Research, NatCen. "The story of Natsal, the nation's sex study". NatCen Social Research. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  30. ^ Study of Parents and Children, Avon Longitudinal. "Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children". Bristol University. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  31. ^ International. "History of palliative medicine in the UK". www.ehospice.com. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  32. ^ Blau, J N (1999). "Wellcome Witnesses to Twentieth Century Medicine, Vols 1 and 2". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 92: 206–8. doi:10.1177/014107689909200416.
  33. ^ Loudon, I. (2002). "Book: Wellcome Witnesses to Twentieth Century Medicine". BMJ. 325 (7372): 1119a–1119. doi:10.1136/bmj.325.7372.1119/a. ISSN 0959-8138.
  34. ^ Association, SAD. "Wellcome Trust Wtness Seminar:An Important New Publication". SAD Association. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  35. ^ Overy, C; Tansey, E.M., eds. (2014). The Recent History Of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). London: Queen Mary, University of London. ISBN 978 0 90223 897 8. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  36. ^ "Makers of Modern Biomedicine: Testimonies and Legacy". Oral History in Higher Education Network. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
  37. ^ "Introducing Wikimedian in Residence, Mr Andy Mabbett". HoMBRG. 2 May 2017. Retrieved 16 May 2017.

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