Wellcome to the Tower

After arriving in London yesterday after another trip on the trains, we began our last day filled with visits in the city. In the morning, we visited the Tower of London for a more culturally immersive experience and in the afternoon, we visited the Wellcome Collection to explore some of the major themes of our class–social determinants of health, population health, and health equity.

The Tower of London served as an immersive historical experience as we toured the once-booming political hub and learned about major events that took place in the tower that shaped world history. Georgi, our guide, told us how many historical figures, including some Queens of England, have been executed inside the tower’s walls. The Tower of London used to house the King and Queen of England when it was in its prime (about 300 years ago). Henry the VIII, who was King from 1509 to 1547, kept many exotic animals (lions, elephants, and monkeys) that have statues inside the tower today in their remembrance.

Georgi led us to the Crown Jewels, which are also kept inside the Tower of London. The Crown jewels are state-owned as they belong to “the Crown”. This means the royal family does not personally own much of the collection of jewels but instead passes it down to the family with the Crown. We were able to get a close-up look at the priceless collection, including coronation pieces that have been in use for hundreds of years.

After visiting the Tower of London, we had a brief lunch and then headed to the Wellcome Collection. The Wellcome Collection, opened in 2007, is a free museum that includes a library that showcases the collections of Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome, an American-British pharmaceutical company owner of the Burroughs Wellcome & Company who collected many medical and health-related pieces and artifacts. The collection showcases a fraction of Wellcome’s collection and presents different exhibits exploring medicine, health, and the human experience.

One of the free permanent displays of Sir Wellcome’s expansive health collection, ‘Medicine Man’ shows the diverse changes and perceptions about what medicine was, how it was approached, and what it meant to experience medicine over the course of history and between cultures.

The gallery explored various topics related to medicine like birth, death, sex, illness, anatomy, and more. One notable thing about the exhibit is how it has been put together. According to signs posted around the exhibit, the presentation of the work hasn’t changed, leaving it portrayed in a highly colonial and prejudiced mindset. But, the museum does something interesting. They’ve created the space for dissent and intervention through placards where artists, writers, and activists have a chance to respond to the colonial bias and present a new perspective that may lie closer to the truth.

Some notable pieces were those depicting the evolution of what human anatomy looked like as artistic rendering increased. Particularly interesting pieces were the pregnancy calendar and early forms of IUDs marking women’s health.

Another exhibition titled “In the Air” explores the relationship we have as humans to the air around us. It beckons the question: If air is something we all breathe, why is air quality still so poor in many areas of the world? The gallery starts with a brief history of the relationship between air and the earth that began billions of years ago, documents the coal smoke pollution that filled the air of London in the 17th century that sparked activism against air pollution to modern-day protests against air pollution.

Air pollution is not a new concept. Efforts and advocacy to reduce air pollution date back to 17-century London in an effort to reduce the coal smoke from the use of coal in homes to produce heat. These magazines and books are early 20th century efforts to present the evidence surrounding the effects of pollution on the environment. However, these were largely only circulated among scientific communities. 

Choked Up are an advocacy group of brown and Black teenagers living in areas of London highly affected by air pollution. They are fighting for clean air to be required by law. This group was formed in response to air pollution levels far greater than the World Health Organization guidelines. Their efforts include placing street signs across the city to emphasize the disproportionate impact of toxic air quality on people of color.

This photo collage shows the differences between the appearance of the sky in different parts of the world. It emphasizes the fact that though our airspaces may look different, we all share the same sky. The air around us is not confined by borders, and how we treat our air has an impact on those in other air spaces.

The Being Human exhibition explores what it means to be a human living in the 21st century. It highlights advancements in medical technology, health inequities, and the ever-changing climate that influences our livelihood. The exhibit is broken down into four sections: Genetics, Minds & Bodies, Infection, and Environmental Breakdown.

The ‘Refugee Astronaut’ looks to a hypothetical future in which humans must leave Earth in a hurry, likely due to irreparable damage done to the planet.

The banner above was designed for the Standing Rock Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The artist, Isaac Murdoch, is a member of a group of indigenous artists and environmentalists.

The devastating effects of climate change are already very present, but the potential for even more devastation is a sure future if things continue the way they are. These photographs show us what could be in the near future. The photos above show the potential impact of widespread flooding, wildfires, destruction of land, etc.

After finishing up at the Wellcome Collection, we separated for some free time before regrouping for our last group dinner where we finished up the course with a nice creme brulee.

Tomorrow brings around the final day of the trip where we’ll have a group discussion about what built environment differences we’ve observed across Birmingham, London, and Aberystwyth and prepare for the first round of departures. Stay tuned for our final course wrap-up blog where we share what we learned the most about and loved the best about this amazing study abroad course in public health!

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