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Facsimile exhibition: Unusual and exceptional prizes

14 Oct 2016

Sophie Gibbs & Ginny Dawe-Woodings

Our new facsimile exhibition in the display cases on the ground floor reveal some of the College’s historic prize essays. The exhibition will be on view until November. While College prizes are awarded based on the quality of their content, some prize essays also stand out for reasons other than their written text – due either to the beauty or nature of their illustrations, or to the significance of their author.

Illustrations from Dr Williams essay, featuring the lungs of a dissected frogDr Thomas Williams won the Triennial Prize in 1842 for his study of respiratory systems across a wide range of vertebrates in his essay Structure and Functions of the Lungs. In addition to his thorough and wide ranging exploration of the subject, which includes a discussion on the characteristics of pulmonary capillaries in the air bladder, a comparison of the respiration of insects and birds, and a critical analysis of existing literature relating to the minute structure of the human lung, his work is accompanied by highly detailed illustrations of lungs and lung structures by S. W. Leonard. The vivid colours and intricate nature of the illustrations bring to life the diverse nature of lungs across the genera, and are an artwork in their own right. The essay was later revised and expanded and published in 1857 as The structure, functions, and diseases of the lungs, and this version has been digitised as part of the UK Medical Heritage Library project.

The front cover of Henry Gray's Nerves of the Human EyeIllustrations of nerves from Henry Gray's Nerves of the human eye

The essay Nerves of the Human Eye and Its Appendages also features detailed diagrams. This prize-winning essay is exceptional due to the significance of its author: the English anatomist and surgeon Henry Gray. Written 12 years before publishing his famous eponymous textbook Gray’s Anatomy, Gray’s examined the retina and nerves of the human eye this essay to win the Triennial Prize in 1846. Interestingly, despite the title, this work also examines the eyes of both invertebrate and vertebrates such as cephalopods, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. Gray’s motto “Palmam qui Meruit ferat” [“let whoever earns the palm bear it”] is featured within this essay. On the final page is a message of gratitude to Hunter, Owen and Swan for their dissection preparations in the College museum.

A page from Samuel Gaskell's work, Ulceration and supperation, featuring human tissue 'preparations'

An earlier post describes Samuel Gaskell’s dissertation Ulceration and Suppuration, awarded the Jacksonian Prize in 1837. His dissertation is accompanied by an illustrative volume of 52 “preparations” of human tissue manifesting with ulcers which includes 15 slides of injected blood vessels and 37 pieces of skin.

Sophie Gibbs, Senior Information Assistant & Ginny Dawe-Woodings, Museums & Archives Project Cataloguer

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