The Pathology and Forensic Medicine Collection essentially dates from the middle third of the 20th century, its growth occurring alongside the development of the Joint Hospitals Scheme from 1926. The scheme’s pioneer, Matthew Hay, had the vision to bring together public health services and medical education on one site. Following the completion of the Joint Hospitals Project, the Pathology and Forensic Medicine collection grew significantly over the following two decades to support the resulting expansion in medical teaching. From the 1940s, there was a Pathology Museum within the medical school which existed until the early 1990s. The collection is now principally in store, although changing displays can be seen beside the Medical Library at the Foresterhill campus. The Pathology and Forensic Medicine Collection is used in medical teaching. It is also used for teaching and research in other subject areas, such as the history of medicine and anthropology and are utilised for workshops aimed at the secondary level curriculum.
The collection provides an important, comprehensive and unique 20th century record of disease manifestations and traumatic pathology. The collection is one of very few that still remains across the country and it represents the work of a succession of Professors of Pathology and Professors of Forensic Medicine in the University of Aberdeen. It comprises more than 2000 specimens and objects. The collection’s strength lies in its specimens of human tissue (around 1800 in total) showing pathological conditions. These are presented in preservative fluid and sealed in Perspex containers. The specimens provide a comprehensive coverage of the range of functional body systems, demonstrating the features of disease in each. The specimens have strongly associated contextual information in the form of anonymous clinical case files that allow the pathology to be viewed in the appropriate clinical settings.
The Forensic Medicine aspect of the collection shows examples of traumatic pathology relating to crimes of note committed in the Aberdeen area. The specimens are presented in the same way as the pathological ones. In many cases, specimens are accompanied by supporting contextual material such as weapons and photographic evidence and complement other forensic collections.
In addition to the fluid-preserved specimens, the collection also includes important wax, papier-mâché and ceramic models dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A number of prominent model makers feature in the collection, including Auzoux of France, Bock Lips Steger of Germany and Towne of London. These models present a variety of pathological appearances and form an important aspect of the University’s wider anatomical model collection (held also by the Anatomy and Zoology Museums).
Unique items within the collection that attract interest include a skull in old age used in the 1991 Hollywood production of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson, a small box of thin sections of comparative pathology prepared by Professor of Forensic Medicine Matthew Hay (1855-1932) and a skull with exit bullet wound from the collection of Professor of Surgery Alexander Ogston (1844-1929).
In addition to the specimens and their clinical case files, there is supporting material which provides additional context. This includes several cans of 16mm film made of in vivo experiments and the work-books and notes of past staff. There is also a collection of scientific instruments (mainly microscopes and microtomes) used in the preparation and examination of pathological specimens. In addition, the University’s Special Libraries and Archives has a wealth of manuscripts of personal and research papers of past staff and course guides and notes. Associated clinical case files were created between the 1930s-1950s as the Pathology Museum became established. They allow the pathology of the specimens to be viewed in the appropriate clinical settings and a project has been digitising them.
The collection is of significant historic value. It represents an important snapshot of disease and unnatural death during the 20th century, with particular emphasis on the middle third of the century. It provides a unique opportunity to study disease states and traumatic pathology that afflicted the population of the northern Scotland at the time. The fact that some disease conditions represented are no longer prevalent adds to its importance, for example tuberculosis, syphilis and other infectious diseases as the opportunity to collect similar material no longer exists.