Changed minds: The return of the Goodall Symposium!

Written by on July 8, 2022

On Wednesday 22 June the Heritage Team held our first Goodall Symposium in two years – and our first hybrid Goodall ever!

Our Goodall Symposium is named after Dr Archibald Goodall (b. 1915): Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow who held the prestigious position of Honorary Librarian from 1946 until his death in 1963. Dr Goodall was a passionate bibliophile and founding member – later president – of the Scottish Society for the History of Medicine. The Heritage Team’s Goodall Symposium is held each year in his honour.

The theme for this Goodall Symposium was ‘Changing Minds: Neurosurgery and psychiatry in 1950s and 60s Glasgow’. From the mid-nineteenth century, Glasgow gradually became a world leader in the fields of neurosurgery and psychiatry – with some of the greatest minds working to change approaches to therapy and surgical techniques. It was poignant that this year’s event took place on the 174th birthday of William Macewen, a pioneering surgeon who performed the world’s first successful brain tumour operation in Glasgow in 1879.

The Symposium opened with an introduction from our Honorary Librarian, Dr Morven McElroy, followed by a captivating talk by our resident anatomist and Digital & Heritage Engagement Officer Kirsty Earley. Beginning with a quick sketch of the development of neurosurgery, Earley took the audience through a journey of discovery, discussing her process of understanding one of the more unique items within our collection: the bi-phasic stimulator, invented by James Sloan Robertson – one of the first modern neurosurgeons in the UK.

Bi-phasic stimulator, RCPSG

To find out more about the bi-phasic stimulator, read Kirsty’s blog post here.

Attention then turned to Gartnavel Royal Asylum (now General Hospital) with Dr Iain Smith delivering a fascinating paper on the ‘tipping point’ of psychiatric deinstitutionalisation in 1960s Glasgow. Dr Smith began by considering the developments in psychopharmacology, patient care, and understandings of severe mental health which contributed to the shift from asylums to community psychiatric support. Yet he also noted that in Glasgow, social – rather than biological – psychiatry was particularly important to Glaswegian psychiatrists before the mid-twentieth century, with treatments in Gartnavel focused on holistic interventions, including fresh air, music, art, and other hobbies.

Outside of Gartnaval Royal Hospital

The emphasis on social psychiatry within Glasgow’s psychiatric medical profession was echoed by our final speaker – Dr Allan Beveridge – who delivered an insightful conclusion to the Symposium by discussing the work of infamous psychiatrist RD Laing and his work in Gartnavel Hospital. Dr Beveridge argued that the hospital – as well as Glasgow psychiatry more broadly – acted as the foundation from which Laing began to develop his ideas surrounding psychosis. Before moving to London to set up the Tavistock Clinic, Laing experimented with his ideas surrounding social psychiatry within Gartnavel, including his pivotal experiment with the ‘rumpus room’.

Dr Beveridge discusses RD Laing

Dr Beveridge noted that the ‘rumpus room’ played a key role in Laing’s narrative of his own psychiatric progress. However, Laing was a notoriously unreliable narrator, and often obscured the limitations of his experiments. This is also shown in his ‘dramatic’ depiction of his most famous patient: ‘Julie’.

In combination, the three talks highlighted the centrality of Glasgow in the development of neurosurgery and psychiatry, particularly in the 1960s. Our first Goodall Symposium since 2019 did not disappoint, and we thank all three speakers for generously sharing their expertise.

A recording of the Goodall Symposium is available on our YouTube Channel. You can find it here.

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The College’s heritage collections – including thousands of medical and surgical instruments, rare books, archives, and pictures – span over 6 centuries and are an excellent resource for exploring the history of medicine and the history of the city of Glasgow. Many items from the collections have been digitised and are available to view here. Our digitisation work is ongoing, and we add new items to the site regularly, so keep checking back to discover more.

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