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Current Maughan Library exhibition

The great leveller: humanity's struggle against infectious disease

The Weston Room
Maughan Library
Chancery Lane
London WC2A 1LR
Monday 26 January - Wednesday 15 April 2015
Opening hours
Monday to Friday 09.30 - 17.00
Saturday 10.00 - 18.00

Eruption of leprosy on a body at a comparatively early stage. From: Henry Vandyke Carter. On leprosy and elephantiasis, 1874

Infectious disease has been the inseparable companion of human development, insinuating itself into patterns of settlement, trade, conquest and war, and showing no sign of abating.

After a brief period in the mid-20th century, when it appeared to many that the conquest of infectious disease was at hand, the pressure of population on natural habitats has produced new illnesses, including AIDS and several haemorrhagic fevers, such as Lassa, Marburg and Ebola. 

If medical advance no longer appears unproblematic, it could be said that at least we now have the knowledge of public health to fend off preventable disease. During most of the historical period covered by this exhibition, cure for most infectious diseases was scarcely imaginable. 

Photograph of a team of African microscopists at work. From: Great Britain. Central Office of Information. Battle against disease, 1949In this exhibition we examine the long struggle to understand, contain and treat infection. Some diseases, such as smallpox, are no longer active threats to humanity, while others, such as tuberculosis and sleeping sickness, are still claiming lives today, despite the availability of effective methods of prevention and treatment.

All items in this exhibition are from the collections of the Foyle Special Collections Library, King’s College London.

Photograph of a doctor taking blood from a group of African patients. From: Great Britain. Central Office of Information. Battle against disease, 1949Highlights include copies of Edward Jenner’s account of his experiments in smallpox vaccination, Henry Vandyke Carter’s pioneering 1874 study of leprosy, John Snow's On the mode of communication of cholera, which traced the source of London’s 1854 outbreak to the Broad Street pump, and a number of photographic sets published by the Central Office of Information, showing disease control in Africa.

Admission and access

Access to the exhibition is free. On arrival at the Maughan Library, please follow the signs to the Weston Room. Please note that visitors who are not registered members of the Maughan Library are required to complete an exhibition ticket on arrival at the Library. The exhibition ticket is available to print below, as is a guide to the exhibition. Copies of the guide are also available to pick up in the Weston Room.

Please note that the exhibition is closed on Sundays.

Exhibition closure dates

The exhibition will be closed from Thursday 2 April to Tuesday 7 April.

Exhibition ticket (Word, 298 kb)

Exhibition ticket (pdf, 141kb)

Exhibition guide (pdf, 336 kb)

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