Wellcome Witnesses to Twentieth Century Medicine Seminars

  • The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The material held for each seminar includes: original audio tapes of the seminars (in some cases, master plus copy); photograph copies of witnesses and other participants; correspondence, both administrative and between the Twentieth Century Group and witnesses; and programmes and lists of participants. All audio-visual materials (except for third and further copies of tapes), participant lists and programmes have been retained. Drafts with comments by contributors have also been kept. Copyright assignment forms are also held within the files.

As the Witness Seminar series became more established it became the practice for some of the participants to deposit some of their personal and associated papers with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL both to assist with the seminar discussions and also to compliment the seminar records. These personal and associated papers are described in some depth and are arranged separately within each applicable seminar.



Physical description

128 boxes and 76 digital items


The collection has been arranged into three sections; seminars that resulted in a published volume; seminars that were unpublished and seminars that were published outside the Wellcome Witness series.

Within each section material is arranged by seminar, and for each published seminar in publication order rather than by date on which the seminar took place. The exception to this is for published volumes 1 and 2 which covered a number of seminars and so in these cases the material in each volume has been arranged by a specific seminar.

Each seminar is typically arranged into: general correspondence (typically administrative and organisational correspondence); correspondence with individuals which is arranged alphabetically; clean transcripts; photographic material; and cassette tapes and digital material. There is in a number of cases an additional category of personal and associated papers deposited alongside the seminar records (typically for the later seminars).

Acquisition note

The first gift of material related to the Witness Seminars was given to the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre in November 1998 by Dr Tilli Tansey of the Twentieth Century Group, Academic Unit, Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. A number of further deposits of material have been made to the library at Wellcome Collection since this first deposit right up until 2010. This has resulted in all the papers and records of the Wellcome Witnesses to Twentieth Century Medicine Seminars, both published and unpublished, for any seminar that took place prior to 2010, now being held by the library at Wellcome Collection. The individual accession numbers are listed below.

Additional material presented Sep 2012 (Acc.1930) and Apr 2014 (Acc.2071) covering seminars that took place 2009-2013, as yet uncatalogued and unavailable. Further donation received Feb 2016 (Acc.2265) covering seminars that took place mid-2013-mid-2015, also as yet uncatalogued.

Biographical note

In 1990 the Wellcome Trust created a History of Twentieth Century Medicine Group, associated with the Academic Unit of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, to bring together clinicians, scientists, historians and others interested in contemporary medical history. Among a number of other initiatives the format of Witness Seminars, used by the Institute of Contemporary British History to address issues of recent political history, was adopted, to promote interaction between these different groups, to emphasize the potential benefits of working jointly, and to encourage the creation and deposit of archival sources for present and future use.

In June 1999 the Governors of the Wellcome Trust decided that it would be appropriate for the Academic Unit to enjoy a more formal academic affiliation and turned the Unit into the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL from 1 October 2000.

The Witness Seminar is a particularly specialized form of oral history, where several people associated with a particular set of circumstances or events are invited to come together to discuss, debate, and agree or disagree about their memories. By 2010 the History of Twentieth Century Medicine Group had held nearly 50 such meetings, most of which have been published. These publications are freely available to access on the website of The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL.

The volumes in the Witness Seminar series contain transcripts of the Witness Seminars at which significant figures in twentieth-century medicine were invited to discuss specific discoveries or events in recent medical history. It is the papers and records collected during the organization of the meetings and editing of the transcripts that are deposited in this collection.

In addition to the published seminars there were a number of seminars that were deemed unsuitable for publication or were published elsewhere in a different format. The papers and records associated with these unpublished seminars are also held within the collection.

The history behind the Wellcome Witnesses seminars and their association with the Wellcome Trust Centre for History of Medicine at UCL can all be found on the web at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucgalay/histmed/publications/wellcome-witnesses/index.html. The same website also makes freely available all the published volumes to view online and within each publication there is additional background on the Witness Seminar series as well as further background on each specific seminar. Many of the publications make references to the material held in this collection and direct readers to GC/253.

Related material

All non-digital material, relating to the seminars up to publication volume 40 and also unpublished material relating to seminars prior to 2010, has been catalogued. Original photographs taken at the seminars in both non-digital and digital format are held by Wellcome Images who also own the copyright. Copies of these photographs and descriptions are held within this collection and cross-reference to Wellcome Images reference numbers where possible.

Copyright note

Copyright assignment forms for the published Witness Seminar material are held within the files for the relevant seminar within the contributor correspondence (arranged alphabetically).

Digital images of the pictures taken at the seminar are held by the copyright owner, Wellcome Images.

Terms of use

This collection has been partially catalogued and the catalogued part is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records. Requests to view uncatalogued material are considered on a case by case basis. Please contact collections@wellcomecollection.org for more details.

Accruals note

Six boxes of additional material were received in September 2012 (acc.1930), consisting of: material relating to Wellcome Witness Seminars No.41, History of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Dec 2009; No.42, History of British Intensive Care, Jun 2010; No.43, WHO Framework, Convention on Tobacco Control, Feb 2010; and No.44, History of Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), May 2011. A detailed box list of this accession exists and can be consulted upon request to the Archives and Manuscripts department.

Four boxes of additional material were received in April 2014 (acc.2071), consisting of: material relating to Wellcome Witness Seminars No.45, Palliative Medicine in the UK, c.1970-2010; No.46, Clinical Cancer Genetics: Case Study and Context, c.1975-c.2010; No.47, Drugs Affecting 5-HT Systems; No.48, Clincal Molecular Genetics in the UK, c.1975-2000.

Six boxes of additional material were received in February 2016 (acc.2265), consisting of: material relating to Wellcome Witness Seminars No.49 Migraine: Diagnosis, Treatment and Understanding c.1960-2010; No.51 The Recent History of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); No.52 The Development of Narrative Practices in Medicine c.1960-2000; No.53 The Development of Brain Banks in the UK c.1970-2010; No.54 Human Gene Mapping Workshops c.1973-1991; No.55 A History of Bovine TB c.1965-1995; No.56 The Development of Waste Management in the UK c.1960-2000.

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Accession number

  • 809
  • 1046
  • 1303
  • 1318
  • 1320
  • 1493
  • 1543
  • 1753
  • 1758
  • #1759
  • 1762
  • 1789
  • 1836
  • 1872
  • 1930
  • 2071
  • 2265
  • 2351