Public Engagement is an important part of our work. Over recent years, we have co-curated award-winning exhibitions on the history of antibiotics and typhoid and enjoy working with artists and playwrights on radio and theatre plays.
Running between 2016 and 2017 at Oxford’s History of Science Museum, Back from the Dead - Demystifying Antibiotics celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first clinical trials of penicillin in a human. Discovered by Alexander Fleming and turned into a medicine by Howard Florey’s team in Oxford during World War II, penicillin is the most iconic drug developed during the 20th century.
Back from the Dead featured the original penicillium cultures and wartime tools used by the Oxford team, X-ray crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin’s model of penicillin’s molecular structure, and artwork by Anna Dumitru.
The exhibition reflected on penicillin’s miraculous power to bring patients back from the dead and on rising antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as a growing threat to antibiotic efficacy going forward.
The exhibition won the 2017 University of Oxford Vice Chancellor’s Public Engagement for Research Projects Award.
Typhoidland is a multi-award winning international engagement program on the past, present, and future of typhoid control. Co-designed with Dr Samantha Vanderslott (Oxford Vaccine Group) and Dr Emily Webster (UCD), our exhibitions, research resources, and educational materials challenge the myth of typhoid as a disease as the past and raise awareness for disease control as a global collective action challenge.
Typhoidland is sponsored by the New Venture Fund and AHRC/IRC Digital Humanities scheme. The project is active in the UK, US, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Ireland (for details, see below). All digital content including a 3D-virtual tour of our Oxford exhibition is available on: www.typhoidland.org
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Oxford, UK (2020-present): hosted by the University of Oxford’s History of Science Museum (HSM) and Bodleian Libraries, the first Typhoidland exhibition used the biography of Alice Liddell (Wonderland) to take visitors on a trip down the sewer hole. Visitors learnt about the history of sanitary reform, the long history of typhoid vaccines, and recenthuman challenge studies during which volunteers swallowed live typhoid bacteria to test new conjugate vaccines. Typhoidland was featured on BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4, described as “must-see” by New Scientist and “audacious” by DailyInfo, and is now a permanent exhibition at HSM and the Museum of Oxford.
Atlanta, US (2022): a second Typhoidland exhibition launched at the CDC David Sencer Museum in June 2022. The exhibition introduces visitors to the history of American efforts to control typhoid. It also feature the carrier control card of Mary Mallon (‘Typhoid Mary’) and use Mallon’s biography to explore the ethical challenges of carrier control and the long history of blaming women and immigrants for disease outbreaks.
Bengaluru, India (2022): co-developed with a team led by Dr Manjulika Vaz (St John’s Medical College in Bangalore), the third Typhoidland exhibition will explore the long-term legacies of colonial sanitary design and public health infrastructures on typhoid control in India.
Dublin, Ireland (2024): supported by the IRC/AHRC Digital Humanities scheme, we are currently developing a new history of typhoid control, sanitary maladjustment, and early bioterrorism allegations in revolutionary Dublin. The multi-site exhibition will run in Dublin Library & City Archive and at the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland in 2023.
Nepal and Bangladesh: as part of our educational program, we co-designed posters on sanitation, antimicrobial resistance, and vaccination for use in clinical settings in Kathmandu (Patan Hospital) and Dhaka (Child Health Research Foundation).
COVID-19 response: during the COVID-19 pandemic, we developed additional educational material on SARS-CoV-2, vaccine trials, and vaccine technology (including 3D tours of the Oxford Jenner labs).
We have drawn on history to work with playwrights. In 2016, Kirchhelle advised on Alistair Smith’s BBC Radio 4 Drama “Dangerous Visions - Culture”. The play is set in a world in which most antibiotics no longer work and the few available ones are rationed for those who are deemed worthy of receiving them. Anna, a Doctor working in infectious diseases and is forced everyday to help choose whether to treat a patient or not. But what does it do to both you and your patient when your judgement is wrong? The play was shortlisted for the 2018 BBC Audio Drama Awards.
Kirchhelle has also advised on Al Smith’s new play “Rare Earth Mettle”. Running at the Royal Court Theatre from November 2021 and set in the Bolivian salt desert, the play explores the ethical dilemmata surrounding technology-led health solutions, equitable drug access, and primary health care investment.