Getting dirty at the Wellcome Collection

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Getting dirty at the Wellcome Collection

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"A Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water" by William Heath, 1828

“Drains don’t make heroes,” I thundered in a piece about polio in a recent issue of Prospect. Apparently, I was wrong. It’s just that they don’t make heroes very quickly. This I learned at the truly fascinating new exhibition on Dirt at the Wellcome Collection, one of Prospect‘s cultural picks for this month.  On the wall of a whole room related to London’s troubled relationship with its drains, there’s a quote from an 1860 edition of Farmers’ Magazine:  “If the money value of our sewers could be shown to the British farmer in bright and glittering heaps of sovereigns, he would grasp at the enormous wealth.”

This enthusiasm will be little consolation to John Snow, a demigod in my demi-monde of epidemiology. Snow essentially invented outbreak epidemiology, carefully plotting the 500 or so cholera deaths

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Author

Elizabeth Pisani

Elizabeth Pisani
Elizabeth Pisani is an epidemiologist 




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