The story of the Elephant Man re-told in an immersive Whitechapel audio tour app

December 1, 2017, Queen Mary, University of London
Poster advertising 'Half a man & half an elephant'. Credit: Royal London Hospital Archives and Museum

The story of Joseph Merrick, the so-called 'Elephant Man', takes centre stage in a new audio tour of Whitechapel, offering an immersive history of The Royal London Hospital and Medical College through a free smartphone app.

'I am Human' retells the story of the hospital's most famous resident through the eyes of Merrick himself. The audio guide has no narration, and instead brings 1880s Whitechapel to life through the voices of Merrick, the celebrity surgeon Frederick Treves, the resourceful young Matron, Eva Luckes, and a medical student training at the College.

The stories are based on historical sources held in the hospital's archives, including Merrick's autobiography and Treves' memoirs, and portrayed by actors including Samuel Barnett and Catherine Cusack.

The main focus of the tour is the relationship between Joseph Merrick and Frederick Treves but their voices also offer insights into the work of the hospital and medical college, and life in Victorian Whitechapel.

Dr Nadia Valman from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) who co-created the project said: "By the late Victorian period 'the London' had grown to be the largest general hospital in the country. But much was changing. There was more thought given to the human interactions among medical staff and patients. Operations, once conducted without anaesthetics before a rapt audience of students, were becoming less theatrical - and less perilous.

Screenshot of 'I am human' walking tour app. Credit: None

"Meanwhile, Londoners flocked to Whitechapel for its music halls and freak shows, but local authorities were increasingly cracking down on the public display of people with disabilities like Merrick."

The audio guide uses the surroundings of Whitechapel - the lively market, the imposing old Hospital building, and the echoing corridors of the former Medical College—as a dramatic backdrop for exploring different perspectives on medical care in the Victorian East End.

Richard Meunier, Medical School Archivist at QMUL said: "This audio tour is a unique and immersive experience which transports the listener back to a very different age. We hope that this tour will engage new audiences and enthral visitors to the hospital, medical school and local area."

The journey ends at the Royal London Hospital museum, which contains a wealth of fascinating exhibits about Joseph Merrick, the 's history and the development of healthcare in the East End.

Sample from 'I am Human' audio guide. Credit: Royal London Hospital Archives and Museum

'I am Human' is available as both a walking leaflet and audio guide. The audio version is accessed via the izi.Travel app which can be downloaded for free from Apple Store, Google Play or Windows Phone Store, from 1 December. Alternatively you can access the audio from The Royal London Hospital museum Soundcloud site :

'I am Human' was produced as a collaborative project between Dr Nadia Valman, historian of east London at QMUL, Richard Meunier, Archivist at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, QMUL, and audio producer Natalie Steed. The project was supported by a grant from QMUL's Centre for Public Engagement.

Professor Peter McOwan, Vice Principal (Public Engagement and Student Enterprise) at QMUL, said: "This project focuses on the rich history of the East End while also giving new insights from our researchers. The walking tour shows how research can be made accessible in interesting ways, and is a further example of QMUL's ongoing commitment to innovative activities. I'm sure the app will prove popular and thought provoking."

Explore further: Sexual health clinics should ask about abuse

Related Stories

Sexual health clinics should ask about abuse

July 20, 2017
Training clinicians to proactively ask patients about domestic violence is feasible for sexual health clinics to implement and could increase referrals to specialist services, according to a study by Queen Mary University ...

Recommended for you

Revenge of a forgotten medical 'genius'

June 30, 2018
It's not an uncommon fate for a pioneering scientist: languishing unrecognised in his time before dying in obscurity. But as his 200th birthday approaches, the life-saving work of a Hungarian obstetrician is finally getting ...

Yes, you can put too much chlorine in a pool

June 2, 2018
(HealthDay)—Before you take a dip in the pool this summer, be sure there's not too much chlorine in the water.

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.