The Wellcome Collection: Understanding Health and Human Experiences
By Emma Regan, Jordan Maxwell Ridgeway, Hayley Gray and Ella O'Neill
This week the alternative publishing team is taking a look at the Wellcome Collection, a global charitable foundation established in 1936.
Taking its name from Sir Henry Wellcome, a pioneer in drug design, the Wellcome Collection aims to continue his ethos and spirit, and does so by pledging to tackle climate change, infectious disease and mental health. In the face of such daunting worldwide issues, it would be easy to feel the pressure to conform to tight deadlines that rush the scientific process. Instead, the Wellcome Collection believes in time, giving time to the researchers investigating these problems to allow them to collaborate and creatively reach important breakthroughs.
The overarching goal for all the research completed beneath their umbrella is that everyone benefits from their discoveries. This is carried through into their physical presence, in London, where they have a free museum and library dedicated to health and the human experience. For example, they are currently showing an exhibition all about how we perceive ourselves, and others, and what alters when we shift that perspective to something perhaps outside the norm.
The main goals of the Wellcome Collection are to create thought-provoking content and opportunities for people to think deeply about different, yet shared, experiences as a means of reflecting on what it truly means to be human through analysing historic, current and eternal issues from the angle of science and maths. The Wellcome Collection’s publications range from stories about mental health, addictions, gender inequality, the human body, the natural world, food and the act of being “normal.”
For example, Caroline Vout’s book, Exposed: The Greek and Roman Body, dissects the mythical perfections of Greek and Roman bodies preserved in marble and unveils that they truly were anxious, imperfect, diverse, ailing and responsible for their own legacies – like that of all humans.
Likewise, Sarah Chaney’s Am I Normal?: The 200-Year Search for Normal People (and Why They Don’t Exist) is a deep dive into the strange science behind the modern, anxiety-ridden obsession of “normal.” Chaney tells the history of how the oppressive notion of “normal” began as a mathematical term and the ways that it evolved into a desirable trait with people asking Google: “am I normal?”
Therefore, highlighting that the Wellcome Collection’s publications sit neatly within a fundamental gap in the publishing market for unique, inclusive and accessible stories about health and human experiences.
The Wellcome Collection publications are all about inclusivity and look to essential champion voices and fresh perspectives across history, memoir, psychology and medicine. The Wellcome Collection states on its website that it is particularly interested in working with UK-based writers from racially minoritised communities and disabled, d/Deaf and neurodivergent writers.
One of the ways in which the Wellcome Collection took action in working with underrepresented writers was by teaming up with Spread the Word to launch the Writing Awards. It was an ambitious development programme which offered up to six selected writers a chance to develop their non-fiction ideas into full-length book proposals. It also offered a bursary, mentoring with an author and editor, four workshops on writing non-fiction, insight and industry days and the opportunity to meet with agents.
Some of the winning book ideas included an in-depth look into autism, cerebral palsy and OCD – non-fiction topics that are rarely available to the general reader. An update on these projects has yet to be given, however, it is hopefully not the last time the Wellcome Collection uses its platform to represent the unheard voices in non-fiction writing.
With many focused on the burning question of how exactly nations across the world will combat climate change following COP27 (2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference), it’s no surprise that you will find plenty of articles on Wellcome’s website covering the topic. Their most recent articles also cover climate change’s impact on infectious disease and mental health.
Currently, Wellcome plans to spend £16 billion by 2032 through grant funding in order to support scientific research. Details of how to apply for a grant can be found on their website here.
Previously, the Wellcome Book Prize, funded by the Wellcome Trust, was awarded to fiction and non-fiction novels which celebrated literature covering medicine and health related topics, with books like My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh being shortlisted in previous years. But as of 2019, the prize has been on indefinite hiatus.
The Wellcome Collection and library is free to visit, located in Euston, London. It has a range of exhibitions including In Plain Sight, an exploration of the role sight plays in our society on a daily basis, Objects in Stereo, which houses stereoscopic photography (art which gives the illusion of being three dimensional when it is actually two dimensional), as well as their permanent Being Human exhibition. Find out more here.