Kill or Cure?

Kill or Cure? A Taste of Medicine is a fascinating exhibition at the State Library of NSW with material drawn from their rare books collection.

The development of medical science had a macabre and gruesome history, with scientific experiments that would not pass an ethics test today. There were also enduring ideas with surprising longevity over the centuries, like the ‘balanced body’.

“For centuries, the idea of a healthy body meant a balanced body. Ancient Greco-Roman ideas about the four humours and the balanced body prevailed over many centuries. They arrived in Europe during the Middle Ages and, thanks to the printing press, this knowledge flourished. Herbals and medical books were among the first books published and were widely circulated. Medical knowledge at the time was a complicated mix that blended lingering paganism with local knowledge, ancient folk charms and remedies, superstitions, and a powerful belief in God and all things divine. Humoural theory was upheld in medical writing and practice until well into the nineteenth century”, says Elise Edmond, senior curator.

The exhibition includes a series of ‘treatment rooms’ set up with sometimes confronting instruments and equipment from different eras.

Exhibition and events program

Kill or Cure? A Taste of Medicine
Until Sunday 22 January 2023
State Library of NSW
1 Shakespeare Place, Sydney NSW 2000

17 November 2022
Weird and wonderful treatments from medical history
Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Dr Naomi Koh Belic and Tegan Taylor discuss some of their favourite weird, dangerous, and downright gross remedies from early medical theory.

19 November 2022
Discover ‘Kill or Cure’ with Elise Edmonds
Take a tour of the Library galleries and learn about our current exhibition with curator Elise Edmonds.

22 November 2022
Life behind the mask
Writers and healthcare workers Dr Dinesh Palipana and Professor Mohamed Khadra discuss their memoirs about working in the world of medicine.

29 November 2022
Unearthing the bodies: the history of anatomy & dissection
Journalist and writer Jackie Dent discusses her research into the hidden world of anatomy and whole-body donation, which is explored in her upcoming book The Great Dead Body Teachers, with Bianca Nogrady.

All images courtesy State Library of NSW. The quote from Elise Edmonds is from a story that appears in Openbook winter 2022.