Blood on the streets

Barber's Pole

Dr Stephanie Sodero, current IASH-SSPS Research Fellow, recently organised a scavenger hunt as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities, titled Bloodscape. This one-hour self-guided adventure let participants see Edinburgh through the lens of blood - including changing trends, global campaigns and, of course, Harry Potter. Bloodscape broadened partipants' understanding of blood as a vital good.

Just as blood circulates in the body, it also circulates in society via supply chains, medical innovations and fiction. Bloodscape highlights these often invisible and taken-for-granted dynamics through the embodied experience of a scavenger hunt. Bloodscape was part of the 2018 Being Human Festival, seeking to share humanities research with the public. The event drew on research conducted at the University of Edinburgh in Medical Anthropology, including:

  • using blood donation as a tool of social integration;
  • gauging opportunities and challenges presented by synthetic blood; and
  • identifying potential disruptions to blood supply chains, such as climate change.

Want to get the Bloodscape experience? Check out Frances Ryan's blog on her Bloodscape adventure:

Ah, yes. The infamous barber-surgeon from the days of yore. We all know the story, right? In the olden days (1700s and earlier) barbers performed minor surgical procedures. They did a bit of dental work, sorted out broken limbs, and a bit of bloodletting. (Sometimes, they’d cut hair and do some shaving, too.) The pole is a visual representation of the role of a barber during these times. Back then, the pole had brass wash basins at the top and bottom (the top representing where the leeches were kept, the bottom representing the basin that received the blood). The pole itself is meant to represent the staff that the patients would grip during bloodletting procedures to encourage blood flow.

It is this dual-role of a barber-surgeon that led to the creation of the Incorporation of Surgeons and Barbers of Edinburgh in 1505. It wasn’t until the 1700s that the two professions went their separate ways, reimaging the college as the Royal College of Surgeons. I’ve always found it curious that the barbers kept the symbol related to blood, instead of the surgeons!

Another version of the event will be held in February 2019 as part of the University of Edinburgh's Festival of Creative Learning