Post #005: The lives of others

London, March 31, 2017

Over the last year, every second or third day, I face the challenge of editing – or, more likely, copy-editing – the biography of one of the so-called “makers of modern biomedicine” [1]. These short (auto)biographical notes – they rarely exceed 300 words – summarize the lives of people that have contributed to the History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group’s activities, in most cases by participating in Witness Seminars [2] or, more rarely, by giving an interview to Professor Tilli Tansey and/or others affiliated with the Group [3].

These biographical notes aim to provide a professional or social prenominal title, a date of birth (and death, if necessary), postnominals, a basic description of studies, and a brief career narration leading to retirement or the most recent prominent position; in other words, a necessary and useful brief account of the life of the contributor or interviewee. However, not all of these notes carry the same weight: for some of these people the biographical note can merely provide an idea of the achievements of the person issuing it, while in many cases – inevitably – the note gives the impression of a flawless life where career and recognition advance hand-by-hand.

Reality is complex, cruel, and dazingly difficult to summarize. How can you possibly do justice to all those factors that shape you over the years? How can you summarize the saints and the demons of your life, the teachers, the poems, and the smells of your childhood? How can you present the small victories that led to your achievements? How can you reflect on disappointment, stress or ungratefulness? How important is your legacy? How much do you value your truth?

Does your truth matter?


Notes: [1]: the History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group at Queen Mary University of London is funded by the Wellcome Trust Strategic Award entitled “Makers of modern biomedicine: testimonies and legacy” (2012-2017; awarded to Professor Tilli Tansey); [2]: the transcripts of these Seminars are published within the Witness Seminar transcript series entitled “Wellcome Witnesses to Contemporary Medicine”; [3]: the Group’s interviews are part of the History of Modern Biomedicine Interviews (Digital Collection), which I have the honour to co-curate.

Citation: Zarros A. Post #005: The lives of others. 2017; 31-Mar.