Friday, March 4, 2011

History book co-author discusses capturing the MGH spirit

SOMETHING IN THE ETHER: From left, Johnson, Russell and Bull in the Ether Dome

THE HISTORIC ETHER DOME offered the perfect backdrop for the first in a series of informative presentations to be hosted this year by the Paul S. Russell, MD, Museum of Medical History and Innovation. The museum’s first event, held Feb. 25 as part of the MGH’s 200th anniversary celebration, featured Webster Bull, co-author of “Something in the Ether: A Bicentennial History of Massachusetts General Hospital 1811 to 2011.”

The book was commissioned by the MGH in honor of its bicentennial and is co-authored by Bull’s daughter, Martha. It will be published April 1 and available for purchase through the MGH General Store and

Following a welcome and introduction by Peter Johnson, director of the museum, Bull – who has written more than 50 private and institutional memoirs – read a selection from the book’s prologue. Next, guided by a series of questions posed by Johnson, he discussed the process of writing the history, explaining that the project took nearly three years and involved extensive research and interviews with more than 100 people. He also described how his approach to the MGH’s history differed from previous histories of the hospital. In addition, Bull offered insight into some of the topics and themes explored throughout the book and provided his take on the institution’s culture.

In an entertaining exchange between Johnson and Bull, Johnson read notable quotes related to the MGH’s history and quizzed Bull to identify the source. He also asked Bull to identify who he thought were the top ten most influential MGHers, after which Bull answered questions from the audience.

Paul S. Russell, MD, for whom the museum is named, was among the attendees gathered in the Ether Dome. He thanked Bull for capturing the spirit of the MGH: “With this book, you have added to our hospital’s heritage in a permanent and timely way – timely because it is our 200th anniversary and the field of medicine is about to undergo major changes. Your book brings us to the present moment in a manner that is incredibly valuable to us, and we are so thankful to you.”

Russell is chair of the MGH History Committee and a former chief of Surgery and Transplantation at the hospital. The museum is currently under construction on the corner of North Grove and Cambridge streets and is expected to be completed in December 2011.

A video of the Feb. 25 presentation will be made available on both the closed-circuit MGH channel 45 and at

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