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Observations History

Lister restaged: one sure step for science and safer surgery

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 09 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6075
  1. Ben Chisnall, medical student, King’s College London
  1. ben.b.chisnall{at}

A re-enactment of Joseph Lister’s inaugural lecture at King’s College London demonstrated to a modern audience the magnitude of the aseptic surgery revolution

On 1 October 1877 Joseph Lister delivered his inaugural lecture as professor of clinical surgery at King’s College London. Lister came to King’s from Edinburgh, where he developed the ideas and methods of antiseptic surgery that he had first investigated in Glasgow.

Lister re-enacted as played by Sean O’Callaghan of the Royal Shakespeare Company

Lister’s methods, drawing on Pasteur’s principles of germs as the basis of contamination, had been enthusiastically received and adopted in Scotland and continental Europe. London’s medical and surgical establishment was, however, yet to be fully convinced.

Standing in a packed Great Hall at King’s, before an audience of surgeons, physicians, students, and scientists eager to hear of his famous methods from the man himself, Lister chose to speak not of surgical techniques, as would be expected, but about something entirely different: his studies of fermentation.

The lecture was provocative, especially in the context of Lister’s remarks to his Edinburgh students earlier that year that London …

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