Ludwig Guttmann

This is mainly a plug for my first foray onto Occam’s Corner, plus a place to list some of the sources of information that I used, and to tell the story of the chase for a missing document.

I feel quite excited about getting something published on OC, on the Guardian website.  Several of my fellow Occams Typewriter bloggers are old hands at it by now, but it has taken me a while to summon up the courage. I am very grateful to Jenny for her editorial advice – she suggested some ways to liven it up a little and give it a stronger beginning and end.

For my debut I have written something about Ludwig Guttmann. I should say at this point – do not read further until you have read the Occam’s Corner piece! What follows here is additional to that, not a repeat of it.

OK, so you’re back here now having read the main piece? Let’s continue.

Guttmann was the man who founded the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital, and later helped give birth to the Paralympic Games. I became interested in him this year, with all the publicity about the Paralympics, and started reading up about him. Two books were particularly valuable:

John Silver’s book was interesting as he had worked with Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville, so had direct insights into the man. John Silver has published a number of other interesting historical articles in the area too.

Another valuable source was Ludwig Guttmann’s own account of the history of the Stoke Mandeville centre.  Though just ten pages, it has some detail I didn’t find elsewhere. The Royal Society Biographical Memoir for Guttmann was another mine of useful facts. Those Royal Society memoirs are such a great resource!

If you want to read absolutely everything about the man and his work you will need quite a bit of time. A bibliography, compiled by Jeremy Tynedal, Frank Stahnisch and Gregor Wolbring, and called Life and Work of Sir Ludwig Guttmann: A Bibliography, contains 117 items (books and articles). I’m afraid I have not read all, or even most, of those. The bibliography was published in Jan 2012 so will not include anything published this year, which I suspect is quite a lot given the Paralympics connection. I found that once I started putting my blogpost together more and more questions popped into my head and my reading list got longer and longer. I looked at the background to spinal injuries, the background to the various people mentioned along the way, and some of Guttmann’s publications on the subject. I really needed to find a focus.

What first piqued my interest in Guttmann was discovering that he had compiled a review for the MRC, and I set about looking for it.  We have a wonderfully rich collection of reprints covering that period, all lovingly catalogued, and I hoped it might be in there. Confusingly I found some reprints by “L Guttmann” and some by “E Gutmann”, and some by the two of them jointly. In the dim light of our store I didn’t spot the slightly different spelling at first and I thought maybe he used two different first names. It transpired that there was an Ernest Gutmann and a Ludwig Guttmann, and they had both worked in Oxford at about the same time. But they were quite unrelated. Figuring all that out took me a little while.

Anyway, it proved impossible to track down the review, despite my best efforts and help from the MRC archivist and the library of the Royal College of Surgeons. This was really frustrating but John Silver’s book mentions that he worked through a number of archives and he too failed to find this report. The MRC archives indicate that there was certainly an intention to publish it and there is some correspondence during 1943 from Guttmann apologising repeatedly for not having submitted the review for publication. I wonder if there is a copy lurking somewhere in another archive.

Once I started writing the piece for Occam’s Corner I realised that this one missing document didn’t really affect the main story I wanted to tell. And if you have been very naughty and read this far without following the instruction above, then NOW is the time to hop over to Occam’s Corner!

About Frank Norman

I am a retired librarian. I spent 40 years working in biomedical research libraries.
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2 Responses to Ludwig Guttmann

  1. If there is anything more romantic than a library basement, then it must be a Lost Document.

  2. Frank says:

    Yes, the idea is romantic. A bit like a Holy Grail. But it is a mark of failure for a library sleuth. 🙁 I should have tried a couple more places before giving up. Wonder if the Stoke Mandeville Hospital archives have it, or maybe Gerge Riddoch’s archives (wherever they are).

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