Solar Topi and Ice corridor – Pamphlets at LSHTM

Recently the library has been back-cataloguing its extensive collection of historical pamphlets dating from the early 20th Century to the late 1960s. The collection is comprised of information relating widely to all aspects of international Public Health and is particularly strong on concerns relating to the Anglosphere and the former British colonies. As such, the pamphlets provide a fascinating insight not only into developments in physiological understanding but also into changing cultural attitudes, scientific methods and technology.

There are many curious documents in the collection as well as a number of items unique to the school. A particularly interesting find is a 1961 report produced by the British War Office on developments in protection from sunstroke. A historical study, it offers an account of theories and preventative measures, mainly headgear, used against the affliction from antiquity up to the present day contemporaneous to its publication. From Persian headgear to 18th Century ‘Sugar Loaf’ hats and pith helmets the pamphlet charts the various hat designs and materials used throughout the ages with particular attention to local environment and influences taken from native customs. Detached in tone, the report’s description presents the near and far eastern regions discussed as barely hospitable sun beaten environments against which outsiders must forge protection or perish.

Another of the pamphlet collection’s gems deals not with altering oneself to suit the environment but altering the environment to suit oneself. “Report on Trial of Artificial Climate Chamber at General Hospital Shanghai” details an American physician’s attempts to create an air-conditioned operating theatre using imported fans and ice in 1913. The pamphlet contains a detailed analysis of the benefit of reduced temperature against increases in air humidity in the form of a hand annotated graph. A brief but evocative commentary on the problems faced by the physician and his “subscribing” colleagues in acquiring the necessary equipment and persuading the hospital authorities is also included.

Cataloguing the pamphlets should improve awareness and increase access to this fascination collection. Hopefully it will aid the research of medical historians, social scientists and other curious parties at LSHTM and beyond. The two pamphlets mentioned, as well as many others, can be found in the gallery above the reading room.


The two pamphlets discussed.


An illustration from “Life and Death of the Solar Topi” showing use of 13th Century French and Spanish straw hats.


An illustration from “Life and Death of the Solar Topi” show a diagram of an 1860 Jeffreys Helmet.


An illustration from “Life and Death of the Solar Topi” depicting a hunting scene in which the British settlers are wearing sugar loaf hats.