In 1981 the Belgian Society of Otolaryngology published a four part ‘Naissance et development de l’Oto-rhino-laryngologie dans l’histoire de la medicine’ (The birth and development of Oto-rhino-larygology in the context of the history of medicine’) in their journal Acta Oto-Rhino-Laryngologica Belgica. This very comprehensive eight hundred page work, written in French, was edited by Dr Jacques Willemot (Ghent) with contributions from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. ‘Naissance’ provided a very complete historical picture with an extensive bibliography, a comprehensive index of personalities and a chronological table summarising the development of the specialty from earliest origins.
Coinciding with the publication of ‘Naissance’ was the establishment of the European Society for the Study of History of Otorhinolaryngology by J Willemot (Belgium), W Pirsig (West Germany), E H Mayer (Austria), V Micheli Pelligrini (Italy) and J Michel (France) and the formation of national sections in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and West Germany. The first full meeting of the European Society was held in Budapest during the 1981 World Congress.
These two catalysts prompted the first meeting of a proposed British Section which was held at the Birmingham and Midland Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital on Friday 3rd April 1981. Papers were given by Dr BT Davies (Ryland on the larynx), Dr SDG Stephens (The development of hearing tests), Mr Neremiah Asherson (Traite de l’organ de l’ouie – GJ Du Verney 1693), and Mr AL Pahor (What killed Frederick III?). Following the presentations a business meeting resolved to hold one meeting a year in the month of April. Mr John Bennett was appointed Honorary Secretary and Mr David Brain was European representative. Dr SDG Stephens and Mr Neil Weir represented the section at the annual congress of the Belgian Otorhinolaryngological Society held on 4th -5th December 1981 at which the completed ‘Naissance’ was launched.
Dr Stephens organised the April 1982 meeting at the Institute of Laryngology and Otology (ILO) Gray’s Inn road, London at which papers were given by Professor DFN Harrison (Rhinectomy through the ages), Dr A Markides (Some unusual cures of deafness), Mr P McKelvie (Introduction to the Historical Museum of the ILO), Mr HD Brown Kelly (The fatal illness of Oscar Wilde) and Mr Neil Weir (Billroth and Brahms).
Interestingly at this meeting there was no use of the title ‘British Section of the European Society for the Study of Otorhinolaryngology’. A suggestion was made by Dr SDG Stephens that a travelling club be formed for those interested in the history of ENT.
The next meeting was held on 1st March 1984 at the ILO. Papers were given by Professor P Stell, (The earliest laryngectomies), Dr J Willemot (The development of endoscopy), Mr D Brain (A history of rhinoplasty), Professor R Hinchcliffe (Early clinical tests of hearing), and Dr A Markides (Teaching the deaf to speak). The desire to form a society was again expressed. A meeting was therefore held on 4th May 1984 at 21 Harley Street (home of Mr Neremiah Asherson) at which those attending (Mr N Asherson, Mr J Bennett, Mr D Brain, Dr SDG Stephens and Mr N Weir) agreed to form ‘The Society for the History of Otorhinolaryngology’. A Provisional Committee was formed with Mr Asherson as President, Mr Brain as Vice-President, Mr Bennett as Honorary Treasurer, Dr Stephens as Honorary Secretary and Mr Weir as Editor of the Newsletter. Notice of the founding of the Society was published and its first meeting was held at the ILO on 30th November 1984 at which papers were given by Dr Denzil Brooks (An onion in your ear), Mr HD Brown-Kelly (Professor Kussmaul’s sword swallower and the development of oesophagoscopy), Mr A Pahor (ENT in Ancient Egypt), and Dr Wolfgang Pirsig (A history of the nasal speculum). The meeting was followed by dinner at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) (arranged by Mr N Weir who in his correspondence with the RSM inadvertently referred to the new society as the British Society of History of ENT). At this meeting it was planned to publish an extended article on biographies of prominent otolaryngologists to celebrate the Centenary Year of the Journal of Laryngology and Otology (JLO) to be celebrated in 1987 [this was subsequently published in the Journal in January 1987 under the title ‘Who was Who and What did they do?, written by Neil Weir, Sue Weir and Dafydd Stephens].
There were no further meetings until June 1989 when the Society met in Cardiff as part of the RSM Sections of Otology and Laryngology Summer Meeting. Papers were given by Dr Dafydd Stephens (St Cadoc and the healing of the deaf), Dr Carsten Smidt from Denmark (Wilhelm Meyer 1824-95), Dr Jacques Willemot from Ghent (The beginnings of Belgian ENT in the 19th century), Mr Peter Thomas (An introduction to the Patterson Collection), Professor Wolfgang Pirsig from Ulm (Nose disease in the history of art), Mr Justin Weir (Kramer V Wilde: an ideological battle) and Mr Bill Doey (Did a Victorian laryngeal tragedy affect the course of history?).
The 1990 meeting was held on 27th June at the Florence Nightingale Museum, St Thomas’s Hospital, London. Three papers were given; by Mr Ahmes Pahor (Otology in Ancient Egypt), Professor P Van Cauwenberge from Ghent (History of glue ear and its treatment) and Professor Wolfgang Pirsig from Ulm (Petrus cuts off the slave’s ear: biblical topic in art).
With a change of Honorary Secretary from Dr SDG Stephens to Mr Ahmes Pahor the focus of the meetings in the next decade moved to the City Hospital, Birmingham. Meetings were held there in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2001. Mr David Brain was appointed President. The society altered its name to the ‘British Society for the History of ENT’. There was an extra meeting in September 2000 which formed part of the British Association of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery (BAO- HNS) Millennium celebrations held in Nottingham.
Mr Ahmes Pahor retired from the post of Honorary Secretary in 2001. There was no annual meeting in 2002 but in 2003 the Society was revived with Mr Neil Weir as President and Mr Richard Irving from Birmingham as Honorary Secretary. With the consent of the BAOL- HNS President, Mr David Proops (2003-2006) the British Society for the History of ENT came under the umbrella of BAOL- HNS and since has been able to take a session within the annual BAOL- HNS meetings or within the British Academic Conferences in Otolaryngology (BACO). Thus in 2003 a session was held in Cambridge as part of BACO, in 2004 in Liverpool as part of a joint RSM, BAOL- HNS meeting, in 2005 in Edinburgh (Joint RSM, BAOL- HNS and the Scottish Society of Otolaryngology), in 2006 in Birmingham (BACO), 2007 in London (RSM, BAOL -HNS), 2008 Dublin (BAOL- HNS, American Academy of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery and the Irish Society of Otolaryngology) and in 2009 Liverpool (BACO).
There was a break in this tradition in September 2010 when the British Society for the History of ENT held an all day stand alone meeting in the Toynbee Mackenzie ENT Room at the RSM.
The Calman restructuring of training time has led to a reduced opportunity for registrars to publish clinical research papers. As a consequence some registrars have found an outlet in the history of ENT. Since the mid 1990s there has been a wealth of registrar papers and strong competition for selection for the JLO Registrar’s Prize for the best paper presented.
The British Society for the History of ENT is currently in a healthy position of having a balance of papers from established international ENT historians and UK registrars.
Neil Weir MD MA FRCS
British Society for the History of ENT