Thursday, August 17, 2017

"My lot walked, my lot starved"

From The Guardian:
The teenage McGann, who would grow up to play Dr Turner in Call the Midwife, was immediately overcome with what he describes as a “weird passion” for genealogy. He solemnly promised his ancestors he would find out more about the history of the McGanns.

Fast-forward 37 years and we are discussing Flesh and Blood, the 300-odd page book that finally fulfils that solemn promise. In it, McGann, who at 54 is the youngest of the four McGann actor brothers, looks back at the history of his family through the lens of seven maladies: hunger, pestilence, exposure, trauma, breathlessness, heart problems and necrosis. He discusses how health and education – or a lack of them – have driven medical progress and social change in Britain, and how these changes have dramatically altered the fortunes of the McGanns.

“My family’s story is intimately related to the progress of this nation, because of the relationship between social history, public health and physical medical health. Until the welfare state, my family subsisted. After the welfare state, they thrived. I feel, in my family, the burden of the legacy of history very keenly.”

McGann, who has an MA in science communications, explains that genealogy is detective work: “You see these wonderful antiquated Latin terms on death certificates and very quickly realise that to understand the cause of death, you have to understand those medical terms in their wider sense. The purpose of genealogy – to gain self-knowledge, to answer questions like who am I? Where do I come from? – has to expand to embrace what a particular medical term means in that time, in that place, right there. I focus on health as an antagonist in the book because that’s the beat that drives the central characters on.” (Read more.)

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