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Wellcome Film of the Month: Breathing

4 May, 2010

Today is World Asthma Day and we’re marking it with a special film from the Wellcome Film collection.

Breathing is a fundamental process of life and one we may readily take for granted (although as the hayfever season descends upon us this may not be the case for everyone).

This silent black and white film, made for medical students in the 1920s, illustrates the mechanics of breathing in humans.

In the film, to illustrate ordinary breathing unaffected by environmental problems, a rather quaint classroom model is used: a bell jar containing two small balloons are inflated by an attendant to represent the chest and lungs. Animations that show, in outline, how the body physically changes are also used to good effect. This simple and visual medium of communication is in no way diminished by our modern sensibility.

Naturally, this film looks at many of the observable features of breathing at rest and during exercise with a strong focus on being aware of underlying anatomy. The medical students to whom this film was addressed would have been practising medicine for many decades before non-invasive viewing techniques such as cineradiography became prevalent.

Wellcome Film

You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original file, which is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.

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