Surgical Interventions

View of a bright pink graphic in a desktop display case on the first floor of the Pitt Rivers Museum.


On this page:  Surgical Interventions - Trail theme introduction  |  I need that Surgery Like I need a Hole in the Head! |    Mysteries of the Mind   |  Invisible Disabilities...?  |   Link back to Nothing Without Us page 

This webpage includes reference to the physical display of a plaster cast of a human skull fragment as part of this trail - for more information on the human remains in the Pitt Rivers Museum please see further resources available such as the Human Remains information page.

Surgical Interventions

Nothing Without Us: Experiences of Disability Trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum
Medical and Surgical Instruments, Case 87A, First Floor


Surgical interventions are a source of great anxiety for many. They are ‘invasive’ - a word evoking images of violence and warfare. Disabled people's experiences of surgical intervention can help us appreciate both its successes and innovations, but also its many risks and harms.

I need that surgery like I need a hole in the head! 

A metal cylinder with a serrated edge protruding from a twisted iron bar, with a wooden handle attached.

Surgical Instrument used for Trepanning. Iron and Wood. Algeria (made before 1914). Purchased by the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1914. PRM 1914.76.110.

Trepanning is one of the world’s oldest surgeries, one which scrapes, bores, or cuts into a skull. We know how trepanning was done, but the “why” remains a mystery. Sources indicate it was successfully carried out in cases of headaches or head wounds. But over the centuries, individuals whose behaviours deviated from a ‘norm’ were seen as candidates, placing the intellectually disabled at particular risk.

Brenda L. I., PhD and HoH (Hard of Hearing)


Mysteries of the Mind

A small rounded electronic device in a smooth metal casing embossed with model and manufacturer information

A Deep Brain Stimulation Implantable Pulse Generator. Metal. United Kingdom. Loaned to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 2023.

Implanted in the body with wires that are connected to specific centres of the brain, this tiny device assists with the treatment of neurological conditions with electrical impulses. An expression of modern innovation, at the same time it captures how much of our brains are still a mystery to us. While this device may have many advantages over the other tools in this case, it shares that same sense of fascination and anxiety of the unknown, for both patient and surgeon.

Laurie P.,

Invisible Disabilities...?

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A blank space is often what I find when searching for examples of ‘invisible disabilities’ in a museum. The term describes conditions that you can’t immediately see: for example, I’m a diabetic. Are they so invisible? They certainly have ‘visible’ effects, radically changing lives. They only go unnoticed by those who choose to ignore them. How should we fill this blank space?

Laurie P.


If you have an idea on how we can fill the blank space to help represent Invisible Disabilities, share your ideas with us on social media using the hashtags #NothingWithoutUs #PRM or by emailing us at

Plan of first floor of museum showing case locations and trail stop highlighted with pink spots

Plan of first floor of the museum showing location of trail stop. Turn right through the doorway from the stairs or lift, and the stop is a few metres down the aisle, in a desktop case on the left side overlooking the court below.

This co-produced gallery trail was developed in partnership with the Curating for Change project. Supported by Accentuate and Screen South, the project provides opportunities for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people to pursue a curatorial career in museums.

Find out more about Curating for Change


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Accentuate logo in pink
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art fund logo


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