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Monthly Archives

February 2007

History as re-enactment and affective knowing

By Biomedicine in museums

One of the central features of museums is that they are venues for the visitors’ emotional confrontation with the past. Material objects add a new affective and aesthetic dimension to the relation between spectator and ‘representations’ of the past which can be described in terms like ‘authenticity’, ‘presence’ and ‘lived experience’. Those interested in such problems of historiography and museology may want to take a trip to Cambridge (UK) on 21 March to participate in a meeting on ‘Re-enactment History and Affective Knowing’ organised by Peter de Bolla and Simon Schaffer.

The last decade has witnessed the growth of a new kind of academic historical inquiry, re-enactment history. This inquiry has something in common with older traditions of historical empathy, approaches familiar from debates about history teaching in schools and about the appropriate ways of dealing with and exploiting national heritage. But in these newer approaches historians do not only seek imaginatively to enter the minds of historical agents but rather to act out the past so as to know it better. This enterprise raises fascinating questions about affect or emotion, currently topics of great interest in related fields in intellectual history, philosophy, aesthetics, cognitive science and the human sciences: it has even been suggested that a new branch of knowledge may be appearing, called by some the affective sciences. This conference will contribute to this growing field by discussing the conceptual structure of the historical modes of understanding based in affective experience. Speakers will discuss the kinds of knowledge involved in re-enactment history and explore the relations between memory and re-enactment. They will ask how a simulation can produce new knowledge and how notions of lived experience and authenticity work their effects here. Key areas where re-enactment history have been put to work, such as histories of experimental and field sciences, within museums, and in the media, will be addressed by participants. A group of internationally distinguished historians and literary scholars has been invited to present papers, each of around twenty minutes. There will be ample time for discussion and debate.

Speakers include John Brewer, Jim Chandler, Elizabeth Edwards (University of the Arts), Jonathan Lamb (Vanderbilt), Iain McCalman (Australian National University), Vanessa Agnew (Michigan) Otto Sibum (MPI Berlin), Jim Secord (Cambridge), Alison Winter (Chicago), and Mark Phillips (Carleton). For more info check out CRASSH’s website.

Objects of decay

By Biomedicine in museums

Susanne’s recent comment to Søren’s post on the collection of MRI scanners a few weeks ago raises an important question about the ‘aesthetics of decay’. I.e., how do we handle incomplete, pillaged, delapidated etc. machines and machine parts, or as Susanne puts it: ‘ruins’? There is a lot of discussion about ‘the aesthetics of decay’ and a lot of photo material to illustrate it, e.g. this image that I found on Google Pictures, titled ‘rusted ambition’ — taken from this webpage:

The ‘aesthetics of decay’ is not limited to machines. When Ion, Sniff and I were visiting the Tornblad Institute in Lund a couple of months ago to evaluate the scientific and cultural historical value of their embryo collection, we were utterly fascinated by a shelf filled with broken jars and glasses with embryos in different stages of decay (drying-out) etc., and we immediately thought of collecting, preserving (how do you preserve something that is a state of decay — do you stop the decay process, or do you let it continue?), and displaying it.

So I think such ‘medical ruins’ are potentially very fascinating objects. Should we reconsider the pillaged MRI scanner we were offered? And in case, how far should we go in collecting such decaying machines and bodies?

The discussion of decaying museum objects feeds into the topic of ‘biotrash’ and ‘bio garbage’ that Julie Kent, Naomi Pfeffer and Sarah Hodges are organising a meeting about in Warwick in two weeks from now, see program here.

If Danish scientists/scholars are not on Google Scholar, they don't exist?

By Biomedicine in museums

The Danish electronic research database has decided to co-operate with Google Scholar, The national universities are continually feeding the DEFF data base which is then automatically updated to Google Scholar. A small step in the direction of balancing the bias towards US/UK science and scholarship which, among others, the head of Bibliotheque National de France complained about a couple of years ago.

Workshop on global biotrash etc, Univ of Warwick, 9 March 2007

By Biomedicine in museums

The Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation and the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick are inviting to a one-day workshop on “Health, Governance and the Global: Cultural Histories and Contemporary Practices” on 9 March, 2007.

Increasingly, the ‘global’ has become an ever-more regularly invoked term—both in popular anxieties about health (such as SARS or Avian ‘flu) as well as in the world of public policy. What has been less clear, however, is what exactly the object of governance is in the ‘global governance of health’. Is it a set of regulations? Is it bodily practices of individuals or groups? Or, is it the bio-health phenomena themselves? Finally, what is the relationship in the global governance of health between the governance of commerce, on the one hand, and the governance of infection, on the other? This one-day interdisciplinary workshop seeks to begin to map out the practical and epistemological terrain produced by the global governance of health—both as a set of contemporary practices, as well as their historical antecedents.

Program includes:

  • Julie Kent, University of Western England & Naomi Pfeffer, London Metropolitan University: ‘Regulation and governance of the collection and use of fetal stem cells in the UK’
  • Julie Kent & Naomi Pfeffer, ‘The debut of the fetal cadaver’
  • Dan O’Connor, Warwick, “This Shit”: Abjection, Horror and Biotrash
  • Sarah Hodges, Warwick, ‘Biotrash: The Global Traffic in Medical Garbage in a Post-Genomic Age’
  • Mohan Rao, Jawaharlal Nehru University, ‘Roshomon’s Truth: NGOs and the Health Sector in India
  • Sophie Harman, Manchester, ‘Contemporary Practice, Old Rules: Understanding the World Bank’s role in shaping the HIV/AIDS response through a Historical Institutionalist lens’

For further information, contact Sarah Hodges (

By Biomedicine in museums

Wait a second … Dad? Is that you dancing there?

This 20-minute long educational video “Protein Synthesis: An Epic on the Cellular Level”, was made in 1971, and has since become a classic to generations of high-school and college science students.The dance event was filmed on an open field at Stanford University. Most of the dancers are ordinary biology students while a few are trained dancers. The narrator is the later Nobel prize winner in chemistry Paul Berg (1980), who explains the protein synthesis in a short prologue that also introduces the “collective players”, including a 30s ribosome, mRNA, and an initiator factor. Enjoy — and remember this in 26 years ago!
The comments that follow the YouTube release are almost as interesting as the video itself, ranging from amused fascination to outrage and disgust (some people just seem to hate anything that has the slightest association with the hippie generation). I think it is worthwhile viewing it as a document of “biomedicine on display” in the very far past.

New design – at last

By Biomedicine in museums

Thanks to Benny Thaibert at bit2b we have now got our new design. Hopefully the blog is much more functional now. The big issue was the wallpaper: some suggested a yellowish grandma pattern, others hated the whole idea about wallpaper, so this was the compromise: a hardline biomed-iconic pattern (microarray analysis repeat pattern = sort of symbolises translational medicine). Enjoy or dispise, but remember — everything can be changed, even this blog design.

Science Museum blog

By Biomedicine in museums

The New Media department of the Science Museum started a blog called “Science Museum Dev” (short for development, I guess) last July to spread news “about some of the work we do, developing websites and interactive exhibits for one of the most famous museums in the world”. Unfortunately they haven’t updated it since November — please keep up the good spirit: we’d like to know more about what’s happening on the media front on Exhibition Road.