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Monthly Archives

June 2007

The Wellcome Collection — a new medical museum worth a detour

By Biomedicine in museums

Eventually, the Wellcome Collection has opened after almost two years heavy reconstruction of the Wellcome Trust‘s old headquarters on Euston Rd, London. The building now contains a conference center in the basement, a commendable eating place and a medical bookstore at the ground level, followed by a huge gallery space and the expanded Wellcome Library on the following floors; and finally offices for the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL on the top.

The Wellcome Collection — I love the name, it reminds me of The Wallace Collection, another great London museum and eating place — opens with three exhibitions on the programme. The Heart is a temporary exhibition running until 16 September, while Medicine Man is a permanent gallery (and in effect a condensed version of the earlier, celebrated show with the same name at the British Museum in 2003; see Jim Edmonson’s review of the catalogue here)

  (entrance to Medicine Man)

The third, also permanent, gallery, called Medicine Now, explores a number of selected topics: the body, genomes, malaria, obesity, and the experience of medicine. Entry is free, seven days a week.

Here are some pictures from the opening event last Thursday night:


I’ll be back with more pictures and a review of Medicine Now.

Telling the Past Now: Historiographies for the 21st Century, Aarhus 22-24 November

By Biomedicine in museums

A conference and PhD course titled “Telling the Past Now: Historiographies for the 21st Century” will be held 22-24 November at the University of Aarhus.

“Telling the Past Now” brings together leading scholars from a variety of fields in an interdisciplinary effort to discuss the challenges, possibilities and modes of writing history today and for the future. Participants will engage state of the art debates and problematics concerning the conceptualization and execution of historical writing. Topic areas will include theory, culture, things, images, narrative, cognition, public perceptions, biographies, gender, place and forgetting. Confirmed speakers: Kristin Asdal (University of Oslo), Warren Breckman (University of Pennsylvania), Allan Megill (University of Virginia), Nancy Nersessian (Georgia Institute of Technology), and Thomas Söderqvist (University of Copenhagen)

For further info, see, or write to

Experiences from the 'Archaeology-of-contemporary-biomedicine-garbage-day' – Part 2

By Biomedicine in museums

At the weekly staff meeting today we discussed our experiences from the ‘Archaeology-of-contemporary-biomedicine-garbage-day’ last Thursday (see earlier post with pics here). Here are some of the points that came up in the discussion:

  • We were happily surprised by the interest and generosity that researchers and technicians at the medical faculty showed for the collection project; i.e., people were expecting us, they took the project seriously, and some of them had prepared objects for delivery several days in advance.
  • Throughout the day we established lots of useful contacts with people in different premed departments for later collecting forays.
  • Many researchers and technicians took the opportunity to tell anecdotes and stories from the lab — thus sustaining earlier experiences among oral historians that ‘things elicit narratives’.
  • This was a perfect opportunity to present the Medical Museion concept to the whole faculty; we have increased our visibility considerably; in other words, it was an excellent internal faculty media stunt.
  • It was a great experience to do this large-scale logistic collecting exercise together as a group (here are some of us at 8 AM: Ion shows the outline of the Panum Institute on the map):

  • The Technical Department were very helpful, both in the planning process and during the hectic morning hours.
  • We would of course had gotten much more out of the day if we had been better prepared. It was pretty frustrating to see how the containers were filled up with tons of stuff we didn’t have time to look at. So for future excercises it’s imperative to involve researchers and technicians in the planning process.
  • It was interesting to hear what researchers and technicians spontaneously understood by ‘museum objects’, like: “you cannot be interested in this one? It’s not old enough, is it?”. That is, scientific practitioners didn’t identify objects as potential museum objects if they were still in use — it was only when the objects had been set aside in the basement deposits that they were identified as such.
  • We collected very little archival material — either because it had already been thrown out (like these un-identifiable lab protocols):


or because people didn’t want to give them away.

  • In some cases we found material that researchers and technicians didn’t wish to give us because they wanted to keep it for their “own museum” — in other words, there seems to be several small clandestine museum collections around the Panum Institute.

(more pictures here)

Breakdancing biotech lab objects

By Biomedicine in museums

Scenes with groups of inanimate objects and tools that come to life when the human beings turn off the light, leave the room and close the door have a long tradition in the animation movie industry (from Disney to clay movies).

The San Diego based, transnational biotech company Illumina which specialises in DNA and RNA analysis has produced a short (and amusing, depending on one’s taste) promotion video with dancing chips and cheering microtubes on a lab bench after working hours. See it here.


Isn’t this yet another example of how the biotech industry is engaged on the same kind of sales strategies as the automobile and other consumer industries? Biotech lab consumers are King — so better cater for their need for a moment of fun, seems to be the intent behind it.

(thanks to zoisci for the tip … and for providing the still)

Medical images in fashion and design

By Biomedicine in museums

Koen Hauser’s art work Modische Atlas der Anatomie is perhaps misplaced on this blog. It doesn’t have much with contemporary biomedicine to do (it draws on a long tradition for using macroanatomy, pathology and prosthetics for curious art works), and it has circulated in the medical sector of the blogosphere for quite a while now (see e.g., Street Anatomy and Unbounded Medicine):

But I nevertheless think Hauser’s work is worth drawing attention to, because it reminds us of the potential use of medical (and biomedical) images in contemporary fashion and design. Commercial designers seem indeed to agree: The Virtual Shoe Museum already uses another of Hauser’s works in their collection.

Wouldn’t the next step beyond the anatomical body be to create images of postgenomic ‘anatomical ‘ structures, for example from proteomics, for fashion design?


Radiology pic of the day — web-generated 'body-mindedness'

By Biomedicine in museums

For those who cannot live without their daily dosis of radiological (x-ray, CT, PET, or ultrasound) picture exposure I highly recommend Radiology Picture of the Day, a fusion blog that combines medical professionality with an apparent urge to display iconographically compelling material.

Almost every day since November 2006, Laughlin Dawes, a radiology registrar at Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick outside Sydney, has put a picture on his blog — either from his own clinic or sent in by one of the twelwe radiologists around the world that regularly provide him with material.

The use of specialist medical vocabulary in the captions indicates that the aim of the radpod-blog is to be informative and didactic, not to provide aesthetic experiences — but where to draw the line?

The most popular pic (by number of clicks?) among the ~300 put on display so far is this ultrasound pic of gallbladder polyps:

It is said to demonstrate “multiple non-shadowing, non-mobile, polypoid lesions .. typical of cholesterol polyps, representing the focal form of gallbladder cholesterolosis”. More info for specialists here.

The radpod-blog is but one example of a large number of blogs and websites that furnish the web with a rapidly growing number of internal body pictures, which in turn contribute to what one might call web-generated ‘body-mindedness’? (This is in fact something that Jan Eric is working on right now, using the endoscope as a case in point.)

Science pics between public science communication and production of fascination

By Biomedicine in museums

The Oldenburg mailing list has just announced the programme for the conference ‘Vom roten Mars und runden Atomen: Bilder von Wissenschaft und Technik zwischen öffentlicher Wissensvermittlung und Faszinationsproduktion’ which takes place at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Offenbach, Germany, 25 – 26 October. It’s too late to send in papers (see call here), and unfortunately I cannot find a web-version of programme on the net. Nor is there much about medical or life science pictures in the programme. But the theme (between public science communication and production of fascination) is good!

Experiences from the 'Archaeology-of-contemporary-biomedicine-garbage-day'

By Biomedicine in museums

Yesterday’s ‘Great Clearance Day’ at the Medical Faculty was a great success. Not just for the faculty’s technical department staff who threw 11 metric tons of garbage into the huge containers. But also for us at Medical Museion who participated with an ‘archaeology-of-contemporary-biomedical-garbage’ agenda (see former post here).

After five hours of hard work we had saved a couple of hundred artefacts (or clusters of artefacts) and some archival material for our collections. Here postdoc Sniff Nexø, administrative assistant Monica Lambert, historian Ida Rosenstand Lou and collection manager Ion Meyer are inspecting a couple of microscopes saved from being thrown into the containers (while historian Niklas Thode Jensen watches from a safe distance):

And here postdoc Jan Eric Olsén is taking a look at one of the rarities, seconded by student assistant Thomas Lund and technician Folke Jørgensen (guest researcher Sven Erik Hansen turns his back to the camera):


Conservator Nicole Rehné and Ion Meyer take notes when Claus Juul Løland from the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology comes to deliver some machinery; and Sven Erik Hansen, who’s trained as a medical doctor, gives his expert opinion:

Most of it was impossible to save, however. For example, the Department of Medical Physiology threw out hundreds of kilograms of archival material from the last 40 years, and we didn’t have a chance to look at it. Here our technician Emil Houssini is taking a look in their paper container before it’s sent away:

What we did save has been temporarily stored at the upper basement level of the Panum Institute:

We’re going to spend some time in the next couple of weeks to go through the heap — and then decide what shall be accepted for acquisition and curating.

Even more important than the actual collection of artefacts was the process itself. We’ve been engaged in our first near-garbology activity, and we’ve accumulated a lot of experiences — the whole department has been involved in a collective learning process. Some of the experiences will be reported here after the next Tuesday morning staff meeting.

Here are some more pictures:

Read More

Devices and designs: Medical technologies in historical perspective

By Biomedicine in museums

Two years ago the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) at the University of Manchester organised a very good meeting on the material history of science, technology and medicine. Now some of the papers have been re-worked into a volume titled Devices and Designs: Medical Technologies in Historical Perspective, edited by CHSTM staff members Carsten Timmermann and Julie Anderson (Palgrave MacMillan 2006). Read More

Learning from Leeds how to use university museums

By Biomedicine in museums

Sometimes one learns too late about what one’s peers are doing. Today is actually the last day to register for the workshop ‘Developing the University of Leeds Science Collections’ which takes place next Monday 25 June 2007 between 4 and 7 PM. The aims of the workshop are: to illustrate HPS staff & students’ work on Leeds’ science museum collections; to share campus science and medicine curators’ perspectives on their collections; and to consider the prospects for a future history of science museums.

If you want to participate (or ask how things went), send a mail to, and for enquiries about the workshop, write to Graeme Gooday at Btw, the meeting is organised by University of Leeds’s Centre for Heritage Research in collaboration with the university’s Division of History & Philosophy of Science (HPS).