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Monthly Archives

January 2008

Can the historiography of medicine and medical exhibition narratology be brought together? (the case of the history of insomnia)

By Biomedicine in museums

Camilla recently reviewed Wellcome Collection’s new exhibition ‘Sleeping and Dreaming’ at 183 Euston Rd, London. Next month (21 Feb) Sonu Shamdasani at the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine (three stories higher up in the same house) organises a research workshop titled “Histories of Insomnia” — with presentations by KanWen Ma on insomnia in the history of traditional Chinese medicine, Erin Sullivan on Puritan anxieties toward sleep in seventeenth-century England, Eluned Sumners Bremner on eighteenth-century boredom as a companion of Insomnia, and Kenton Kroker on insomnia as a biomedical problem.

After the papers the workshop participants will “transfer” to the ‘Sleeping and Dreaming’ exhibition. Good idea! As an outsider, however, I cannot avoid feeling that they have lost an opportunity for truly integrating the historiography of medicine and exhibition narratology. Maybe I’m unfair — there may be perfectly good reasons for not doing it in this case — but I nevertheless wonder: If the Wellcome Trust people cannot bring these two exciting approaches to medical history together, who can?

Communicating medicine through displays of images and objects

By Biomedicine in museums

On Friday 7 March scholars from Medical Museion at University of Copenhagen, the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden, the Wellcome Collection and the Science Museum in London, and the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) at University of Manchester will come together to discuss how we can bring our research and collections dealing with late 19th and 20th century medicine to new audiences. The workshop is organised by CHSTM with the following programme:

09.30-10.30 Introductions (chair: John Pickstone)

  • Introduction to the issues – John Pickstone
  • Introduction to the Medical Museion – Thomas Söderqvist
  • Introduction to the Boerhaave Museum – Dirk van Delft
  • Wellcome Collection: a new public venue – Lisa Jamieson
  • Introduction to the University of Manchester – Emm Barnes

10.30-12.00: London & Manchester (chair: Thomas Söderqvist)

  • “‘Sleeping and Dreaming’ at Wellcome Collection” – Katie Forde (Wellcome Collection, London)
  • “Communicating Medical Research: Updating the Health Matters Gallery at the Science Museum” – Katie Maggs (Science Museum, London)
  • “Big Machines and Small Wonders: Ingenuity in Adapting Equipment and Engineering Skills to Create Total Hip Replacements” – Francis Neary (Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge)

13.00-14.30: Leiden & Copenhagen (chair: Carsten Timmermann)

  • “Exposing ‘My Skin’: Communicating Body History” – Mieneke Te Hennepe (Boerhaave Museum, Leiden)
  • “Age on Stage: The Making of the Exhibition Oldetopia” – Camilla Mordhorst (Medical Museion, Copenhagen)
  • “Making Sense or Sensing the Made: from historical interpretation to material presence in biomedical museum settings” – Thomas Söderqvist (Medical Museion, Copenhagen)

15.00-16.30: Copenhagen (chair: Emm Barnes)

  • “Curating biomedical software: the case of epidemiological risk assessment tools” – Susanne Bauer (Medical Museion)
  • “Pill cam visions: endoscopic diagnosis as public spectacle” – Jan-Eric Olsén (Medical Museion)
  • “How to make contact with the materialities of recent biomedicine” – Søren Bak-Jensen (Medical Museion)

16.30-17.00: Closing discussion

For more info, contact Emm Barnes

CFP: Protein and DNA sequences as scientific objects

By Biomedicine in museums

Bruno Strasser at Yale University and Marianne Sommer at ETH
Zurich are organising a small workshop at Yale, 21-22 June, 2008 of potentially great interest for future biomedical museological practices. Under the title ‘Making Sequences Matter: Collecting, Comparing, Computing’ the workshop will focuse on “the emergence, development and diversification of protein and DNA sequences as scientific objects and tools for producing knowledge in the life sciences and particularly in evolution”. Here’s the workshop platform:

Read More

PhD-defence: 'History in the Flesh: Investigating the historicized body' (Adam Bencard)

By Biomedicine in museums

Our own Adam Bencard will publicly defend his PhD-dissertation “History in the Flesh: investigating the historicized body” on Friday 15 February at 1pm.

“History in the Flesh” is a historiographical study of a number of historical, philosophical, sociological and anthropological approaches of the body over the last 30 years. Framing his thesis as a contribution to the emerging critical engagement with the so called linguistic, cultural and discursive turns in the humanities. Adam Bencard particularly criticizes the New Cultural Historians’ focus on the historicized body, that is, the idea of the body as a thoroughly cultural construct. Instead he proposes an understanding of the body based on the concept of ’presence’ (Gumbrecht, Runia).

Adam Bencard has been trained in history and philosophy at Roskilde University, and is presently research assistant at Medical Museion.

The public defence takes place in the old anatomical theatre of Medical Museion, Friday 15 February, 1-4pm.

Evaluation committee:

  • Dorthe Gert Simonsen, Associate Professor, Department of History, Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen (chair)
  • Roger Cooter, Professorial Fellow, Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London (public opponent)
  • Knut Stene-Johansen, Professor, Institute for Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, Oslo University (public opponent)

The dissertation is available from

Read a resumé of the dissertation here.

An exhibition about skin as an unstable interface between art, science, philosophy and culture

By Biomedicine in museums

When Jens Hauser gave a seminar here at Medical Museion last spring, he talked, among other things, about his next exhibitíon — on skin. His idea of exploríng skin “as a place where art, science, philosophy and social culture meet” is now becoming realised in Liverpool (UK) under the title of sk-interfaces.

“What used to be understood as a surface that represents the limit of the self and between the inside and the outside can today be seen as an unstable border”, says Jens on the website. He has gathered an awesome crew of bio-artists — a few old hats, but mostly exciting new acquaintances — to explore this tough, yet fragile bodily interface:

For example, ORLAN presents Manteau d’Arlequin (Harlequin Coat), a patchwork life-size mantle, which fuses in vitro skin cells from various cultures and species. The Tissue Culture and Art Project’s Victimless Leather are problematizing the concept of ‘garment’ by making it semi-living:

Art Orienté objet have created “biopsied, cultured, hybridized and tattooed skin made from their own epidermis and pig derma to create living biotechnological self-portraits”. In hymNext Designer Hymen Series Julia Reodica uses her own vaginal tissue combined with animal muscle cells to create designer hymens. And so on and so forth.

The director of Liverpool’s Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) that hosts the exhibition, claims that sk-interfaces pushes “the boundaries of how and what creative technologies and art can be”; he wants to use the exhibition to invite debate and conversation “around life sciences and our changing relationships with our bodies and technology”.

Here is the full list of confirmed art works at the exhibition:
Art Orienté objet (France) Cultures de peaux d’artistes, Roadkill Coat
Zbigniew Oksiuta (Poland) Breeding Spaces
Yann Marussich (Switzerland) Bleu Remix
Julia Reodica (USA) hymNext Designer Hymen Series
Jun Takita (Japan) Light only Light
Tissue Culture and Art Project (Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr) (Australia) Victimless Leather
ORLAN (France) Manteau d’Arlequin
Neal White (UK) Truth Serum
Wim Delvoye (Belgium) Sybille
Olivier Goulet (France) Skin Bags
Zane Berzina (Latvia) Touch Me Wall
Critical Art Ensemble (US)
Eduardo Kac (Brazil)Telepresence Garment
Maurice Benayoun and Jean-Baptiste Barriere (France) World Skin: A Photo Safari in the Land of War
Jill Scott E-skin: Somatic Interaction
Stelarc Extra Ear: Ear on Arm

The exhibition opens on 1 February and runs until 31 March. The week after the opening, FACT is organising a conference to examine the topics and issues surrounding this exhibition. They are also publishing a book by Jens Hauser — SK-Interfaces: Exploding Borders – Creating Membranes in Art, Technology and Society — on Liverpool University Press.

Looks like a three-star exhibition, i.e. worth a travel. 

Seminars on public engagement with science, Stockholm 7-8 February

By Biomedicine in museums

Two seminars on public engagement with science will be held at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, 7-8 February.

1) A public seminar on ‘Public Communication of Expert Knowledge and Political Decision-Making’ on Thursday 7 February. Speakers include

  • Christian Azar (Chalmers U of Technology): ‘Popularize? Agitate? Inform? What is the Role of the Expert in Politics?’
  • Lena Sommestad (former Swedish Minister for the Environment): ‘Democracy Meets Science – Experiences from Environmental Policy-Making’
  • Ulrike Felt (U Vienna): ‘Public Communication of Science: A Space for Collective Experimentation?’.

The talks willl be followed by a public debate bar and a panel discussion.

2) Next day (Friday 8 February) the public seminar is narrowed down to a closed workshop on ‘Science Communication as the Co-Production of Sciences and Their Publics’ with talks in English and Swedish. Speakers include:

  • Fredrik Bragesjö and Margareta Hallberg (Göteborgs universitet): Vetenskapskommunikation – ett led i samproduktionen av vetenskap och social ordning? Exemplet mässlingsvaccination och autism
  • Maja Horst (Copenhagen Business School): Public Engagement with STS – Experimenting with the Social Science Laboratory
  • Susanne Lundin (Lunds universitet): Moraliska räkenskaper. Etik och praxis inom biomedicinsk forskning
  • Teresa Kulawik (Södertörns högskola): From Educational Towards Deliberative Governance in Science Policy? The Case of Embryo- and Stem-Cell Research in Germany and Sweden
  • Per-Anders Forstorp (KTH): Magnetisörerna och den nya manikeismen: Den skeptiska rörelsen som vetenskapens publika väktare
  • Jan Nolin (Bibliotekshögskolan Borås): The Information Turn in Research on Public Understanding of Science
  • Anders Ekström, Solveig Jülich, Frans Lundgren och Per Wisselgren (Stockholms, Umeå and Uppsala universitet): Deltagande medier och publik vetenskap
  • Thomas Söderqvist (Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen): Science Blogging and the Multitude of Technoscience

 More info from Mark Elam, STS, U of Gothenburg.

New perspectives on 20th century pharmaceutical history

By Biomedicine in museums

Pharmaceutical history has long been dominated by a somewhat antiquarian interest in old apothecaries; post-WWII-developments have been fairly neglected, and the history of Big Pharma, biotech and the ‘pipeline’ has been virtually non-existing. But things are changing! Thus the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy organizes a meeting on ‘Perspectives in Pharmaceutical History’ in Madision, Wisconsin, 17-18 October, 2008 which promises to take these major contemporary trends into account:

The evolution of the modern pharmaceutical enterprise over the long twentieth century—from its early intersection with the image and later the structure of scientific research, to its dramatic postwar expansion and late-century saturation of medical and marketing media—has implications that stretch far beyond the traditional history of pharmacy and medicine to impact broader social, cultural, economic, business, legal, regulatory, and political developments. This conference seeks to foster and reflect on the growing body of pharmaceutical scholarship across historical disciplines and encourage novel theoretical and methodological developments by featuring newer scholars alongside more established figures in the field.

The organizers want one-page proposals by 1 February 2008; send to More info here.

Freer use of pictures from Wellcome Images database

By Biomedicine in museums

I was just reminded by Nick Hopwood on an email-list that the Wellcome Trust has quite recently introduced a more generous policy for the free use of Wellcome Images. The reproduction price is now waived for a wide range of non-commercial uses. See the terms here.

The large majority of the >100,000 (!) online items in the digital image database are classical medical history pictures. But the number of contemporary images is growing rapidly. Now you can choose among 40 molecular models, for example this molecular model of a prokaryotic ribosome (credit: MRC Lab of Molecular Biology, UK, and Wellcome Collection):

This colour-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of a 2-3 day old human embryo (credit: Yorgos Nikas, Wellcome Images):

can now also be freely used in academic publications, theses, university museum exhibitions etc. There are over 21,000 contemporary images altogether. I guess you need permission if you want to manipulate them though.

Symposium on historical scientific (incl. medical) instruments in Lisbon in September

By Biomedicine in museums

The 27th Symposium of the Scientific Instrument Commission will be held at the Museum of Science, University of Lisbon 16-21 September 2008. Topics include ‘Instruments and spaces’ and ‘Instruments, heritage and society’. For more info, see

Anyone interested in the collection, preservation and display of historical medical science instruments might get something interesting out of this meeting. Unfortunately, however, it overlaps in time with two other closely related meetings of interest for medical museum people, viz. that of the University Museums and Collections (UMAC) in Manchester 16-20 September and that of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences (EAMHMS) in Edinburgh 17-21 September. Medical museum curators may find it difficult to choose between these three meetings. Why weren’t they better co-ordinated and differentiated in time?

Turns around every academic corner: is time ripe for an anti-turn turn?

By Biomedicine in museums

Academic ‘progress’ in the humanities and social studies could be described as one damned turn after the other.

In the good old days there used to be the linguistic turn plus a few others — the cultural turn, the social turn, the cognitive turn, a couple of anthropological turns and so forth. But now there seem to be turns all over the academic marketplace. (Science, technology and medicine don’t seem to be addicted to turns to the same extent as the humanities and social studies.)

A rapid browse reveals an economic turn, a material turn, (and a materialist turn), an affective turn, an emotional turn, at least two kinds of therapeutic turns, a whole lot of political turns (e.g., Bourdieu’s one). It goes without saying that there have been proposals for a post-modernist turn, a post-structuralist turn, etc. Our own field (museum studies) is replete with turns: a museological turn, a curatorial turn, etc. And then, of course, my own personal addiction: the biographical turn. Inventive internet users will easily find many more — and I haven’t even begun to search academic literature databases.

Some authors are humble, speaking about ‘a XX-ical turn’; others are more self-assured in their essentialist identification of ‘the XX-ical turn’, e.g., the Foucauldian turn’.

The logic behind all these turns seems to be that they are proposed in opposition to an alleged one-sided hegemonic, reductive perspective on the phenomena under study. Thus spokespersons for an economic turn emphasize the need for more economic theory in political science, and vice versa. There seem to be a general feeling of Angst visavis theoretical reductionism around every corner: so better suggest a ‘turn’ in order to combat it.

So turns are turned against turns. I am surprised that nobody seems to have suggested an academic moratorium on turns yet. What would the humanities and social studies look like if we weren’t allowed to think in terms of ‘turns’? Maybe it’s time to propose an anti-turn turn?