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Monthly Archives

April 2009

Revulsive abortion instrument website

By Biomedicine in museums

My good friend and colleague Jim Edmonson (who is Head of the great Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio) sent me and some of his other colleagues an email the other day.

Jim tells the story about how one of his friends, an obstetrician and collector of obstetric and gynaecological instruments, has recently been in an auction bidding war against another collector, named Randi Joe Grantham. It turned out that

Grantham was bidding on destructive instruments (cranioclasts, basiotribes, curettes, &c, &c), and paying ridiculous sums for this category of instrumentation. Turns out, it was all acquired to be featured on his anti-abortion website — beware, it is not for the faint of heart: (quoted with Jim’s permission).

Jim thinks this “takes the new top prize for creepy co-opting of medical/surgical antiques for perverse purpose”.

I partly agree, partly not. Grantham’s web site is creepy, indeed, and will probably be used for all kinds of bad political purposes by the pro-life lobby.

But it’s also absolutely fascinating. If ever the word ‘sublime’ is appropriate, it’s here. Some of these instruments give associations to medieval torture instruments of the worst kind, like this one:

This abortion instrument works by pushing the spike into the child’s head. Once it is inside, the button is pushed. When it flattens, you can pull the child out.”  

The site also reminds me that the abortion issue is not a black and white thing. The debate is all too often divided in terms of absolute women’s rights (pro-choice) and absolute foetus rights (pro-life).

But there are no easy solutions here. My immediate impulse is to defend women’s rights over their bodies — yet one shouldn’t close one’s eyes to the facts of revulsive earlier abortion practices.

In other words, as much as I support the pro-choice stand, I also support Grantham’s rights to put these disgusting images on his web site — and also his moral right to overbid the obstetrician/gynaecologist collector.

So I don’t think Grantham is perverse, he just believes otherwise. I will forever struggle politically against him, but I don’t think we should ostracize him and his confederates.

The sandpit/sandbox concept — is it compatible with museum 2.0?

By Biomedicine in museums

I’m receiving an increasing amount of mails, especially from knowledge institutions, research agencies and their ilk, with invitations to participate in sandpits and sandboxes of different kinds.

It strikes me that the ‘sandpit’ (‘sandbox’) is a pretty new concept in my passive vocabulary (haven’t really made it part of my active lexicon yet). One organisation defines a ‘sandpit’ as

an intensive, interactive and free thinking workshop event, where a diverse group of scientists from a range of disciplines get together to immerse themselves in an exciting collaborative thinking process in a creative environment to uncover innovative solutions and prepare research proposals.

When did the ‘sandpit’ (‘sandbox’) concept emerge? Although Wikipedia has its Wikipedia Sandbox, it’s not defined as a separate term for creative organisations yet. Seems like it has spilled over from computer/software design, which has a sandbox concept, to the domain of cultural organisations.

And what’s the difference between a ‘sandpit’ and a ‘workshop’ and other terms for innovative and creative environments? Does the difference lie in the emphasis on the playful dimension? Are sandpits playful events for Homo ludens rather than hard-working Homo faber congregations? Can you really speak about sandpits and workshops in the same sentence, like in the quote above?

Who writes a PhD thesis on the contemporary history of the increasing use of the metaphor of play in innovation and design?

Could a medical museum be turned into a sandbox? Is this compatible with the notion of museum 2.0?

The perfect job for a person interested in web outreach of biomedicine

By Biomedicine in museums

To strengthen their web presence, the people at Wellcome Collection are looking for an experienced web editor who is expected to have (among other things) experience as lead editor of a website related to museums, galleries, or exhibitions + and, more significantly, interest in managing content on the ‘extended web’, i.e. Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc., and (I like this phrase) “in scoping and developing the tone of voice of a blog”. Application deadline is 22 April 2009, and the salary is acceptable (35.000 GBP + benefits). More info here: A golden opportunity for anyone who wants to develop the participatory web dimension of Wellcome Collection. Rumours say they are particularly interested to hear from people “fired up by the content of Wellcome Collection”.

A curator's nightmare

By Biomedicine in museums

I had a medical museum curator’s nightmare early this morning. Last night I read that Galaxy Zoo expects 1 million visitors on their site to help classify galaxies during the next 100 hours. “Completing this challenge will not only be another significant step towards our goal of producing the world’s largest and most detailed catalogue of classified galaxies, but it’s also a good chance to demonstrate just how effective all of your efforts are when taken together”, they wrote in a mail. My nightmare? 1 single patient citizen curating 1 single medical historical object in 1 million hours! What makes astronomy so sexy?


Medical Museion puts all of its collections on Twitter

By Biomedicine in museums

The Director’s office of Medical Museion at the University of Copenhagen announced today that the museum will put all its collections on Twitter.

Hundreds of thousands of material artefacts (from electron microscopes to conjoined twins in pickles), tens of thousands of medical historical images, and hundreds of shelf meters of archival documents will be compressed, catalogued and publicly communicated in the Twitter format.

“This is a revolution in museum collection management”, says the Director of Medical Museion, Thomas Söderqvist. “We have considered a number of systems for putting our rich medical historical collections online — but they were either too complicated, or too expensive. Twitter solves all our problems”. 

Putting collections on Twitter is simple. Every morning, the Head of Collections, Ion Meyer, will distribute boxes full of artefacts — of all sizes, material composition and age — among the members of staff. After logging into their Twitter accounts, staff will then spend the day ploughing through the boxes and curating the objects in whatever order they are picked up. “We call this stream-of-consciousness-curating”, says Thomas Söderqvist: “It gives the necessary subjective and personal touch to the curatorial work”.

Each item will be described in 140 characters, no more, no less. “This gives an enormous advantage to conventional online cataloguing systems”, explains senior curator Søren Bak-Jensen, who is responsible for new acquisitions. “A lancet gets 140 characters, and so does a PET scanner. In this way all instruments are made equal. This is huge step towards a more democratic acquisition policy”:

Outreach officer Bente Vinge Pedersen sees enormous future possibilities for public engagement with medicine: “The lack of indexing and tagging systems will make a search in our Twitter catalogue so much more exciting”, she says. “It will enhance the surprise effect that all museums want to give their online visitors. When you follow the stream of one of our staff twitters, you will come across the most unexpected items. First a gene chip from 2005, then a syphilitic skull from the 18th century”.

Twittering the collections is a major contribution to Medical Museion’s ambition to foster a sense of immediacy and presence in the public’s relation to the museum collections. Postdoc Jan Eric Olsén sees the decision to go on Twitter as a fantastic opportunity to develop the visual and haptic dimensions of the museum experience: “We all want to touch and gently caress museum objects”, he explains: “Twitter could be turned into a medium for enhancing that special IRL feeling: the smell and the taste of medical objects and especially the tactile experience of being in immediate touch with the physical world around us”.

At today’s staff meeting there was widespread enthusiasm over the initiative. “This is an alternative to old-fashioned crowdsourcing and other outdated museum 2.0 social technologies”, said Monica Lambert, who is responsible for organizing the visitor flow to the museum. “We expect the Multitude to tweet back”, she added: “All visitors will have to show a tweet on their iPhone to prove that they have made a contribution to our collection management”.

Administrator Carsten Holt was enthusiastic too. He is now contemplating to put the budget for 2009 on Twitter, thereby reducing the need for too many numbers. “140 characters is a great opportunity to reduce our budget to the essentials”, he tweeted back.

Head of Exhibitions, Camilla Mordhorst, who will soon leave Medical Museion for a new position as Head of Public Outreach in the Copenhagen City Museum, says she too intends to implement Twitter as a core museum technology, and thereby turn the venerable old city museum into a global village gossip park.

On Thursday 1 April, 2010, Medical Museion’s new Twitter-based collection outreach system will be evaluated by the museum’s international Advisory Board (on Twitter of course).