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January 2010

Repomen — a fictional study in organ 'circulation'

By Biomedicine in museums

Can’t wait to avoid seeing Repomen when it is released in a theatre near me later in the spring. The trailer shows Jude Law, Forest Whitaker and a lot of lesser known stars running around killing each other in a near future when artificial organs can be bought on credit and some people can’t afford to make the payments on hearts, livers and kidneys they’ve purchased. Probably says more about the cultural expectations around the new transplantation future than about medical research. The dramaturgy doesn’t look particularly inspiring either.

What is science communication for in a postindustrial society?

By Biomedicine in museums

Just saw the early spring Monday seminar program at UCL’s STS department. I like the nice British analytical touch to it. Much more interesting than the usual fashionable Latouresque ANTsemiotics and other STS’ese sociolects. For example:

  • Jeremy Howick, ‘When can we trust the experts? Defending the Evidence Based Medicine stance’, 25 January
  • David Healy, ‘They used to call it Medicine’, 1 February
  • Sam Schweber, ‘Writing the Biography of Hans Bethe’, 8 February
  • Jane Gregory, ‘Producing the post-Fordist public, or: What is Science Communication for in a post-industrial society?’, 22 February
  • Helena Sheehan, ‘What (if anything) has Marxism to contribute to science studies?’, 8 March
  • Jeff Hughes, ‘Before the bomb: on writing the history of unclear physics’, 22 March

Wish I were in London more often, would love to discuss production of a post-Fordic public or hear Jeff unfold his ideas about ‘unclear physics’ (no typo, it’s an intended joke, says Jon Agar, who sent the programme around).

Næste nordiske medicinhistoriske møde i Oslo, maj 2011

By Biomedicine in museums

Det 23. nordiske medicinhistoriske møde vil blive afholdt 25. – 27. maj 2011 (!) på Nasjonalt medisinsk museum / Norsk Teknisk Museum i Oslo. Mødet vil være åbent for bidrag inden for et bredt temaområde, fx. ·

Studier av kunnskap, også innenfor ulike profesjoner, på det helse- og medisinhistoriske området.
Grenseoppganger mellom helse- og medisinhistoriske kunnskapsfelt og andre
Innsamling og bruk av muntlig kildemateriale innenfor helse- og medisinhistorie.
Medisinske bilder. Bildediagnostikk, utvikling og bruk av ulike visuelle framstillinger
og framstillingsmåter.
Kunnskapshistorie innenfor nevrologi og hjerneforskning.

Men andre forslag er ok. Deltagerafgift ca. 1600 kroner. Flere oplysninger fra Olav Hamran, Nasjonalt medisinsk museum,

The theme for the next 'Artefacts' meeting is 'Knowledge on the Move'

By Biomedicine in museums

It’s soon time for a new meeting in the ‘Artefacts’ series (for posts on earlier meetings, see here, here, here and here). This is the 15th annual meeting since the inception of the series in the mid-1990s, and this year’s theme is ‘Knowledge on the Move: Conflict, Displacement and Re-Engineering Society: 1933 to 1989’:

The mass movement of people displaced in Europe was a transformative social phenomenon of the period leading up to and following the Second World War. Many of those immigrants were scientists, engineers, designers and others with technical skills and pent up innovative energies. Their institutions and innovative technologies were left behind or unceremoniously stripped away but their knowledge of science and technology, aesthetic theories and convictions invigorated their new environments and adopted institutions. The result, from the turbulent ‘30s to the end of the Cold War, was a technological and cultural transformation of their — and our — world. This Artefacts workshop will investigate that transformation and movement of scientific and technological artefacts — from communications, to computers, art, music, and, of course, science.

Artefacts XV is held at the Canada Science and Technology Museum and Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, September 19-21, 2010. Deadline for proposals for sessions and papers is Friday, 11 June; send to Randall Brooks at; and, most importantly, please indicate in the proposal how selected objects will play a critical role in your presentation.

Who am I online? Personal identity construction on the web

By Biomedicine in museums

How is one’s personal identity constructed these day? I’m asking, because I just read the announcement for a series of workshops and a special issue of the journal Minds and Machines on ‘The Construction of Personal Identities Online’.

Makes me think about how, over the last five or ten years, I have probably spent more and more time at the computer screen than face-to-face with my colleagues and staff here at the museum or talking with colleagues in seminars or at conferences. My sense of professional self — who I am, my identity as a professional, etc. — as well as other people’s sense of who I am has no doubt been formed, even to a considerable extent, through email and blogging and other online activities. (In contrast to my identity as a father, which I don’t believe has been much affected by my online activities.) Scary!

Death in the digital age

By Biomedicine in museums

Historians of medicine and medical museum curators have invested a lot of interest in changing historical conceptions of death and the material remains that signify death and afterlife.

But few have turned their attention to death on the internet and other digital media. The announced one-day seminar on ‘Afterlife & Death in a Digital Age’ to be held at the National University of Singapore on 17 April promises to provide some interesting input to how museums could incorporate these new conceptions of death:

How is the dash between life and death, being and oblivion reflected in the age of digital media? How can we approach the subtleties of different cultural practices and beliefs through design? What is the technological response to the ephemerality of our digital and physical existence? What are the issues around ordinary technologies transforming into memorials, evoking powerful memories, nostalgia etc? What is the function of different projects offering technological response to death and afterlife? Are we simply witnessing technological sentimentality and kitsch and designing new forms of ‘earthly and ridiculous immortality’ as Milan Kundera would inspire us to think? What are different design solutions responding to? For example, are they trying to respond to the immense indifference of nature and the universe to human life and death? How can we respond to the ever-increasing mass of digital refuse or ‘dead’ data and what are the implications of and insights provided by reflecting on the inevitable end of ‘civilisation’? What are the legal and ethical implications of ‘freedom of choice’ being supported through technology, digital desecration and the hybridisation of (the remains of) the dead with the living?

Keywords include:

  • possible immortality and afterlife through digital media
  • cultural issues with dying, death, afterlife and technology
  • new forms of grieving and commemorating via emerging technologies
  • the motivation, role and function of technological responses to mortality
  • digital archiving and the preservation of self and society
  • the ethics of supporting death and desecration through technology
  • the hybridisation of once living, sentient beings with other biological and robotic entities.

Excellent questions and topics. Hope one of the organizers would like to come over to Copenhagen one day and create an exhibition around these themes with us.

Participative medical art practice — new postdoc project at Medical Museion

By Biomedicine in museums

Last month we presented Morten Bülow, the new PhD candidate here at Medical Museion.

We are also lucky to have recruited a new postdoctoral fellow — Lucy Lyons, whose research examines the role of drawing as an activity which engenders new revelations and communicates insight in its audience whilst maintaining the dignity of the subject being observed.

Lucy Lyon’s PhD-thesis from Sheffield Hallam Unversity, titled ‘Delineating Disease: a system for investigating Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressive’ (2008), was based in the Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons of England where she drew the processes used to create, preserve and conserve specimens with a rare congenital disease. The PhD-project explored a system of drawing called ‘delineation’ that requires direct close observation of an object and portrays the specificity of unique visual experiences as opposed to generic archetypes. As well as making drawings of the skeletons of deceased patients, Lucy has interviewed patients living with the condition, and has worked closely with medical researchers studying the cause of the disease. Her work reveals the power of drawing to delineate the hidden structures of disease. The project showed that drawing is not mere documentation but is about participation. Understanding is gained in the activity of drawing.

Her research led, among other things, to an exhibition at the Hunterian Museum in the autumn of 2008 — read more about it here. She is currently on leave from the City & Guilds of London Art School. Read more about her earlier experience here, and see some of her art work here.

Lucy’s 2-year postdoc project at Medical Museion, titled ‘Now I see it! Drawing information from the collection’ focuses on the activity of drawing as a way of gaining insight and communicating information. It is aimed at visiting members of the public, the museum staff and medical and technical community as well as other artists and researchers. It is a participatory project that will encourage all to engage in different ways with the museum and the objects within it.

The project is financed by a grant from the Nordea Foundation to the Center for Healthy Aging, Faculty of Health Scences, University of Copenhagen. The Center was established last year with a budget of 300 mill. DKK for a five-year period — and a smallish amount of the total will be used for studies of healthy ageing science communication in a museum context here at Medical Museion.

Navn på KU's nye intranet — hvad med Closed Access?

By Biomedicine in museums

Københavns Universitet er ved at opgradere intranettet (som lige nu hedder punkt-KU) og har udskrevet en konkurrence blandt ansatte og studerende om et godt navn på den nye version.

Hvad med ‘Closed Access’?  Som en selvironisk kommentar til at intranet tit er ganske overflødige — det meste af det, der lægges på intranet kan med fordel lægges ud til open access.

Selvironisk, fordi tidens ånd selvfølgelig er open access, og ikke closed access. Dvs. en opgradering af intranettet går imod demokratiseringen af nettet.

Selvironi er for øvrigt en fin gammel universitetstradition, som desværre ikke bliver holdt i hævd særligt meget mere. Det udstråler integritet og reel selvtillid — hvilket universitetet sandelig har brug for i disse dage.

Our new exhibition — on 'Healthy Aging' — opens on Monday 8 February

By Biomedicine in museums

prøveopstillinger 002We thought our storage facilities were warm enough to work in, even in the winter. But the current Arctic spell — which is a proof of the simple fact that global warming isn’t evenly distributed around the world — has forced one of our external designers, Mikael Thorsted, to wear winter cloths when inspecting artefacts for our new exhibition:

prøveopstillinger 010.

What is going on? Well, ‘Primary Substances‘ — the first exhibition in our brand new extramural temporary exhibit area in the main building of the Faculty of Health Sciences — is closing tomorrow. It will be followed by ‘Healthy Aging’, which approaches the major global challenge of ageing (sic!, see disclaimer below) in three different ways — through science, art, and cultural history:

Through science: Studies of the process of aging is a rapidly growing international research field. How can the biological and social sciences and the humanities help us experience a more healthy old age? In a series of wall panels we are presenting the new multidisciplinary Center for Healthy Aging, University of Copenhagen, established in 2009 by means of a grant from the Nordea Foundation.

Through art: Science is not very good at capturing the existential dimension of aging or visualizing the accumulated layers of life experience. But that’s something that art can do. Acclaimed photographer Liv Carlé Mortensen has created a photo and interview collage series of portraits of Danish centennarians, called ‘100 Light Years’ (we are displaying the series of commissioned photo collages that Liv made for our intramural ‘Oldetopia’ exhibition two years ago).

Through cultural history: Finally, aging has its own visual and material cultural symbols. Two showcases in the lounge area are going to display historical objects from our rich historical collections that represent four kinds of aids that have been associated with old age — artefacts that have helped us overcome the deterioration of bodily functions.

The show is produced by myself together with Bente Vinge Pedersen, Jonas Bejer Paludan, Ion Meyer and Nanna Gerdes from Medical Museion. Design and graphics is taken care of by Mikael and Lars Møller Nielsen, Studio 8, Copenhagen.

We are also working closely together with Tina Gottlieb, administrative head of the Center for Healthy Aging, and the team leaders of the Center’s five research programmes, who have contributed text proposals and images for the wall panels. But lots of editing and re-writing, because few academic scholars really understand how little text you can actually display on a 125×85 cm wall panel 🙂

‘Healthy Ageing’ is scheduled to open on Monday, 8 February. More about it later.

(Disclaimer: for purely irrational reasons, I don’t like the American spelling of ‘aging’, but prefer Br. Eng. ‘ageing’. However, the Center for Healthy Aging, which pays for the show, has adopted the American spelling practice, so we courteously adjust to this fact to avoid a bi-lingual show.)