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Monthly Archives

August 2010

Horror podcast and medical theatre tours around Medical Museion during the '1700s — Globalization, Gossip and Greed' festival, Copenhagen

By Biomedicine in museums

This year’s Golden Days festival in Copenhagen is organized under the theme The 1700s – Globalization, Gossip and Greed — and we are part of it (of course).

On September 10, 8-10pm, Third Ear invites to a Horror Podcast evening in our main exhibition building (the Royal Surgical Academy from 1787), and there will also be guided tours in the anatomical theatre on 7, 13 and 19 September at 4pm.

See further: here and here.

Program for the conference 'Contemporary medical science and technology as a challenge to museums', Copenhagen 16-18 September

By Biomedicine in museums

Here’s the list of speakers at the 15th biannual conference of the European Association of Museums for the History of Medical Sciences, to be held at Medical Museion, 16-18 September 2010, on the theme ‘Contemporary medical science and technology as a challenge to museums´.


  • Thomas Söderqvist: Why this conference now?
  • Kim Sawchuk: Biotourism and biomediation
  • Kerstin Hulter Åsberg: Uppsala Biomedical Center: A mirror of modern medical history – how can it be displayed?
  • Wendy Atkinson and René Mornex: A major health museum in Lyon
  • Robert Martensen: Integrating the physical and the virtual in exhibitions, archives, and historical research at the National Institutes of Health
  • Ramunas Kondratas: The use of new media in medical history museums
  • Danny Birchall: ‘Medical London’, Flickr, and the photography of everyday medicine
  • Joanna Ebenstein: The private, curious, and niche collection: what they can teach us about exhibiting new medicine


  • Judy M. Chelnick: The challenges of collecting contemporary medical science and technology at the Smithsonian Institution
  • James Edmonson: Collection plan for endoscopy, documenting the period 1996-2011
  • John Durant: Preserving the material culture of contemporary life science and technology
  • Stella Mason: Medical museums, contemporary medicine and the casual visitor
  • Alex Tyrell: New voices: what can co-curation bring to a contemporary medical gallery?
  • Jan Eric Olsén: The portable clinic: healthcare gadgets for home use
  • Yin Chung Au: Seeing is communicating: possible roles of Med-Art in communicating contemporary scientific process with the general public in digital age
  • Nina Czegledy: At the intersection of art and medicine
  • Lucy Lyons: What am I looking at?
  • Henrik Treimo: Invisible World
  • Victoria Höög: The optic invasion of the body. Epistemic approaches to current biomedical images
  • Ken Arnold and Thomas Söderqvist: A manifesto for making science, technology and medicine museums


  • Morten Skydsgaard: The exhibition ‘The Incomplete Child’: boundaries of the body and the guest
  • Sniff Andersen Nexø: Showing fetal realities: visibility, display, performance
  • Suzanne Anker: Inside/Out: fetal specimens through a 21st Century lens
  • Yves Thomas and Catherine Cuenca: Multimedia contributions to contemporary medical museology
  • Nurin Veis: How do we tell the story of the cochlear implant?
  • Jim Garretts: Bringing William Astbury into the 21st Century: the Thackray Museum and the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology in partnership
  • Adam Bencard: Being molecular
  • Roger Cooter and Claudia Stein: Visual things and universal meanings: aids posters, the politics of globalization, and history
  • Karen Ingham: Medicine, materiality and museology: collaborations between art, medicine and the museum space
  • Silvia Casini: Curating the biomedical archive-fever
  • Thomas Schnalke: Dissolving matters. The end of all medical museums’ games?

I’ll be back with more info soonish. See also the conference website.

Metaphors that both scientists and artists draw on

By Biomedicine in museums

Immanuel Kant didn’t like metaphorical thinking in science — and his rebuke of this ambiguous way of investigating the natural world is one of the pillars for the modern separation of art and science.

However, in a statement article published yesterday in an issue about art and science in the German journal Gegenworte  (#23, 2010), art historian Ingeborg Reichle and cell biologist Frank Rösl suggest that the arts and humanities can inform a new approach to, for example, cancer research, “because not only artists but also scientists work with images, symbols and metaphors, draw on their intuition and make use of coincidence”:

System theory, non-linearity, dissipation and emergence are today research concepts with which one attempts to understand living cells as multi-layered adaptive networks as well as dynamically oscillating systems. The exceptionally varied nature of networks obliges us to think about how the world and nature shape themselves and which laws can be deduced from this. […] It is possible to imagine the generation of new approaches to animated micro-biological processes through the construction of alternative scientific models, and also through the creation of new art forms. Because not only artists but also scientists work with images, symbols and metaphors, draw on their intuition and make use of coincidence.

(translation by Eurozine Review)

Beyond the magic bullet: Reframing the history of antibiotics

By Biomedicine in museums

Christoph Gradmann and Flurin Condrau of the ESF network Drug Standards, Standard Drugs are planning a workshop on the theme ‘Beyond the Magic Bullet: Reframing the History of Antibiotics’, to take place in Oslo, 17-19 March 2011.

Antibiotics have been celebrated as a medical success story around the globe from their first distribution at the end of WWII to the present day […] As agents of a medical revolution which shifted borders between health and disease and created new spaces for therapy, antibiotics have become one of the most popular scientific success stories of the twentieth century. [This] workshop will focus on recent and current research into the histories of antibiotics, which has started to move beyond the initial stories of the discovery of penicillin and the randomised clinical control trials.

They invite proposals for papers contributing to the four key themes:

  • Research and development of antibiotics
  • Antibiotics in clinical practice
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Antibiotics as global medicines

Send <400 words proposals to Christoph ( and Flurin ( by 1 October 2010; they can also provide more detailed info about the themes. And yes — accommodation and travel will be supported.

On bloggership and blogademia — is scholarly blogging scholarship?

By Biomedicine in museums

I’m often thinking about how my presence on social web media platforms — mainly blogging and some occasional twittering — enhances or weakens my other scholarly activities, like writing books and papers for traditional history of science journals.

Personally, I believe writing on social web media is a significant source of inspiration for more traditional scholarly writing. Or rather: It’s not a question of either-or, but both-and.

But I have many colleagues who believe the opposite (mainly those who’ve never tried it seriously 🙂 So it’s good that someone tries to dig up some empirical evidence for and against spending one’s precious scholarly time on the social web.

Carolyn Hank, a phd candidate in the School of Information and Library Science at UNC Chapel Hill, is currently making a survey in support of her research study, ‘Scholars and their Blogs: Characteristics, Preferences and Perceptions Impacting Digital Preservation’.

Inspired by notions like ‘bloggership’ and ‘blogademia’, she’s asking questions about the publishing behaviour of blogging scholars, our perceptions of the blog vs. our scholarly activities, and our thoughts on how our writings can be preserved, i.e., questions like: 

Are blogs scholarship? Where do they fit in relation to one’s cumulative scholarly record? […] Will the scholar blogs of today be available into the future?

I’ll be happy to answer Carolyn’s thoughtful questions (received by email yesterday). If somebody else wants to participate, you can perhaps pursuade her to send you the questionnaire.

Handbook for the material turn

By Biomedicine in museums

I guess this quote encapsulates the notion of a current ‘material turn’:

There is the feeling that this is the moment in which understanding material culture, something central to humanity, its past and future, is being achieved at a level beyond anything that had previously been imagined

Says Daniel Miller in his blurb to the Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies, edited by Dan Hicks and Mary Beaudry and forthcoming on Oxford University Press in September. See the list of contents here.

The prepublished introduction, “Material Culture Studies: a reactionary view” gives an indication of the range of disciplinary backgrounds and topics treated. They call their approach ‘reactionary´, because they are “unpicking the culturalist uses of materials that developed during the 1980s and 1990s”; they want to present an alternative to “pure culturalism” and let things in again.

Accordingly the editors have invited contributors from four different diciplinary perspectives upon material things: archaeology, anthropology, geography, and science and technology studies (STS), giving “a snapshot of the wide range of approaches to material things that emerge from putting distinctive methods into practice, and working within particular traditions of practice and enquiry”.

Yet they hesitate to call this edited volume a contribution to “a material turn that would replace the anthropocentric linguistic or cultural turn of the 1980s”. It is, they suggest, in the transdisciplinary reception of actor network theory “that the strongest possible model for what a ‘material turn’ would look like is developing”. However, such a material turn “would simply extend, through a rhetorical inversion, the cultural turn of the 1980s”.

Good point! In other words, they don’t find “a new series of ‘turns’: turn upon turn” attractive, it would just “add up only to academic spin” (I couldn’t agree more).

None of the contributors seem to address the problems of materiality in science, technology and medical museums (let alone museums in general) directly. Nevertheless, I will expect this volume, in spite of being so heftily priced, to become obligatory reading for science, technology and medical museum scholars.

Let’s get back to the topic when it has been published.

Venter's dismissal of the medical implications of genomics

By Biomedicine in museums

What’s interesting in the interview with Craig Venter in Der Spiegel last week is not, as most commentators suggest, that Venter stands out as a self-aggrandizing jerk. What’s really interesting is his pessimistic view on the medical implications of genomics and ‘personalised medicine’:

SPIEGEL: So the Human Genome Project has had very little medical benefits so far?
VENTER: Close to zero to put it precisely […] I was just in Stockholm for the 200th anniversary of the Karolinska Institute. The first presentation was about the many achievements the decoding of the genome has brought. Then I spoke and said that this century will be remembered for how little, and not how much, happened in this field.

SPIEGEL: Why is it taking so long for the results of genome research to be applied in medicine?
VENTER: Because we have, in truth, learned nothing from the genome other than probabilities. How does a 1 or 3 percent increased risk for something translate into the clinic? It is useless information.

SPIEGEL: [What about] the kind of personalized medicine that genetic researchers have always touted? Each person would get his or her own personal treatment that is tailored precisely to that person’s genetic make-up?
VENTER: That was another one of these silly naïve notions that was out there. It’s not, ‘Oh, we know your genome, we’re going to make this drug for you.’ That will never happen.

Reminds me that ‘personalised medicine’ is an excellent topic for a historical exhibition.

A kind of medical 'museum' I have quite mixed feelings about

By Biomedicine in museums

I’m thinking of the Corpus Museum between Amsterdam and Den Haag — a 100 feet high building designed as the contours of the human body.

The “museum” invites the visitors on a “journey through the human body” during which they can “see, feel and hear how the human body works and what roles healthy food, healthy life and plenty of exercise plays”.

Opened two years ago, this seems to be the most extreme example of medical edutainment I’ve heard about so far: 

Questions as ‘Why do I have to sleep?’, ‘what happens when I sneeze’, ‘how does my hair grow’ are answered in CORPUS by means of tangible, visible and audible conceptions during the ‘journey through the human body’. CORPUS uses the latest technology in the field of imagery, sound and 3D effects to present and explain all aspects of the medical aspects of the human body.

I’ve only read about it on their website, so maybe I’ll change my mind if I visit it IRL.

Anyone who has been there?

Thanks to Bertalan (ScienceRoll) for the tip and the pics!

Is slow attention possible on the web?

By Biomedicine in museums

I just read an interview with distinguished British art historian John Boardman made for CBS BNET a couple of years ago. Among other things, Boardman tells about his experience of once having attended one of classical archeologist John D. Beazley‘s (a specialist on Athenian vase painting) lectures:

By spending the entire hour analysing the painting of a single vase, he taught us how to look at an object properly.

There seems to be something lost when we put our artefact collections on the web — it makes slow attention more difficult.