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Monthly Archives

July 2011

Next Universeum meeting will take place in Trondheim in 2012

By Biomedicine in museums

Next year’s Universeum meeting (the 13th) will take place 14-16 June 2012 at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. An announcement and call for papers will be sent out in November. See further:

For those who have forgotten it: Universeum is an association for the preservation, study, access and promotion of university collections, museums, archives, libraries, botanical gardens, astronomical observatories, etc.

Museer og politik

By Biomedicine in museums

Den 13.-16. september arrangerere ICOM’s International Committee on Management (INTERCOM) en konference i København på temaet museer og politik. Man vil gøre op med den ideen om det apolitiske museum som prøver at undgå politisk kontroversielle emner. Det kan museer selvfølgelig ikke; de er jo en integreret del af den politiske verden.

Konferencen sætter fokus på fire temaer: en verden i konflikt; menneskerettigheder og kulturel mangfoldighed; hot spots og kritisk refleksion; samt migration og globalisering

Det er måske ikke de mest ophidsende emner inden for den politiske diskurs i dag, men det er dog en begyndelse.

De, der vil byde ind med er foredrag (på engelsk) skal melde sig inden den 15. juli 2011. Men man kan godt deltage uden at bidrage med oplæg

Mere her.

History of science blogs and Twitter accounts

By Biomedicine in museums

Last year Michael D. Barton published a list of blogs and twitter accounts that “focus on or dabble in the history of science, science and technology studies, etc.” that he was aware of. He’s just posted a link to it on his FB wall, so this must be the latest updated version.

Great work! But did he miss any? Seems like the list below doesn’t include much history of medical science (after all much of medicine is medical science), so hopefully someone with good link collecting instincts could make a similar list for HoMS.

Advances in the History of Psychology (@AHPblog)
Adventures of a Post-Doc
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Alfred Russel Wallace News & Views (@ARWallace)
AmericanScience: A Team Blog (@henrycowles, @danbouk)
Anita Guerrini
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Centraal
Archy (& Mammoth Tales, @archymck)
Biomedicine on Display (@museionist)
Boffins and Cold Warriors
BSHS Travel Guide (@BSHSNews)
The Bubble Chamber: Where history and philosophy of science meet society and public policy (@BblChamber)
Chris Renwick’s Blog (@ChrisRenwick)
Collect and Connect: Nineteenth Century Natural History
Contagions (@hefenfelth)
cryology and co.
Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities Blog (@dancohen)
Darwin and Gender: The Blog (@DarwinWomen)
Darwin and Human Nature: The Blog (@DarwinHuman)
Decoding the Heavens
The Dispersal of Darwin (@darwinsbulldog)
Einstein’s Apple (old)
entangled bank
Ether Wave Propaganda
Evolving Thoughts (@john_s_wilkins)
False vacuum: a weblog by Aaron Sidney Wright (Notes on the History and Philosophy of Science) (@aaronswright)
Floating in a web of inter-textuality
Foundations of Science Sydney
From the Hands of Quacks: The Official Weblog of Jaipreet Virdi (@jaivirdi)
The Giant’s Shoulders (blog carnival)
Heterodoxology (@easprem)
History of Economics Playground
History of geology (@David_Bressan)
The History of Psychology
History of Science (from the Royal Society, see @NotesRecordsRS)
History of Science
History of Science (@emmajacobs) Blog
History of Science in America
History of Science at Oregon State University
History of Science for the Science Classroom/Ron Gray – science educator (@grayron)
The History of Vaccines Blog
hpb etc. (@Darwiniana)
HSS Graduate & Early Career Caucus
HSTM at the University of Minnesota (old)
The Inverse Square Blog (@TomLevenson)
IT History Society Blog (@ithistoryorg)
Jacob Darwin Hamblin (@jdhamblin)
Kele’s Science Blog (@KeleCable)
Laelaps (@laelaps)
The Lippard Blog (@lippard)
Logan Lounge (old)
Longitude Project Blog (@beckyfh)
media to explore hsci / med / tech @ ou
Meteorite Manuscripts (@MetManuscripts)
The Missing Link (old)
Morbid Anatomy (@morbidanatomy)
Mz Skeptica (@MzSkeptica)
Neuron Culture (@david_dobbs)
The Neuro Times (@TheNeuroTimes)
Non-Consensual Science
Not by Needs nor Nature (@jessephiltz)
Occam’s Trowel (old)
PACHSmörgåsbord (@pachsnet, @dhayton)
The Pauling Blog
The Perfect Vacuum, Imaginary Magnitude (@GustavHolmberg)
petri dish
The Primate Diaries (formerly The Primate Diaries in Exile and TPD, @ericmjohnson)
Productive (Adj)
Oral Histories of Science (British Library)
OU History of Science Collections
Periodic Tabloid (@chemheritage)
Ptak Science Books (@ptak)
Public Historian (@publichistorian)
ragesoss (@ragesoss)
Rationally Speaking
Reciprocal Space (@Stephen_Curry)
Relevant History (@askpang)
The Renaissance Mathematicus (@rmathematicus)
In Retrospect
Roger Launius’s Blog
Science in Society
Science, Values, and Democracy
Scientia Curiosa (@history_geek)
Seiler on Science
A Simple Prop (@jmlynch)
Skulls in the Stars (@drskyskull)
Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology (@somatosphere)
Songs from the History of Science
Stories from the Stores
STS Observatory
Textbook History (@textbooktweets)
think deviant – philosophy of science
Thoughts in a Haystack
through the looking glass (@alicebell)
Time to Eat the Dogs (@ExplorationBlog)
Transcribing Tyndall (@JohnTyndallCP)
University of Toronto Science Instrument Collections (@UTSIC)
Until Darwin: Science & the Origins of Race
UCSD Science Studies Program
Vintage Space (@astVintageSpace)
A Voice of Reason
Walking History (@wilkohardenberg)
Wellcome Library Blog (@wellcomelibrary)
Whewell’s Ghost (@beckyfh, @thonyc, @john_s_wilkins, @jmlynch)
Whipple Library Blog (@hpslib)
William Eamon (@williameamon)
Wonders & Marvels (@history_geek)
The World’s Fair (@dnghub)
Zoonomian (@physicus)

And updated by commentators (added by me):

History of Geology Blog:
Cryology & co.:
Fossils and other living things: http://fossilsandotherlivingthings.blogspot.coPALAEOBLOG:

History of science on Twitter solely:
Ann, @transfermium
Dominic Berry, @Rusgerkins
Keynyn Brysse, @Paleo_Girl
Gary Butt, @gbutt
Joe Cain, @drjoecain
Lizzy Campbell, @LizzyCampbell
Margaret Cavendish, @ScientificLady
Natalia Cecire, @ncecire
Brendan Clarke, @philmedman
Nathaniel Comfort @nccomfort
Bill Cronon (@wcronon)
Ralph Drayton, @rdrayton
Randi Hutter Epstein @rhutterepstein
Graham Farmelo, @grahamfarmelo
Mike Finn, @theselflessmeme
Kieron Flanagan, @kieronflanagan
Delia Gavrus, @DeliaElena
Gregory A. Good, @HistoryPhysics
Neil Gussman, @sgtguss
Piers Hale, @piershale
Deborah Harkness, @DebHarkness
Vanessa Heggie, @HPS_Vanessa
Jan Helldén, @jhellden
Ian Hesketh, @ianhesketh
HPS Museum Leeds, @hpsmuseumleeds
HPS, University of Cambridge, @CambridgeHPS
Home of Darwin, @HomeofDarwin
Claire Jones, @Claire_L_Jones
Finn Arne Jørgensen, @finnarne
Seong-Jun Kim, @SeongJun
David Kohn, @DARBASE
Oliver Lagueux, @olilag
Sienna Latham, @clerestories
Linnean Society, @LinneanSociety
Marri Lynn, @Marri
Pamela Mack, @pammack
Amy-Elizabeth Manlapas, @mrsmanlapas
Museum of the History of Science, @MHSOxford
Satoshi Nozawa, @st_nozawa
Rebecca Pohancenik, @rpohancenik
James Poskett, @jamesposkett
Rebecca Priestley, @RKPriestley
Isaac Record, @hoobiewan
Royal Institution, @rigb_science
Pedro Ruiz-Castell, @P_RuizCastell
Science Museum Archives, @GalilieosBalls
Society for the Study of Astronomy, @SocHistAst
Society for the Study of Natural History, @SHNHSocNatHist
struthious, @struthious
STS, York Univ., @STS_YorkU
Andrew Stuhl, @andrewstuhl
Carsten Timmermann, @ctimmermann
Alexander Vka, @Alex_Vka
Jakob Whitfield, @thrustvector
Grant Yamashita, @gyamashita

Links about HoS Blogging:

Gustav Holmberg, Blogging the history of science, Imaginary Magnitude (March 1, 2011)
Jai Virdi, Conversing in a Cyberspace Community: The Growth of HPS Blogging, From the Hands of Quacks (October 6, 2010)
Jai Virdi, Survey Says… and Survey Results, From the Hands of Quacks (Sept. 17, 2010)
Jai Virdi, Navigating the History of Science Blogosphere, From the Hands of Quacks (August 30, 2010)
Jai Virdi, On the Blogosphere: History of Science Blogs, From the Hands of Quacks (June 12, 2010)
Michael D. Barton, History of Science Society 2009: “Your Daily History of Science,” The Dispersal of Darwin (Nov. 25, 2010)
Will Thomas, “Blogging as Scholarship,” Ether Wave Propaganda (October 24, 2008)
Michael Robinson, “A Blog of One’s Own,” Time to Eat the Dogs, (October 27, 2008)
Loïc Charles, “Blogging for what? Blogging for whom?” History of Economics Playground (November 14, 2008)
Benjamin Cohen, “Why Blog the History of Science?” Newsletter of the History of Science Society (October 2008)
Benjamin Cohen, “Why Blog the History of Science?” The World’s Fair (October 14, 2008)
Benjamin Cohen, “What difference does the history of science make?” The World’s Fair (August 4, 2008)
John Lynch, “Blogging and history of science,” Stranger Fruit (August 4, 2008) [John now blogs at A Simple Prop]

Care of self and keeping track of one's identity

By Biomedicine in museums

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about neurophysiologist and Nobel Prize winner Ragnar Granit’s essay on the distinction between discovery and understanding as two separate modes of scientific work, which, he suggested, are differentially distributed throughout a scientist’s life-course — young researchers are impatient to discover something new, whereas older scientists are more interested in getting insight, he suggested.

Even more interesting, in my view, is Granit’s thoughts about how researchers ‘keep track’ and ‘take care’ of their identity in order to achieve understanding and insight:

By “keeping track of one’s identity” I mean cultivating the talents of listening to the workings of one’s own mind, separating minor diversions from main lines of thought, and gratefully accepting what the secret process of automatic creation delivers.

In all creative work, including scientific work, Granit said, there is “need for a good deal of time for exercising the talent of listening to oneself”, and this self-listening is “often more profitable than listening to others”. Listening to oneself is at any rate more important than going to scientific seminars and conferences, which the ageing neurophysiologist thought was a pretty overrated activity:

There are so many of these meetings nowadays that people can keep on drifting round the world and soon be pumped dry of what is easier to empty than to refill.

Granit was aware of the possibility that some colleagues might regard his notion of ‘keeping track of one’s identity’ as idiosyncratic. But he also knew others, who, like himself, when looking back on their lives, might recognise “a main line of personal identity in the choice of their labors”. And maybe these colleagues would also agree with his own conviction that “if one can take care of one’s identity, it, in turn, will take care of one’s scientific development”.

Today, such ideas seem largely anathematic. Any graduate school programme will tell their students how important it is to engage with others, go to seminars, attend conferences, and read the literature systematically. Period. Few, if any, graduate school programmes would tell their students to listen to their own selves and take care of their scholarly identity.

The reason I find Granit’s idea of ‘keeping track’ and ‘taking care’ of oneself interesting is that it is pretty close to the ancient notion of ‘care of self’. I don’t know if Granit read Socrates or the Stoics or about the Epicureans. But his ideas are close to the notions of ‘spiritual excercises’ and ‘souci de soi’, which have been reintroduced into contemporary philosophy by Pierre Hadot, and later by Michel Foucault.

Such ideas — whether expressed by French philosophers or Finland-Swedish medical Nobel Prize winners — are definitely not on the agenda of present-day research governance agencies, who view researchers in more neo-liberal terms. It’s also a far cry away from the contemporary tradition of social studies of science, which shuns the idea of researchers taking their destiny in their own hands.

Wet to the bone — saving Medical Museion's collections after the Copenhagen cloudburst

By Biomedicine in museums

As Lucy wrote earlier today, Copenhagen was hit by 6 inches (150 mm) of rain last Saturday night. The basement level in all Medical Museion’s buildings were flooded by surface and sewage water — the highest water level inside was 36 inches (almost one meter)!

All available staff has been working hard during the last three days to save artefacts from the basement storage rooms, especially our big collection of human remains from medieval plague leprosy cemeteries.

Here’s a short video shot by our in-house movie-maker, Astrid Mo, titled “After the Cloudburst” (Danish: “Efter skybruddet”) with background music by Kevin McLeod:


It perfectly catches our mood at the moment — my ‘favourite’ part is the water-filled skull at the end.

For more movies about the cloudburst over Copenhagen, see e.g. here.

Anatomical and pathological collections in contemporary medical education

By Biomedicine in museums

We have just submitted an application for a major new gallery based on our anatomical and pathological specimen collections — and the in-house discussions are already becoming vigorous.

How to find conceptually interesting ways to display cancer tumours, conjoined twins, and twisted torsos? What’s the balance between spectacular engagement and ethical concerns? How to make the historical collections of the macroanatomical past work together with the microanatomical and molecular collections of present biobanks?

During the next couple of years we will embark on a more detailed planning process — we will engage medical experts, medical historians/sociologists, museum colleagues and the general public in a discussion about the best ways to build such a gallery and how to combine it with other activities in the museum.

One of the interesting perspectives is to what extent such a gallery might still play an educational role. Browsing the literature for inspiration, I fell upon an article in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education suggesting that despite the current emphasis on digital learning, some medical schools and many of their students still find collections of anatomical and pathological specimens useful for educational purposes.

As the authors remind us, anatomy and pathology collections (‘medical museums’) were central to medical education in the 19th and throughout most of the 20th century. But the role of such collections have diminished dramatically in recent years, mainly, they suggest, because of the use of information technology and web-based learning.

Accordingly, many medical schools have abandoned their museums and/or given away the collections. A few schools still think their museum collections are important, however, and some have even updated them and equipped them with new technological gadgets to support the interaction with the objects.

Anatomical MuseumThe authors point to the Anatomical Museum of Leiden University Medical Center and the Medical Museum of Kawasaki Medical School in Kurashiki as two prime examples of such upgraded museums.

The main use of the Leiden museum, says its website, is for medical and biomedical instruction, but high school biology teachers and pupils can visit it too. The showcases above contain over 800 medical specimens and models and were set up in 2007.

The Kawasaki museum (below) is huge, with about 2700 specimens on display on three floors in a specially designated building that focuses on contemporary medicine:


I guess most Western medical gallery curators would consider such displays terribly out of fashion. But although both these museums are a far cry away from what we here at Medical Museion will probably think of when we design the new gallery, we shouldn’t forget that such displays may work well for educational purposes. Actually, surveys at the Leiden museum suggest that virtually all students found audio-guided museum tours in the collection “useful for learning” and that a majority (87%) of the students found guided tours in them “to be clinically relevant”. (On the other hand, 69% felt that “museum visits should be optional rather than compulsory within the medical training curriculum”; quotes from the abstract).

I’m definitely not a fan of visitor survey ‘research’, nor do I think the main function of a medical museum today is educational — but it’s nevertheless a perspective worth keeping in mind when we start discussing the design of the new gallery in more detail.

Collection impossible: distributed curatorship as an alternative to centralised acquisitioning

By Biomedicine in museums

I thought of sending this abstract to the Artefacts meeting in the Museum Boerhaave, Leiden, 25-27 September (this year’s theme is ‘Conceptualizing, Collecting and Presenting Recent Science and Technology’):

COLLECTION IMPOSSIBLE: Distributed curatorship as an alternative to centralised acquisitioning

Centralised collecting of the artefacts from contemporary science, technology and medical (STM) visual and material culture seems to have rather bleak prospects. The looming financial and social global crisis is not conducive to centralized efforts by big museums to save the contemporary STM heritage, not least because the modern state-subsidised museum institution is running out of funding (at least in the West). What can curators then do to uphold their professional obligation to rescue the contemporary STM heritage for future generations? In this paper I will discuss two alternative collecting strategies: distributed curatorship and crowd-sourcing. I suggest that the major aim of STM museum acquisition curators should rather be to raise the general awareness among scientists and the engineering and medical professions of the importance of preserving ‘their’ artefacts (heritagemindedness). Drawing on a historical analogy (biological standardisation in the 1950s), I also suggest that this aim might be achieved best by working out guidelines for the collection, preservation and curation of artefacts to be distributed to individual scientists, doctors and engineers in research institutions and private companies, and to interested members of the public. Presently, social media is probably the best vehicle for producing such guidelines and spreading them widely.

Any views? If you want to take issue with it, do it before 15 July, please? (Or in Leiden, of course).

What shall the new medical galleries in London's Science Museum look like?

By Biomedicine in museums

I was in London last week to attend a workshop organised by Robert Bud and the medical curatorial staff at London’s Science Museum.

They had invited some 20 people from a variety of academic backgrounds to discuss the future redevelopment of their medical galleries.

The day before the workshop we prepared ourselves by a guided tour to the present medical galleries:

  • Science and Art of Medicine from 1981, which the museum describes as “an object rich treasure trove that relates the history of Western Medicine according to a broadly chronological (‘Plato to Nato’), encyclopaedic approach”; a later addition to ‘Science and Art of Medicine’ called ‘Living Medical Traditions’, which examines four contemporary non-western medical traditions.
  • Glimpses of Medical History from the late 1970s, which “examines the changing patient-practitioner encounter through a series of dioramas” and also features the ‘Mind your Head’ psychology exhibit.
  • The Health Matters gallery from the 1990s, which focuses upon “the unique practices of modern medicine – the technologies of clinical medicine; the application of epidemiology and population statistics to public health; and the proliferation of basic and applied medical research”
  • The recent Who Am I? exhibit in the Wellcome Wing building, which explores “how scientists are trying to understand human identity, however medical and human health improvements via genetics, genomics and neuroscience feature prominently” (quotes from Science Museum material distributed before the meeting).

All these galleries are very impressive, of course, like everything the Science Museum does. They are extremely object-rich — containing almost every significant medical scientific and technological artefact from ancioent times to the late 20th century, mostly things collected when Britain was a leading imperial scientific and technological power — and very skilfully curated. But they are also (sorry to have to say this!) pretty boringly designed. British science, technology and medical museums have not been famous for their approach to exhibition design, and although not as badly designed as most of their American counterparts, the Science Museum galleries clearly need an overhaul in this respect.

In my view, it’s difficult to think about the content of museum galleries isolated from their design. Marshall McLuhan‘s famous slogan ‘The medium is the message’ may be a gross exaggeration, but it’s at its truest when applied to museum exhibitions.

In this meeting, however, design questions were almost absent. The academic group around the table included medical historians, general historians, scientists, and a few science communication people, but few exhibition curators (unless yours truly could be classified as one :-).

The planning group’s initial ideas about the future medical galleries focused on content too, with a strong bias towards the history of medicine. In their view, the future galleries will be based on “a broad definition of medicine”, be “global in scope”, and “feature a better balance of stories relating to mental and physical health”, and they “will feature a plurality of voices and perspectives” and continue to utilise “a chronological classification but introduce more thematic approaches”. Furthermore they will use the history of medicine website to “engage audiences with our collections in an encyclopaedic way” and finally what they call “Public history [i.e., participation in a broad sense] will play and integral part within the gallery development process” (quoted from Science Museum material distributed before the meeting).

Based on this general frame for the future galleries, the planning goup asked us to discuss a number of questions, like:

To what extent should we continue with a chronological structure? What are the strengths or weaknesses of such an approach?

To what extent might we adopt a thematic structure? Incorporating broad taxonomies such as Trust, Belief, Evidence and Practice, Controversies and Orthodoxies, Infectious disease, Chronic illness, War and Accidents?

Should future galleries be broadly shaped around our encyclopaedic collections or should they be more directed by people and stories?

Should extensive collecting – particularly of contemporary material – play a significant role in guiding the development of the new galleries?

How ‘global’ can we really aspire to be? What should the place of non-western medical/healing traditions be within the future galleries?

Should we characterise biomedicine as one tradition alongside others?

What weighting should be given to the presentation in the Science Museum of ‘the history’, ‘the contemporary’ and ‘the future’ of health and medicine?

What extent of coverage should we give to more contemporary medical practices (ie post-War to now) and how should it be represented?

Should concepts of ‘health’ sit at the foreground or be more in the background of the medicine galleries?

Where do we want to draw the boundaries between ‘health’ and ’medicine’?

To what extent should future displays consciously foreground the history of its collections – specifically the act and intention of collecting and representing medicine?

All in all, great questions, which all medical museums ought to answer before they embark on new galleries.

Unfortunately, I cannot relate the discussions in any objective way. But I posted a stream of Twitter posts (see here, scroll down to 30 June), which reflect my immediate impressions as the round-table developed in the course of the day. I will return to these impressions in later posts.

Thanks Robert et al. for a very inspirational meeting!