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Biomedicine in museums

16th biannual conference of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences (EAMHMS) will be held in Berlin, 13-15 September 2012

By September 4, 2011No Comments

The 16th biannual conference of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences (EAMHMS) will be held in Berlin, 13-15 September 2012 on the theme “Hidden Stories: What do medical objects tell and how can we make them speak?”.

Here’s the call for papers from Thomas Schnalke, director of the Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum:

Dear friends and colleagues!

After a highly inspiring conference of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences (EAMHMS) in Copenhagen in 2010, it is my pleasure to invite the members of the association, as well as interested scholars and curators from the community of medical history collections and museums to join in and actively participate in the next meeting of the organisation. The conference will be held at the Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité from 13 to 15 September 2012. As we all profited from the vibrant culture of debate and discussion, Thomas Söderqvist and his team had generated in Copenhagen, we would like to keep the idea of pre-circulating extended abstracts plus a short oral presentation of the core ideas in the conference (10 mins!). Beamer and laptop will be provided for Power-Point-Presentations. The language for abstracts, talks, and discussions will be English.

While the Copenhagen conference opened and fuelled the still ongoing debate on how to collect and present medical and medical history issues in times when objects tend to fade into the invisible and intangible cosmos of the virtual and nano biology, we want to address the attention back to the physical things we have and deal with: the objects in our collections, depots, and museums. These items are a mystery. They present strangely curved and shiny surfaces. They perform in all different shapes, materials and colours. And they are quiet. They usually don’t talk. But, and this is our chance and challenge, ideas and concepts had been inscribed into their physical make. Medical theories and practices as intricately mixed epistemic processes had found their specific materialisations in the defined structures of such things. Over the times of their preservation they might have lost their primary functions, won secondary ones, but more crucial: They have gained meaning for which we can seek, if we decide to take these objects as serious sources for our work as historians of medicine, science, technology, culture, art, humanities etc.

What we have to do is asking for the “text” in the object, i.e. sometimes a real text in, with or around the thing (may this be only a code, a chiffre or a number), or a “subtext” somehow embedded in the shaped materials implicitly or connected with the object but detached from it and stored elsewhere, as in added files, fascicles or publications. With the clues and information we get from there we can move on to reconstruct the object’s context. Only within this context, the object begins to speak. We can tell its story and biography.

The conference will therefore focus on objects, asking always for the hidden “texts” and “subtexts” on two different paths—a more practical and a conceptual one:

1. Hidden stories. What do medical objects tell?
We ask for papers that really focus on one medical object from your collections, depots or show rooms. Please slip into the role of a Sherlock Holmes to solve the case of this very object, i.e. by observing and describing the thing accurately, looking for clues (“texts”) and additional information (“subtexts”) and presenting your spiral analysis and interpretation around the item, thus telling us the full object story. You may chose any medical object of your personal interest—an ancient mask, medieval blood letting device, a scientific kymograph or a modern gene sequencer—from any time, culture and geographical zone. The only aim we ask you to keep in mind is to show us how far you get with your object-centred research, how far you can draw your interpretation surely consulting secondary archival material and relevant literature. Please also reflect on the limits of this approach.

2. How can we make our objects speak?
Here we ask for papers that reflect on a more conceptual base on how we can deal with objects in three different arenas:
– Research: Medical objects and collections form a unique source in performing research on various topics in the history of medicine and the sciences. What prerequisites and infrastructures do we need to study our objects effectively? What are innovative modes and approaches in a material culture of performing research on, with and around our objects? What forms of networking and funding do we need to support an object-centred research? What are adequate and new formats of publication for our object studies?
– Teaching: Medical Objects and collections offer a unique chance for visual and haptic forms of teaching in many fields. Can you share your thoughts and experiences on this field with us? What are the features, values, and potentials of an object-based teaching? What are possible limits here (delicacy of objects, climate, access, etc.)? What formats of object-based teaching have been tried out (best practice) or ought to be developed further towards a better training in the medical (historical) fields? What links of object-based teaching to research and public outreach have been built up and tried out with what results?
– Presenting: Medical Objects and collections form the core items for our exhibits. What do we want to achieve with our object presentations? What is the very nature, what are the features of exhibitions in our fields? Whom do we want to reach? What are good and innovative formats to make our objects speak and perform for a wider public in our showrooms? What connections with the arenas of research and teaching are possible and sensible? What is the status of an object-based thematic exhibition in our own eyes, in the minds of our external audiences, including the general public and the scientific community?

We ask you to choose a topic from the above-mentioned issues and send your abstract (maximum 700 characters) with a title, your name, the name of your institution (if you are attached to any) and your contact data (preferably e-mail address) until 31 October 2011 to A programme committee will select from the abstracts to compose a hopefully inspiring programme. If your contribution was chosen, you will be asked to work out and hand in an extended abstract (2 to 5 pages) until 15 May 2012. All papers will be put together in one pdf-file and sent out to all participants in time before the conference starts in Berlin on 13 September 2011. We will ask the participants to have read the papers, so that a short presentation (10 mins!) will be enough to focus on the core arguments.

Please help us to put together an inspiring conference. See you all in Berlin 2012.

Best wishes

Thomas Schnalke

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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