Biomedicine in museums

Can a university museum also be a science communication unit?

I’ve just had my abstract for the Universeum meeting in Uppsala in mid-June accepted. I’m posting a somewhat expanded version of the abstract here as a contribution to our ongoing discussion about Medical Museion’s identity:

Medical Museion at the University of Copenhagen is currently in a process of changing its identity. Founded in 1906, the Medical-Historical Museum in Copenhagen was one of the many traditional medical collections/museums that emerged in Europe in the late 19th and early 20 centuries. In 2001, the museum changed name to Medical Museion to emphasise the close connection between museological and historical research, heritage production and exhibitions, but otherwise the institution kept its identity as a ‘museum’.

However, Medical Museion is currently reframing its identity, from merely a ‘museum’ to an institution for science communication. The point of departure for this identity shift is a growing dissatisfaction with the state of science communication. Traditional dissemination of science through mass media (either printed, electronic, or web 1.0-based) is no longer viable. Science communication needs to embrace the rapid emergence of the full spectrum of social web media (web 2.0), and many museums are adopting the practices of museum 2.0.

But social web media have a serious limitation — they can only operate with mediated texts and images and cannot convey the immediacy of our relation with the material aspects of science. This is exactly what historical artefacts can do. By emphasising the material aspects of science (its ‘thingness’), artefact collections can add a ‘presence’ dimension to science communication.

By reframing this particular university ‘museum’ into a science communication institution that explores the limits of both traditional mass media and new social web media, we are forced to focus, both practically and academically, on the notion of ‘materiality’. By doing so, we believe that we can further stimulate the search for a philosophical underpinning of the new identity.

I’m not sure this short abstract makes sense, but now it’s out for public response.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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