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Biomedicine in museums

Collecting the voices and materials of genomics

I haven’t been to an interesting scholarly meeting for a long time — so it was pretty frustrating to realise that two meetings on some of my favourite research and curatorial interests are taking place at the same time.

The first meeting (which I’ve already signed up for as a contributor) is a small workshop on “collecting genomics”, 12-14 May. It’s organised by John Durant at the MIT Museum and Liba Taub at HPS Cambridge and there are only going to be 15-20 people around the table; a perfect setting for in-depth discussions about one of the crucial challenges to science, technology and medical museums in the future: how to document, collect and make sense of one of the most important developments in late 20th century ST&M.

The other meeting is no less interesting, at least for me as a combined biographer and science communication/museum person. On 12-13 May, the Royal Society organises a conference titled ‘Science Voices: Scientists speak about science and themselves’ to “explore the creation and use of a number of projects which bring science and scientists to historians and the public through scientists’ own vibrant personal voices and testimony”. The projects to be discussed include the current project on the history of the Royal Society in the 20th century, the oral history of Natural History Museum project (‘Museum Lives’), and the Oral History of British Science project. Oral history looms large in these three projects — and accordingly the organisers expect discussions about topics like oral history techniques, witness seminars, how to construct coherent intellectual frameworks for interview subject selection and project design, making use of oral history in history and epistemology of science, etc.

The Royal Society meeting (more details here) is important for museum purposes too — after all, I strongly believe that the individual scientific voice (autobiographical or biographical) is one of the best ways to communicate science, also in a museum context. In the best of worlds, somebody would had organised a meeting on ‘Collecting the voices and materials of genomics’, or something like that.

But that’s not the case, so I’ll opt for the genomic collection meeting. Not just because I’ve signed up already, but because it’s a smaller, more intimate and discussion-oriented meeting that aims to brake new ground for museum work. Frankly, oral history is a fairly well-chewed methodology. (But oh, my heart beats for scientists speaking about themselves and others).

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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