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Biomedicine in museums

Conference give-aways as medical ephemera

By November 23, 2008No Comments

Øystein Horgmo (The Sterile Eye) reports from a medical conference that he attended the other day. How, instead of listening to yet another lecture on laparoscopy, he walked around the industrial exhibition area scooping up a variety of freebies.

“What is knowledge compared to all the free stuff I bagged from the pharmaceutical company stands?!”, he says. The foray resulted in an LED flashlight, a wireless PC mouse, two teddy mooses, a laser pointer, a magnetic clip, several notepads, some toothpaste, and the usual: chewing gum, small juice packages, mints, lip balm, key chains — and pens, pens, pens, and again pens.

From a museological point of view, Øystein has just established a new subcategory of medical artefacts, namely medical conference ephemera. Which, to my best knowledge, no museum so far has paid attention to. An inconspicuous but important part of the visual and material culture of conferences, together with name tags, conference bags, plastic coffee cups and cheap sandwiches. Of course, much of this ephemeral stuff is available at any kind of conference, but some items may be specific for medical conferences.

For earlier discussions about ephemera in medical museum collections and exhibitions, see posts on the ephemeral culture of biomedicine, on bioephemera vs. bio-curisosities and bio-anecdotes and on extreme collecting, plus the comments to these posts, especially Mike Rhode’s. And it’s always stimulating to visit Jessica Palmer’s Bioephemera, which specializes in displaying bio- and medical related ephemera online.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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