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Biomedicine in museums

Is biomedicine making the body invisible and immaterial — and uncollectable?

By November 28, 2009No Comments

Is it really the case that almost all museum exhibitions dealing with medical themes these days are displaying DNA-images and colourful neuroscanning pictures?

Well, at least this is what the organisers of a meeting in Dresden next April seem to be suggesting. I think they are exaggerating a bit :-). But that said, the theme of the meeting — KörperGegenwart, neue Technologien, neue Sammlungen [contemporary bodies, new technologies, new collections] — is right on the spot.

The point of departure for the meeting — jointly organised by Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung in Berlin and Deutsches Hygiene-Museum in Dresden — is that the colonisation of the body by means of the life sciences has resulted in a gradual retreat from the immediately visible and material body.

An invisible biomedical body

An invisible biomedical body

The concepts, models and findings of contemporary biomedicine defy immediate visualisation, collecting and conservation. Therefore museums like Deutsche Hygiene-Museum, which was founded with the purpose of displaying the body, find themselves in an entirely new situation.

I couldn’t agree more — this is actually the central point in the paper on biomedicine as a challenge to museums that Adam, Camilla and I have just published. So we have every reason to participate (if we can: the meeting language is German and my German is rusty at best :-).

Rusty or not — it’s worth participating, because the meeting will address three types of timely questions for medical museums: first, the history of the techniques, tools and concepts by means of which the human body has been cut, dissected, interpreted and displayed; second, whether current biomedicine has made the body immaterial; and third, how the new biomedical body affects museum collection practices.

The meeting takes place 22-24 April next year. Read the call for papers here. If you want to participate, send a note to Stiftung Deutsches Hygiene-Museum,, or contact one of the four organisers: Sandra Mühlenberend (, Susanne Roeßiger (, Uta Kornmeier ( or Katrin Solhdju (

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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