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Biomedicine in museums

Medical steampunk

By September 8, 2009No Comments

Yesterday, I asked one of our business partners, who attended the opening of our new exhibition, Primary Substances: Treasures from the history of protein research, last Friday what he thought about it.

“I thought it was fino”, he replied, and added:

I like old instruments and packings — it reminds me of Jules Verne and it’s a pretty big subgenre that you can find on the web under the label Steampunk

That’s an interesting comment.  I’ve never thought about semi-old scientific instruments in terms of steampunk before (had heard about steampunk, but didn’t really know what it stands for).

Our collection of medical and medicotechnical instruments and devices is pretty big. It’s particularly strong on instruments made in the industrial (steam and electricity) era; less so on 17th-18th century objects and late 20th century ones (although we’ve begun acquiring lots of instruments from the last decades as well).

I guess this means that Medical Museion is full of medical steampunk. I just learned from the Wikipedia article on steampunk that the main difference between it and cyberpunk (which I’m much more familiar with) is that steampunk is generally much less dystopian.

Isn’t that what characterises medical technology as well? It’s much more utopian than dystopian (you would never try to destroy the world with the help of an electromechanical ECG machine, would you?).

Sounds like we’ve got a theme for our next public exhibition: Medical Steampunk! Much better topic than the history of medical instrumentation (yawn!).

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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