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Biomedicine in museums

Museum identity — are we a medical conservatory?

Museums are in a constant identity crisis, and so is ours. Ten years ago we were a typical medical-history museum, now we are thinking more about ourselves as a place for medical science communication. But we haven’t yet found a clear identity. Maybe we will never do, but the process of trying is nevertheless instructive.

So I’m perpetually browsing around the get ideas, and just found this one from the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres’s website: “Ainsi, peut-on considérer à juste titre l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres tout à la fois comme un ‘conservatoire’ (c’est-à-dire un lieu où l’on ‘sauve’ et où l’on maintient vivante la mémoire humaine) mais aussi un ‘laboratoire’ (c’est-à-dire un lieu vivant et foisonnant où s’élabore la recherche sur l’homme, ses sociétés et ses cultures.). In translation:

Thus, one can justifiably consider the ‘Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres’ both as a ‘conservatory’ (a place where human memory is ‘saved’ and kept alive) and as a ‘laboratory’ (a place that is alive and flourishing where research on human societies and cultures is taking place).

Sure, our museum is a place where human medical memory is ‘saved’ and kept alive for future generations. But ‘Medical conservatory’. Hmm? Gives associations to a school of music, doesn’t it? Or a greenhouse!

‘Medical laboratory’ gives completely wrong associations (we don’t do wet science). What about ‘Medical memory laboratory’? But that smacks too much ‘Learning lab’, a 1990s concept for didactic experimentation sites. ‘Medical conservatory’ emits better vibrations. After all, medical culture is a kind of greenhouse for medical memories.

And again — no! ‘Medical conservatory’ seems to be a fairly established term in the US for a school for medical training (synonym for medical school?).

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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