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Biomedicine in museums

Museums and biographies

By November 14, 2008No Comments

I’ve always found it difficult to bring together my two core professional interests. On the one hand, I’ve spent many years working on scientific biography and have been engaged in scholarly discussions about scientific auto/biography as a genre (see, e.g., this book). I’m fascinated in how texts, memories, interviews and personal (self)knowledge can be used construct the life-course of scientists.

On the other hand I’ve been engaged in museum business for some years now and have very much enjoyed discussions about the museological problems in the science/technology/medicine segment of the museum world, for example, how physical artefacts and visual materials can be used to construct images of scientific practice.

But so far these two fields of interests have remained separated in my mind. I’ve never found a way of integrating them. Probably because I didn’t believe there were others who were interested. (After all, we’re social animals; to engage in a scholarly field constituted by one person (oneself) is pretty boring, unless you are aspergerish.)

Therefore, imagine my enthusiasm when Craig Howes distributed the announcement for a conference on ‘Museums and biographies’ to be held at the National Gallery in London, 10-12 September 2009. The meeting — which is co-organised with the Museums and Galleries History Group and the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University — will bring together scholars who study the interconnections between museums and galleries, collecting and biography: “Drawing together analyses of representation, material culture and personality, we invite papers that can cast new light on the study of lives, objects and display”. Yes!

Invited keynote speakers are Arthur MacGregor, senior keeper at the Ashmolean Museum, and Nicholas Penny, the new director of the National Gallery. The rest of us are invited to send in abstracts for papers that cover areas like:

  • The lives of curators, dealers and collectors
  • (Auto)biographical display
  • Institutional histories
  • Object biographies
  • Personality museums

There will also be opportunities for museum practitioners to detail new acquisitions or recent developments in the sector, and other forms of presentation may be considered as well as conventional papers.

One page abstracts (300 words), including brief CV, should be sent to Catherine Todd ( by 31 January 2009. More info here.

Maybe this will be an opportunity for me to become an intellectually more integrated person …

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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