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Biomedicine in museums

Use the current lingua franca, please

Two months ago I praised John Harley Warner’s and Jim Edmonson’s book Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in America, 1880-1930.

As Kirsten Jungersen points out in a comment, one of our former staff members here at Medical Museion, Mikkel Jessen, wrote about dissection as a rite-of-passage in an article in the journal Bibliotek for Læger already in September 2002 (pp. 260-69).

Mikkel’s is a short but excellent article on four different ways in which dissection has been displayed: Rembrandt’s ‘De anatomishe les’, Hogarth’s ‘The four stages of cruelty’, Simonet’s ‘La autopsia’, and a photo of a staged dissection at the Royal Academy of Surgeons in Copenhagen, where the medical students are trained in ‘the necessary kind of inhumanity’.

What triggered this post, however, is that Mikkel’s article is yet another example of how the work of young scholars in small countries remain largely unread outside the small national circle (Bibliotek for Læger publishes in Danish only). Had Mikkel written his piece in English it would have been recognized several years before John and Jim published their excellent book. I mean, he could have been recruited as a PhD-student at Yale, where John works, or whatever.

So Mikkel’s article reminds me how many good opportunities are lost because too many young Danish (Swedish, Norwegian, Estonian etc.) scholars restrict themselves to writing in their mothertongues. Use the current lingua franca, please!

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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