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Biomedicine in museums

What does 'display' actually mean?

The name of this blog was chosen without thinking too much about it. We had some discussions a couple of years ago about the somewhat vague term ‘biomedicine’, but felt that Alberto Cambrosio and Peter Keating’s definition in Biomedical Platforms, 2003 (see earlier post here) was useful.

The ‘display’-part never gave rise to any discussions. I guess it seemed pretty straigthforward — we are a museum and museum have displays, period. Therefore ‘Biomedicine on Display.

In the course of the last couple of years, however, this blog has in practice expanded its field of interest to include the study of many other kinds of biomedical science communication practices and web presences.

So it’s time to do our homework — what do the linguistic experts have to say about ‘display’? The most relevant meanings of the noun ‘display’ are (pace the OED):


  • The act of displaying or unfolding to view or to notice; exhibition, manifestation (1680–)
  • The act of setting forth descriptively; a description (1583–)
  • The presentation of radar echoes or signals on the screen of a cathode-ray tube; a visual presentation of data from a computer, whether by means of a cathode-ray tube or some other device; also, a device or system used for this = visual display (1945–)
  • A specialized pattern of behaviour used by birds as a visual means of communication, often in conjunction with characteristic calls (1901–)
  • An exhibition, a show; a proceeding or occasion consisting in the exhibiting of something (1665–)
  • Show, ostentation (1816–)

Seems like a list of useful varieties. We could also have called this blog ‘Manifesting Biomedicine’, ‘Setting Forth Biomedicine’, ‘Biomedicine on the Screen’, ‘Exhibiting Biomedicine’, ‘Biomedical Ostentation’, and so forth. But ‘Biomedicine on Display’ seems to cover all kinds of presentations, manifestations, ostentations, descriptions, imaging practices, show room activites, exhibitions, web displays etc., in which biomedical ideas and practices are being set forth. And I especially like the derived notion of biomedical display as “a specialized pattern of behaviour used by biomedical researchers and clinicians as a visual means of communication”. So I suggest we keep our present name. Any objections?

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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