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Biomedicine in museums

Who’s afraid of the recent biomedical heritage?

By January 19, 2006No Comments

Here’s the abstract and a link to the full paper “Who’s afraid of the recent biomedical heritage?” from the UMAC conference in Uppsala, September 2005.

As biomedicine – the fusion of cell biology, molecular biology and information technology with clinical diagnostics and therapeutics – is emerging as a significant part of contemporary society and culture, it is time for university museums to take biomedicalization seriously. The Medical Museion at the University of Copenhagen is presently trying to resolve the museological problems that are raised in making sense of recent biomedical artefacts. Traditionally, museums deal with tangible material objects: good medical museum artefacts are concrete, sensual and spectacular, they are immediately understandable; they elicit memories, and evoke emotions. The emergence of recent biomedicine, however, challenges this classical notion of material objects as familiar, tangible, and sensuous. Today’s biomedical objects are abstract, non-tangible, and difficult to understand; they elicit few memories and hardly evoke any emotions. The challenges of recent biomedicine to university museums are illustrated with reference to three examples: gene microarray analysis, PET scanning, and molecular therapy. The paper concludes that medical museums today are caught in a paradox. On the one hand, biomedical research and technology fills more and more of our lives, from neonatal care to terminal intensive units. On the other hand, the whole idea of what constitutes a medical museum collection and what is displayable and easily understood by visitors in a medical museum exhibition becomes questionable.

For the full paper, see

The other abstracts/papers from the meeting are available at

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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