Human Curiosities (2014-ongoing)

€315,000 research project (2016-2020) studying the social relevance of medical museums, culminating in a book and exhibition at Special Collections, University of Amsterdam. Collections of medical heritage are potentially useful for tackling some of today’s most pressing social and public health challenges. Moreover, European governments are increasingly turning to museums to undertake such work, in response to aging populations and declining budgets for social welfare. However, stakeholders at medical museums disagree on the role of their institutions in contemporary society, on the capacity of audiences to understand complex or sensitive medical issues, and on the most effective exhibition strategies.

This project analyzes current medical museum exhibition strategies to identify dominant narratives as well as marginalized histories, and investigate their implications for health and wellbeing. The focus includes four areas where medical museums could make a significant impact: mental health, infectious diseases, sexuality/reproduction, and bodies of difference (addressing race and disability). This research is of direct relevance to museum practitioners, and is therefore being developed in collaboration with medical museums. Project output includes a Heritage Lab demonstrating interpretive strategies for medical heritage, an online tool for museums and their audiences, as well as an open access journal article and a book. The project will provide the first detailed analysis of exhibition strategies across a range of European medical museums, and the first in-depth study to specifically consider the role of medical museums in promoting health and wellbeing. Researcher: Manon Parry