MUSE seminars

Medical Museion hosts a seminar series aimed at investigating current questions and problems facing science communication and museum practices in the light of the recent history of the biomedical sciences. The papers will present scholars working on material culture, history of medicine, science communication, medical science and technology studies and related fields.

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When and Where? Most seminars take place on Thursday afternoons in the auditorium at Medical Museion at Bredgade 62, 1260 København K, but please check below as some seminars are hosted elsewhere and at other times. Contact Karin Tybjerg with questions or suggestions.



Monday October 24th 2016.  2.30-4 pm:
Vessels of Care and Control

Speaker: Ionat Zurr, Symbiotica, University of Western Australia

The talk will be followed with a tour of the exhibitions at Museion approx 4-5 PM.

Developments in the life sciences and biomedical technologies tend to use revolutionary rhetoric and the illusion of breaking free from hegemonic social constructions; however these constructions are inbuilt within the developments of these technologies, their interpretation and application. Through a series of historical and contemporary narratives I would like to push further the goalposts and look at the notion of the canonical bio-vessel – the Incubator – as a point of departure and “escape” from socially and human centric engrained discourses. Incubates not only serve as a rich, performative and provocative departure for stories about life and biopolitics, they also contest biological determinism and genohype, and are a place where the notion of life can be explored from the non-human perspective reflecting on past and contestable future scenarios. Here, I will explore narratives of the incubator both as a contraption of care/nurture and controlled life as well as a conceptual and biopolitical apparatus.

Dr. Ionat Zurr is an artist and a researcher at SymbioticA, School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia. Her pioneering work with the Tissue Culture and Art Project established in 1996 is considered a leading biological art project. Her research explores our changing relations with life both as hands-on and a conceptual pursuit. Ionat is a Visiting Professor at BiofiliA – Base for Biological Art and Design, at the School of Art, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, Helsinki. She exhibited and published widely in places such as the MoMA NY, Mori Museum Tokyo, Ars Electronica, Linz, GOMA Brisbane and more.

This talk is part of the Graduate Programme in Medicine, Culture, and Society and MeST, and was co-organised with Dr Jens Hauser of the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies. 

hogarth-Cropped-110x128Thursday February 4th 2016.  2-3.30 pm:
The measure of everything – detecting and defining disease in the post-genomic era

Speaker: Stuart Hogarth, King’s College, University of London

The talk will be followed with a tour of the exhibitions at Museion approx 3.30-4.30 PM

Advocates of personalised (or more recently precision) medicine suggest that the genomic turn in the life sciences is generating a new molecular taxonomy of disease and creating new opportunities for genetic risk prediction, early disease detection and a more tailored approach to the treatment of the sick. The development of new consumer technologies, from nappies that analyse a baby’s urine to bras that monitor stress levels, offer the possibility of constant surveillance of vital signs from birth to death, with manufacturers promising to empower patients and prevent disease. Such grand claims invite reflection on underpinning assumptions: what is disease? What is the relationship between how we detect it and how we define it? What are the drivers of changing disease taxonomies and diagnostic techniques?

Historians of medicine have suggested that there are two approaches to understanding disease: physiological and ontological. The physiological model frames disease as something peculiar to an individual, a disturbance of their unique constitution; it is holistic and patient-centred. The ontological approach frames disease as an entity independent of the individual, which is defined nosologically by its similarities to, and differences from, other diseases, and whose origins are not an imbalance of the individual’s constitution, but an underlying lesion.

The history of diagnosis in the last two centuries has been broadly understood by many historians as shift from the physiological to the ontological, driven by a proliferation of techniques and technologies for eliciting clinical data directly from the bodies of the sick, and with a corresponding diminution in the importance of patients’ attempts to render into language their subjective experiences of pain and discomfort.

In this talk I will describe a new wave of contemporary technological innovations, from molecular biomarkers to wearable biosensors, that offer new ways to detect and define disease in the early 21st century, and explore whether we may see a re-emergence of the physiological model of disease. I will argue that in seeking to understand these contemporary trends we need to pay greater attention not only to questions of epistemology, but to the political economy of diagnostic innovation, in particular the role of diagnostics firms in bringing new technologies into routine clinical practice and their impact on the creation of new disease categories and the redefinition of the normal and the pathological.

Past seminars

David HowesMonday December 21st 2015, 10-11am:
Coming To Our Senses: A Report on the Sensory Turn in Curatorial and Media Art Practice

Speaker: David Howes, Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal; Director of the Centre for Sensory Studies.

Note, the seminar will be in the meeting room, entrance at Fredericiagade 18. David Howes will also participate as an examiner in Anette Stenslund’s PhD defence from 1-4pm in the Medical Museion auditorium. 

This paper begins by charting the emergence of sensory studies as an autonomous object and method of inquiry. Its genesis is traced to the sensory turn in a range of humanities and social science disciplines, which gave rise to such fields as the history of the senses, anthropology of the senses, and, most recently, sensory museology. Incorporating a sensory studies approach into the curation of indigenous artifacts has resulted in a radical transformation of “the exhibitionary complex.” In place of didactic displays which isolate artifacts in glass cases, the emphasis now is on the museum space as a kind of sensory gymnasium in which visitors are invited to experiment with alternate ways of sensing through encounters with objects of diverse provenance. Citing examples which range from Iroquois false face masks to the Inca quipu (a 3-D mnemonic device composed of knotted strings of varying colours), this paper makes a case for sense-based investigations of the varieties of aesthetic experience across cultures. It also reports on some of the findings of the “Mediations of Sensation” project that has involved creating intercultural, performative sensory environments for the communication of anthropological knowledge, as an alternative to both the ethnographic monograph and ethnographic film.

October 15th 2014, 3-4pm:
Me, myself, my wife, and the bacteria between us

Speaker: François-Joseph Lapointe, artist and professor, head of the laboratory of Molecular Ecology and Evolution at Université de Montréal and full professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. 

This seminar is a public event, associated with new exhibition Hello Bacteria! and art-science performance 1000 Handshakes

With the advent and recent popularity of self-tracking, a large number of individuals are now relying on technological tools and wearable sensors to monitor and analyse their daily activities as a way of improving performance, productivity or any other factors involved in personal well-being. Nowhere is this co-called “Quantified Self” movement more active and important than in personalized medicine, with numerous accounts of people claiming to have cured specific diseases on their own. With annual conferences, workshops, on-line forums and specialized journals, this growing community of people primarily motivated by health issues is challenging the medical profession. Although it is currently impossible to monitor the microbiome at home (except for those who can have access to a personal sequencer), some biotech start-ups are offering to analyse your microbiome as part of a citizen science movement. Using data visualization tools, you could then find out what types of people have a microbiome like yours, and understand how your microbiome compares to cutting-edge scientific research. With this also comes the possibility of people doing experiments and personal interventions; say by testing the effect of a specific diet on the gut microbiome, the use of various cosmetics on the skin microbiome, or the diversity of sexual practices on the vaginal microbiome. In this talk, I will present some of my own experimentations with the microbiome. As a scientist, I will discuss the pros and cons of personal investigations for microbiome research. As an artist, I will look at microbiome experiments as a way of questioning the aesthetics of the self.

steve woolgarNovember 11th 2014, 3-5pm: It could be otherwise: provocation, irony and limits

Speaker: Steve Woolgar is Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Linköping University, and Professor of Marketing and Director of Science and Technology Studies at Oxford University.

This seminar is part of the graduate programme in Medicine, Culture, and Society, which is hosted by Medical Museion as part of the Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies (MeST). 

***Please Note the seminar will take place at CSS 1.1.18, Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1014 Copenhagen K  

One element of the success of STS is its capacity to apply analytic scepticism to a wide range of areas beyond science (which we used to think of as the hardest possible case) and technology. Yet STS’ radical potential has been continually compromised by successive failures of nerve and by its routinisation, appropriation and domestication. In this paper I outline some key features of provocation in STS as provided by the slogan “It Could Be Otherwise”. I consider the fate of radical STS arguments. And I look in particular at the operation of irony and at the limits on provocation, if any. If my nerve holds, I shall try to work some of this through in relation to reportings of 911. More information here.

sky grossNovember 12th 2014, 15.00-16.30: Reconsidering Science, Technology, and Religion: Objectionable Objects and Chimeric Authorities in a Debate over Brain-Death in Israel

Speaker: Sky Gross is a lecturer in medical ethics and humanities at the Tel-Aviv University School of Medicine and of bioethics and society at the Biotechnology department of the School of Engineers.

This seminar is part of the graduate programme in Medicine, Culture, and Society, which is hosted by Medical Museion as part of the Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies (MeST). 

***Please Note the seminar will take place at CSS 1.1.18, Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1014 Copenhagen K  

This paper follows the rejection of the conflict narrative of science and religion, and challenges the accepted demarcation thesis by closely analyzing one particular case-study: the religious acceptance of Brain-Death in Israel by a technologically-savvy group of rabbis whose religious doctrine and form of reasoning are used to support the truth claims of the scientific community (brain death is death) but challenge the ways in which they are made credible. Brain-Death as “true” death is made religiously viable with the very use of technological apparatus and scientific rhetorics that stand at the heart of the scientific ethos, disentangling actors from their assigned monothetic associations with homogeneous sets of epistemologies, methodologies, and regimes of truth. Two conceptualizations are offered: “objectionable objects” as objects that are –inherently or otherwise- associated with deep controversy (here, brain-death); And “chimeric authority” as a particular form of resolution (or attempt at resolution) that involves the webbing of several sources of authoritativeness to either thwart the adoption of the objectionable object or smoothen its acceptance. In this case, tradition and technology – with each its own aesthetics, discursive qualities, and assigned authority – are shown to play critical roles, both in the particular and the more generalizable sense. More information here.

bruno_strasser_150_pixelsJune 20th, 2013: The data deluge: Museums, Laboratories, and Databases

Speaker: Bruno J. Strasser, Professor, Didactique des Sciences, Biology Section and IUFE, University of Geneva. Adjunct professor, Yale University

From the pages of Wired to those of The Economist, Nature and Science, commentators have characterized the early 21st century as a moment in history defined by a “data deluge”. This unprecedented amount of information, they argue, will deeply transform the scientific enterprise, turning it into a “data-driven” practice. This paper is an attempt at bringing these claims into historical perspective. It argues that our grand narratives about the history of sciences are inadequate to make sense of current developments. The current “data deluge” is not unprecedented and thus the past can offer clues to understand the present. As Robert Darnton has convincingly argued, “every age was an age of information, each in its own way”. This paper will first survey some current claims about “data-driven” science, then it will discuss how the current historiography obscures, rather than illuminates, this development and propose a new framework, centered in the historical role of “collecting sciences”. It will then show that one of the essential tensions in the “collecting sciences” (including the current data-driven sciences) has been the negotiation of individual credit, authorship, and collective participation. Brining the current data deluge into historical perspective helps us understand the significance of current trends, such as big data, open access, and citizen science.

Mm_meyer small2ay 30th, 2013: A laboratory in the museum? Displaying science in the making in exhibitions

Speaker: Morgan Meyer, Post Doc, Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, Mines ParisTech

Over the past few years there has been an interesting and intriguing development in several European museums: the idea to put research laboratories inside the museum and allow visitors a chance to encounter research in the making. In this paper, I will discuss three examples of such laboratories-in-the-museum: the open research laboratory in nanotechnology at the Deutsches Museum (Munich), an exhibition about “hot” and controversial topics in Vienna, and the current exhibition on biohacking at the Medical Museion (Copenhagen). In this paper I will be concerned with the changes that the laboratory undergoes when it is “spatially challenged” by being put into a museum. Through its move into an exhibition space we see a transformation of its social and material architecture; an extension of its object-world; and a change in, and multiplication of, the characteristics of science and technology.

I will suggest that the laboratory-in-the-museum does not only represent, display and explain a particular kind of space – the laboratory – but it is also designed to create space for dialogue and discussion about the laboratory and about science. Also, in contrast to traditional displays, these kinds of exhibitions operate two kinds of shifts: from a display that answers to a display that questions; and from an exhibition that represents existing matters to an exhibition that performs, creates, and experiments with new ones. The laboratory-in-the-museum thus potentially redraws the lines between essentially private and public space, between scientific research and science communication and between experiment and experience.


massimiano_bucchi 150x150May 16th, 2013: Newton’s Chicken. Science in The Kitchen and its Metaphors

Speaker: Massimiano Bucchi, professor of Science in Society, Università di Trento

Bringing “Science in the Kitchen” has become a very popular strategy to communicate science in books, games, science centres and TV shows. The ideology of ‘science in public’ lying behind this strategy is interesting for a number of reasons. It does not offer, as much ‘public science’ tries to do, ‘the wonderful’, ‘the miraculous’ or in general, something quite beyond the everyday experience, leaving the audiences with their mouth wide open. Rather, it inserts science into one of the fields that to the people’s experience most clearly embed everyday life: the kitchen. Thus, science colonizes an area that is generally recognized as the privileged territory of common sense. Scientific knowledge is not presented in antithesis to common sense, it does not seek to subvert it as it has become typical of public presentations of science especially since the huge public impact of this century’s revolution in physics. Science is here placed alongside common sense, ready to take it by the hand and ‘upgrade’ it by enlightening the theoretical significance of unconsciously adopted practices. Apparently only a curious and funny aspect, the presentation of cookery as science is revealing of a significant, although often neglected, ideology of the relationship between science and common science. Furthermore, when read in parallel with the complementary description of science as cookery in different historical contexts, it adds another important angle to our understanding of the strong connections existing between public communication of science and core scientific practice.


March 8th:, 2013 The Puzzle of Neolifism, the Strange Materiality of Regenerative and Synthetically Biological Things. Note seminar will start at 17.00

Speaker: Oron Catts, founder of SymbioticA Artistic Research Center at The University of Western Australia

In 1906 Jacques Loeb suggested making a living system from dead matter as a way to debunk the vitalists’ ideas and claimed to have demonstrated ‘abiogenesis’. In 2010 Craig Venter announced that he created “the first self-replicating cell we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer” the “Mycoplasma laboratorium” which is commonly known as Synthia. In a sense Venter claimed to bring Loeb’s dream closer to reality. What’s relevant to our story is that one of the main images Venter (or his marketing team) chose for the outing of Synthia was of two round cultures that looked like a blue eyed gaze; a metaphysical image representing the missing eyes of the Golem. These are the first bits of a jigsaw puzzle that will be laid in this talk. (…) Read more.


March 7th, 2013: Thinking with the Thalamus: Lobotomy and the Rhetoric of Emotional Impairment. Note seminar will start at 15.00

Speaker: Jenell Johnson, Dept. of Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Although lobotomy is often remembered as an operation that diminished cognitive ability, its primary objective was to “blunt” strong emotion in persons diagnosed as mentally ill. In this talk, drawn from her forthcoming book American Lobotomy: A Rhetorical History, Jenell Johnson explores arguments for and against lobotomy in the early years of its use in the United States. She shows how the argument of emotional impairment that served as lobotomy’s scientific justification was mirrored in constraints on ethical deliberation regarding its clinical and social applications—constraints, she argues, that continue to shape the norms and boundaries of biomedical discourse.


November 15th, 2012: The possibilities of things: an object-centred view and its implications for museums

Speaker: Sandra Dudley, University of Leicester, School of Museum Studies, Director of Exhibitions and Collections

This lecture considers some of the perspectives within the current interest in objects and materiality in museum contexts, before going on to exemplify aspects of the author’s own current work. Highlighting such issues as surface, qualia and displacement, the talk will discuss how this and other object-centred work augments and problematizes our understandings of museums, definable as those institutions are by their particular approaches to the conservation and re-contextualisations of things. Indeed, it will be argued, an object-centred view has profound implications for envisioning the possibilities of things.


September 6th, 2012: Curating time: new formats of public engagement at Wellcome Collection?

Speaker: Ken Arnold, Wellcome Collection
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We tend to think about museums and exhibitions in terms of things in space; and we largely define the exhibition maker’s role as that of skilfully judging what to place where. In this exploratory talk I want, instead, to think about how curators deal with time. Indeed, how they work with three types of time: the expectations we have about what visitors do during the time they share with us; the way we posit notions of historical time within our exhibitions; and the choices we make about how long our public projects run. I want to suggest that we need to spend more time thinking about the timing of what happens in museums.


June 1st, 2012: From the Body as Factory to Eating Information: A Short History of Metabolism

Speaker: Hannah Landecker, UCLA

Metabolism, understood as the chemical conversions of food into bodily matter and energy, has since its formulation as a scientific concept in the nineteenth century been a fundamental aspect of biochemistry, philosophies of life, and to a certain extent, social and political theories of the social body (continue reading).


April 27th, 2012: Artistic research: interventions with Medical Museion

Speaker: Lucy Lyons, Medical Museion

Artistic research is still seen as relatively new but its interventions within many fields define it as being a genuinely interdisciplinary mode of enquiry. Often employed as a useful method for reflecting on other research especially within the sciences, there is a great deal of evidence showing how technology and science impact on art. But how does artistic research impact on these other fields and beyond academic institutions? (continue reading)


April 25th, 2012: Examine first, ask what it is later: The multiple interpretations of 20th century scientific artifacts

Speaker: David Pantalony, University of Ottawa and Canada Science and Technology Museum Technology Collections

The questions of how to deal with artifacts from 1950 to the present is one of the more pressing challenges facing science museums today. Artifacts from this period do not easily escape from their official scientific and historical context (continue reading)


January 26th, 2012: From Material Culture to Material Heritage: History of Contemporary Science Beyond the Linguistic Turn

Speaker: Roland Wittje, University of Regensburg

Getting our hands dirty in the messy worlds of the laboratory and the storage room, and to entangle with the commemorative practices of scientists and technicians when it comes to contemporary material heritage, does not belong to the common experiences of historians of science. Studying contemporary laboratories and their materiality has so far been the domain of sociologists and ethnographers. Despite the recent ‘material turn’ in cultural studies, engagement with the material world often remains a linguistic exercise, extending at the utmost to an excursion to the sanitised and academically encultured world of the museum exhibit.

For historians of science, I argue, engaging with the ‘unfinished’ material world of contemporary science poses many opportunities. By taking the material seriously beyond the linguistic turn and exploring local university departments and their recent histories through their material heritage, we can observe everyday science and confront scientists and technicians’ cultures with those of historians. By engaging with recent material heritage, we can make an important contribution to enhancing awareness about this heritage, its implications for history writing, as well as its documentation and preservation.