Here are the abstracts for the “Human remains”-meeting in London, 13-14 april. For meeting programme, see http://www.corporeality.net/museion/index.php?p=91). For a report from the meeting, see here.
Collecting and Displaying Pathology in Nineteenth-century Britain
Sam Alberti, University of Manchester
St Bartholomew’s Hospital museum was described as a ‘Valhalla of spoils snatched from the dead, the dying, the living, and those who have never been born’. This paper engages with the history of collections of anatomical and pathological objects, a topic of particular contemporary resonance. To illuminate the form and function of the nineteenth-century museum, it presents a study of museological practice, following the life (or death) of a specimen through the cadaver circuit, from acquisition through arrangement to viewing. Although the focus is on hospital museums, connections and comparisons are explored with a range of other sites, orthodox or otherwise, from commercial freak shows such as Kahn’s Anatomical Museum to respectable collections including those of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons in London and Edinburgh. Acquisition routes leading specimens to the hospital will set the collections in their medical and cultural framework. Twinned to the physical removal of the specimen from its unfortunate donor was the process of legitimation, as curators sought to isolate their collections from the unsavoury cultural environs of the freak show and circus. Legislation such as the 1832 Anatomy Act and the cultural mores of nineteenth-century Britain will frame twenty-first-century debates on the display of human remains in their deep historical context.
Dirty pretty things: the case of contemporary art
Sara Barnes, Institute for Curatorship and Education, Edinburgh College of Art
This paper addresses some major themes in art practice and theory in recent years. The first involves increasing interest in the relationship between the body and science or medicine. The second theme centres around the museum and museum practice. Both of these streams constitute a wide variety of practice and approaches by artists. As far as museum collections are concerned, for example, artists have worked within the museum environment in a series of interventions, re-created museum type displays, researched collections and archives as a source and sometimes used the actual collections within, or as, the work. The resulting artwork and exhibitions can be celebratory, amusing and exciting. They promote important issues such as health education or the public understanding of other cultures or complex scientific concepts. At the same time, they can also be very challenging in their critical engagement with difficult questions, personal experiences and regimes of knowledge – all of which are important to the self-scrutiny of museums and medical science themselves. When these themes converge and artists work within the tripartite relationship of medical science–body-museum, the questioning appears to intensify. With the body at the centre, issues of scientific enquiry, experimentation, recording, diagnosis and treatment are bound up with those of acquisition, conservation, classification and display. The intensity of artistic investigation in these areas frequently centres upon the ethical practice of both medical science and the museum. In seeking to explore these issues, artists have provoked some fierce responses. However, such responses often focus upon the ethics of the artist’s approaches and methodologies rather than the ethics of the issues they intend to present. Good examples of this include the ways in which artists utilise either their own bodies as aesthetic objects or how they manipulate human remains as artistic material. Unsurprisingly, much of this output is controversial and has attracted accusations of sensationalism and cheap tricks. In their scrutinisation of ethical practice, artists have raised the stakes so that it is art practice which is interrogated and censured. However, contrary to the popular opinion that artists are exploitive and disrespectful of human remains, medical science and museums, I want to argue for some central features of the richly textured art-science-museum relationship as it pertains to the body. This paper does not, though, set out to defend the practice of art’s mavericks – those who shield themselves behind the false screen of an artistic avant-garde which purports to expose body fascism but in fact can be said to embrace it. Instead, I want to explore the role of the aesthetic artifice of art in enhancing and foregrounding other forms of aesthetic artifice, that is, the body as it is collected, manipulated, displayed and interpreted in collections in the quest for, and dissemination of, knowledge. Generally speaking, this complex relationship is recognised as historically significant, noble and worthwhile. Today, it is the key to the happy co-existence of aesthetics and ethics in the matrix of contemporary art, the body, medical science, and the museum.
Selection and preservation: medical collections in the context of the academic heritage of the Netherlands.
Harmen Beukers, Leiden University/LUMC
In April 1995 the four ‘classical’ universities in the Netherlands (Leiden, Groningen, Utrecht and Amsterdam) raised an alarm: a structural shortage in budgets and in personnel threatened the continuance of their collections, which were generally considered as important cultural heritage. The government recognized the emergency and decided to alleviate the situation by making available a special budget in order to clear off arrears. Three categories of collections were identified as communal, interuniversity projects. One of these projects were the medical collections, consisting of 158 sub-collections and including among others about 35,000 – 40,000 macroscopic specimens and over three million microscopic specimens. At first a national inventory at the level of the sub-collection was drawn up and criteria were developed to rate the value of the collections. As a consequence, collection profiles of each university could be defined. Combined with the idea to enhance the quality of the entire university medical collection by reduction, there was a need for national tuning, selection, elimination and transfer. Besides already existing criteria (used in arts) special criteria were developed referring to origin, completeness, actual importance, importance as reference and suitability to be exhibited. The process of elimination implied reflection on ethical and legal aspects.
From Medical Education to Historical Collection: The Evolution of Anatomical Presentation at the Warren Anatomical Museum
Virginia Hunt, Warren Anatomical Museum, Boston, Mass
Many medical museums began their lives as private collections of specimens and preparations used for teaching purposes. The collectors, most often physicians or scholars, collected these specimens to illustrate lectures and advance the usefulness of their medical practice. Indeed, it was not the original intention that these collections be open and on display to the general public. Eventually, the need for, and intention of keeping these types of collections shifted from the private venue of medical education to the more public venue of medical history museums. More recently, the 19th century tradition of preserving anatomical specimens for display and study has come under 21st century public scrutiny. This has contributed to a new interest in the ethical aspects of this practice. Certainly, one of the main reasons this is a recurring question is the public’s heightened awareness of the ethical issues surrounding Native American human remains brought about by the United States’ implementation of the North American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and the subsequent work to repatriate the remains of indigenous peoples who were taken by anthropologists, archeologists and other scholars in the 19th century. This begs the question of whether medical museums have the same responsibility as anthropology/natural history museums in terms of collecting, display, and disposal of human body parts. Presently no comparable legislation to NAGPRA exists for medical museums that would set the guidelines for ethics in anatomical display. How does the modern medical museum deal with the increasing pressure to frame its 19th century collection in the 21st century ethical mind set?
From dead embryos to icons of life
Lynn M. Morgan, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, USA
Questions about the appropriateness of displaying human anatomical material have resurfaced recently with new technologies of preservation (such as the digital Visible Human project and the BodyWorlds exhibit of plastinated cadavers). Less noticed but no less important are changes in the appropriate means of displaying human embryo and fetal specimens. U.S.-based pathological and natural science museums (such as the Mütter Museum, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, and the National Museum of Health and Medicine) have been under pressure to de-accession wet-tissue collections in favor of sanitized (digital, photographic, and computer-enhanced) forms of display. This paper draws on the history of the famed Carnegie Collection of Human Embryos to show why wet-tissue specimens have become unpopular, focusing on the changing meanings attached to human embryo and fetal specimens over the past 100 years.
How to handle a murderer´s head or ethical thoughts in the federal museum of pathology in the fool´s tower.
Beatrice Patzak, Wien
On September 10th 1898 the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) was assassinated by Luigi Luccheni. After 12 years of imprisonment Luccheni hanged himself in his cell in 1910. His head was separated from his body, his brain removed and both were preserved separately. In the 1980ies the specimen was given to the federal Museum of Pathology in Vienna. In 1998 the Minister of Education, E. Gehrer, was asked for permission to bury L. Luccheni’s skull, which was granted without delay. On May 18th 2000 the funeral took place. Luccheni’s skull was the first incidence to bring us into such a close contact with the ethical aspects of wet and dry preparations, until then the pathology of a preparation had been of primary importance. The museum was founded in 1796 by an initiative of Johann Peter Frank (1745-1821), the director of the General Hospital. He appointed Aloys Rudolf Vetter (1765-1806) as an unpaid prosector at the General Hospital and a conservator at the Pathological Museum. Upon entering into office his successor Laurenz Biermayer prepared the first catalogue. His appointment and the establishing of a museum was due to Valentin von Hildebrand (1763-1818), the director of the General Hospital. In October 1811 an ordinance had been passed under his Emperor Francis I of Austria (1768-1835), whereby all professors were officially obliged to produce instructive preparations and collect all peculiarities they noticed on dead bodies and deliver them to the cabinets. The ordinance stated that all peculiarities of nature had to be taken note of and collected. After Johann Wagner (1800-1832) Carl von Rokitansky (1804-1878) was given the post as a director and in 1844 he became full professor. In 1843 he started to revise the entire collections of the museum and introduced a new numbering. There was a constant gathering of specimen under the following curators to the museum. In 1974 Alfons Portele brought independence to the museum. It was then that the former institute museum became the Federal Museum of Pathology. During the 1970ies A. Portele began to take over collections from other hospitals in Austria and Germany. In 1999 there was origin research introduced to the Federal Pathology Museum to meet a government request. This was the starting point for a new revision of all collected wet and dry preparations and this time it was to be about the origin of preparations. After completing the revision in 2004 it is to be questioned whether a modern museum of human specimen is still necessary. Especially in a society which does not want to be confronted with illness and death. Is it useful to value specimen and which once are to be removed from the collection. These questions should be discussed in a large scale between similar institutions and museums.
The study of the human body in Thailand: The High Status of Cadavers as Teachers in Buddhist Society
Sanjai Sangvichien, Bangkok
Siriraj Medical School, the first modern medical school in Thailand was established in 1890, began with a 3- year curriculum. Human Anatomy was the basic subject and was taught by using models. When the curriculum was expanded to 4 years in 1903, Human Anatomy was taught by dissecting unpreserved cadavers. Then, when the curriculum was expanded to 5 years in 1913, phenol was used as a preservative for cadavers. By the time medical education was upgraded to US and UK standards in 1923 cadavers were well preserved. At present, medical Anatomy in Siriraj is divided into 4 subjects as follows:
1. Gross Anatomy: one cadaver and 2 boxes of complete sets of the dry skeleton are assigned for 4 students.
2. Microscopic Anatomy: Human tissue glass slides are used for study
3. Neuro Anatomy: Microscopic and Gross Human nervous tissues are used.
4. Embryology: anomalous foetuses and organs are used.
The Four Museums in Siriraj Medical School which displayed human body as well as specimens of human organs are
1. Congdon Anatomical Museum
2. Sood Sangvichien Prehistoric Museum
3. Ellis Pathological Museum
4. Songkran Niyomsene Forensic Medicine Museum
At first, cadavers used for learning were unclaimed. Donated bodies were first used before the Second World War. The first Thai who made a will donating his body for medical education was the professor of Thai literature. He stated his reason as being that he wanted to be a teacher even in death. Many others followed his example. Nowadays, all cadavers are by donation, the donors coming from all walks of life. First and foremost, students are taught that every piece of bone and the organs of a cadaver are objects of respect. A ceremony of dedication is performed at the beginning of each anatomy course by Buddhist monks and a royal cremation is performed after the course. His Majesty the King gives the royal fire for cremation. The medical students called the bodies “The Great Teachers” and treated them with great respect. The human remains displayed in the museums were treated with equal respect and the Buddhist dedication ceremony is performed every year. Buddhism believes that human body is merely a mortal shell that we cannot hold on to forever. Buddhism also preaches us to do good. One of many ways of doing good is to donate a “knowledge gift”. Donating one’s body is giving a knowledge gift, which is considered the highest form of merit in Buddhist and Thai society. This is the reason why, unlike other countries, Thailand has no moral, legal or ethical problems in using the human body for education both in the classroom and in the museum.
The Display of Human Remains in the Berlin Medical Historical Museum
Thomas Schnalke, Berlin
In 1899 a ‘Pathological Museum’ was opened in a newly erected 5-story building on the premises of the Berlin Charité. For both a scientific and general audience, over 23,000 dry and wet specimens—collected by the eminent physician, pathologist and politician Rudolf Virchow—were displayed in large showcases covering 2,000 m². Today, name and concept of the institution have changed. The ‘Berlin Medical Historical Museum’, forming an integral part of the medical faculty of the Charité, aims at becoming an eminent location in Germany for visualizing core medical developments in past and present. Virchow’s heritage, the remainders of his pathological collection of preparations, however, still forms the soul of the museum. In my talk I will begin by looking at the specific location of the Berlin Medical Historical Museum. It is situated on the grounds of a ‘little town’ in the town—the historical site of the Charité in the city of Berlin. Not at all easily accessible to visitors, people have to find their way by strolling at some length through the campus of the hospital as they pass clinics and institutes. Although we would like to define ourselves as an independent and true ‘public’ museum, our visitors feel drawn into the medical sphere as they make their way to the museum. Here, however, they do not encounter wards, specialised units or operating theatres that they would deal with as real patients, but exhibition rooms they enter as healthy individuals but also always as potential patients. With this notion of the potential to become sick, they are confronted in the museum with what has been left from real patients—fixed and conserved organs and tissues. In an analogy to the location of the building, these items also stand remote, most of them in glass containers behind the glass of the showcases. The historical showcases of the Berlin Medical Historical Museum present nearly 1,000 mostly wet specimens. At first glance, these objects seem to be arranged in the fashion of 19th-century study collections, stuck together narrowly in the shelves on five layers in segmented repositoria filling the entire room. But a second look, we hope, reveals a modified arrangement, with commentary and contextualisation to reflect the needs of our present visitors as well as morally and ethically sound standards.
Legal and ethical aspects concering the display of human remains in anatomic museums
Brigitte Tag, Zürich
The public is gradually finding itself faced with the issue of increasing interest in regarding corpses and their anatomy. Consequently, it is hardly surprising to see a wide circle of unresolved questions arising. The most important of these is to whether and to what extent anatomical specimens of human origin should be accessible to public view. If we look to the law for security or clarity on this issue, then it becomes evident that what exists, is a loose web of norms that are by no means either definite or definitive. The statement describes the ethical and legal rules about the treatment of bodies. Due to this, fundamental questions concerning corpses must explored. They are as follows: What obligations are there and to whom do they apply? What shall we do with human remains without any donation? Are we obliged to remove them from display and to bury them as regulated by their native conventions and customs? Or is it permissible to further keep these specimens without restrictions in museum?
In 1995 I arrived at The Royal College of Surgeons of England with a mission to modernise the museums. Some ten years later in February 2005 the refurbished Hunterian Museum opened to the public and received 2000 visitors in a week. In the intervening decade we have seen the retention and display of human remains in England and Wales come into public focus and under government scrutiny. While groups and others have offered views and recommendations we have had to deal directly with these issues on a day to day basis. My talk will provide a case history of a public museum with the display of human remains at its core operating in this social climate. I will discuss what I found in 1995 and show what we have done since to return the museum to professional museum standards, including all aspects of collections management, governance and display. I will describe our approach to the redisplay of the museum and what has been the initial response of our visitors. Finally I will offer some thoughts on where we might be heading in the next few years