It interesting to follow different attempts to create virtual medical history archives and exhibitions on the web, even if they don’t focus on recent biomedicine/biotechnology. One can alway learn something new; in this case — which many of you probably already know of — the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science’s (Berlin) on-line project, The Virtual Laboratory, which focuses on the history of the experimentalization of life in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
They focus on the interaction between the life sciences, arts, architecture, media and technology, in other words, on material that lends itself to display in exhibitions (real or virtual).

The Virtual Laboratory is the digital outreach part of a research project called “The Experimentalization of Life: Configurations between Science, Art, and Technology” at the MPI-WG’s Department III (head Hans-Jörg Rheinberger). It consists of a set of ressources — texts and images of experimental situations, instruments, buildings, and people (scientists and artists) — and a number of essays (the laboratory) which

“constitutes a platform where historians of science, culture and technology as well as students can present their recent research on the experimentalization of life and explore new modes of writing history”.

At present The Virtual Laboratory only contains 13 essays altogether, but the number will probably grow as the research project behind it produces more results.

It is all very nice. There is a lot of fascinating ressource material, e.g., a large number of scanned texts which are difficult to get access to elsewhere, and a lot of iconographic material. The site is easy to navigate, with clean pages and without annoying smart flash devices. I very much I prefer this puritan Berlin-style website to Science Museum’s populist, disorderly and totally unnavigatable site concept.

The ressource material part of the site is wonderful. But I am not sure what the rationale behind putting the essays on the web instead of producing a book is; for example, the level of cross-linking is very low. I know it’s a beta-version and that we’ll have to wait for the full-grown version another couple of years. But as they stand now, the essays are probably better suited for the book medium.

The Virtual Laboratory is less a laboratory than a conventional ressource site. As such it is definitely worth visiting. One wonder what it would take to turn it into a real virtual dialogic laboratory and virtual seminar? Maybe the blog medium would be a better solution.

(added 12 dec. 2005: see http://vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/essays/press.html

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