Museums and Medical Knowledge: past, present, and future
Alberti, S J M M
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Although populated by the dead, medical museums are for the living. From their roots in the Enlightenment, medical practitioners have gathered pathological and anatomical material for clinical and educational benefit. This practice reached its zenith around 1900, when Maude Abbott led a generation of medical curators who gathered, arranged and taught with extensive medical collections in universities and elsewhere. Over the twentieth century, their functions and audiences shifted, as the profession and public alike became more interested in medical heritage. This gave rise to the flurry of redevelopments in the past two decades, when museums and universities alike activated their collections for public benefit. This is evident not only in their galleries but also in their collecting and programming – as illustrated by one area of particular relevance, the use of medical museums to promote a deeper understanding of disability and difference. What links these curators, collections and activities is the intention to use medical collections for the public good: whether clinical, educational, social or cultural. The Bicentennial of McGill’s world-class collection is an apposite time to reflect on the past, present and future of the use of varied medical knowledge by medical museums around the world.