Copenhagen – Medical Museion

We have had such an amazing day seeing some of the wonderful sites in the city and, most importantly, museum-hopping. Although we visited the Design Museum first, I am too excited to write about the Medical Museion. Since they are such different places, both deserve their own blog entry. The Medical Museion, founded in 1907, is a museum and research centre for the University of Copenhagen. It was opened to the public in 1918 and houses one of the largest medical collections in the world.

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There is quite a lot to cover in this blog post so I will try and keep things brief. In order to do so, I am going to only cover the exhibition spaces that I found to be most interesting.

1. Pharmacy

This part of the museum showcases a fully constructed dispensary from the Royal Frederik Hospital Pharmacy. I have to admit that I love seeing re-constructed pharmacies. It satisfies my appreciation of medicine, organization, and history. If you are ever in Heidelberg and go to the castle there is a great pharmacy museum there as well. Anyway, we spent quite a while in this room observing all the different medicines in bottles and cabinets. There is also an array of pharmaceutical apparatus on display including a set of old brass scales.

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2. The Body Collected

This exhibition was extremely confronting. Even though I volunteer at the Museum of Human Disease and have worked with pathological specimens, none of this prepared me for what was on display. There are six separate areas, each with their own theme and objects. The purpose of the whole exhibition is to showcase the historical collection of the museion. What made it so confronting was that the original collection consisted primarily of human foetuses. Jars of unborn children filled an entire wall. I was first horrified and extremely uncomfortable, then spent the rest of the day wondering about the ethics of this display. Needless to say, I will be researching this further! We moved very quickly along to see some bone specimens and body parts infected with certain diseases. There is an old mortuary table in the centre of the exhibition space next to a touch screen showing how the specimens on display had been prepared. The final section of this exhibition allows visitors to interact with digital specimens displayed on a computer screen.

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3. The Auditorium

As we moved from The Body Collected into the Auditorium I saw some very familiar anaesthetic machines. I almost squealed with excitement! One of them had all the attachments in place which looked fantastic.

On entering the Auditorium I was immediately enthralled. It was established in 1787 and functioned as a lecture hall until approximately 1942. It has a similar vibe to the Old Operating Theatre in England. It is amazing to think of the knowledge that has been disseminated in this room over time and how the nature of surgery has transformed.

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4. Psychiatry Room

Each exhibition space was slightly different to the rest. In the Psychiatry Room, the objects were arranged to appear as they would in a storeroom. Visible storage is the new ‘it’ thing, in some ways returning to the cabinet of curiosity days. Straitjackets are displayed inside archival grade boxes and share shelf space with old medication boxes and gloves. In the centre of the room is an old psychiatric ward door and chair with restraints. I had a few issues with this display that I will discuss later.

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5. The Royal Frederik’s Hospital 1757-1910

This is yet another space that contained anaesthetic apparatus – an ether mask and vaporizer! At one end of this space was a large cabinet sparsely filled with objects. A sort of advent calendar-esque card was available with an image of each object printed on little squares. Lifting the squares provides more information on the objects along with their basic details. Next to the cabinet were a couple of display cases. One contained an amputation kit from the nineteenth-century that I thought was particularly interesting. Seeing some of the objects inside the kit made me feel quite nauseous. Nevertheless, medical kits are a fantastic way to gain an understanding of what tools were required to complete various procedures.

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6. Balance and Metabolism

Last but not least is the exhibition on balance and metabolism. A highlight object from here is the 18th century cupping kit used in the process of blood letting. The exhibition space consists of four large glass tubes filled with objects in the centre of the room. Surrounding the tubes are glass cases fixed to the walls containing objects such as books.

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That was a super quick walk through the museion. As each space was so different, I thought it was a great way to compare and contrast different exhibition designs. I personally loved the rooms with re-constructions and those that were divided into themes. I did think there were a lot of topics that could have been better teased out inside the museion. For example, the visible storage for psychiatry was a bit disappointing. There are so many complex issues that could have been discussed alongside the objects. It would have also been great to have a section on the ethics of display.

Medical museums will continue to fascinate me. How issues of disease and health are communicated to a wide audience is always so intriguing. These museums are still continuing to evolve and striving to attract new audiences. Their future is, to me, just as perplexing as their past.

Stay tuned for my review of the Design Museum!

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