Harry Daly Museum Seminar

Today I ran my first ever museum event. It was a medical history seminar titled: Collecting, Curating, & Conserving. We had an excellent turn out of thirty professionals from all over New South Wales and even Victoria! It was a genuinely lovely morning that involved being surrounded by incredibly passionate people in the field of medical history. Throughout the day, we heard about the challenges medical collections face and how various collections have been formed and maintained.

In total, we had seven speakers present on a topic of their choice. This allowed for such a great diversity of topics from changing permanent displays on a shoestring budget, to identifying medical objects through in-depth research. I am going to provide an overview of each talk and try to summarise the main aim and findings.

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  1. Cate Storey – Transforming Archives: Making Stuff Relevant for the 21st Century and Beyond

Storey focused her presentation on the archives of the Royal North Shore Hosptial. Essentially, Storey is building the archives from scratch and wanted feedback and assistance from the seminar participants. Her presentation posed some significant questions to consider when creating an archive: What is the future of the archive? How do we sort the material? How do we catalogue the collection?

I have asked myself very similar questions while working with the Gwen Wilson Archives. Especially, how to sort the material. When you are faced with hundreds of boxes marked “to be sorted” it can be a huge undertaking just to work out how they should be arranged. Storey has achieved so much with the archives, rescuing old historical registers and re-organising a significant amount of material.


2. Monica Cronin – A Museum Without Walls: Taking the Museum Experience to the People

The Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History in Melbourne has done incredible work reaching out to audiences through online platforms. This has included social media, blogs, and online exhibitions.

Cronin provided a great overview of the museum’s outreach work which are dot-pointed below:

It was an engaging talk that certainly sparked the imagination and creativity of those in the audience.


3. Me – Meeting Standards: Transforming the Harry Daly Museum’s Permanent Display

It was then my turn to talk. I focused on how the permanent display of the Harry Daly Museum has transformed in order to appeal to a broader audience.

This has included reducing the amount of text in the display cases, creating new object labels, and moving objects into a more cohesive display. I was so grateful for the opportunity to present on my work and the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. I am now more confident than ever with the work I am completing and the direction the museum is going.

4. Elinor Wrobel – Morbid Anatomy Collection 1890s to 1985

The Sydney Hospital Museum has been on my must-visit list for too long. The presentation by Elinor Wrobel was an incredibly passionate ode to the museum and its place in medical history. Wrobel spoke on the history of medicine in Sydney and how it has skewed the significance of the hospital. I am excited to visit this museum and see all the wonderful objects with my own eyes.

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5. Dr Bevan Stone – Medical Collection Query Service

There were two main parts to this presentation.

  1. The past role of the History of Medical Museums specialist group
  2. How to identify medical museum objects

With the latter, Stone showed a picture of an altar cloth from World War I that was seemingly unrelated to a medical history collection. On further research, he discovered it was a cloth embroided by Australian soldiers who were amputees. It was an incredible story!


6. Derek Williamson – How does a Medical Museum Visit Change People’s Health Intentions?

This presentation focused on how medical museums can change perceptions of health. Although Williamson had collected anecdotal evidence, he was hoping to produce data that could be presented to the University of New South Wales. He knew, for example, that visits could potentially change health behaviours. He shared a story of a teacher who after their visit quit smoking because of what they had witnessed in the museum. Considering it is a pathology museum, there are literal human lungs on display that have been affected by cigarette smoke.

After running some surveys and collating the data, Williamson discovered that primary school and high school students were affected by the messages in the museum. In fact, at an event called ‘Zombies in the Museum’, 86% of participants continued a conversation about the museum post-visit. This is great data suggesting a new significance of medical collections not only in telling the history of the discipline, but actually changing attitudes and behaviours.


7. Dr Rajesh Haridas – The ‘Lost’ Morton Inhaler

Our final speaker was Dr Rajesh Haridas who spoke on the Morton inhaler that was allegedly lost during the 1840s. So the first anaesthetic publicly administered was by this guy called William Morton – just so you know. After seeing a ‘replica’ in the archives of the Massachusetts General Hospital, Haridas exmained it in more depth discovering it was actually the original.

This was a great talk on how important it is to scrutinise the evidence.


I am so relieved today was successful and I cannot wait to hear back from the participants on their experience. To evaluate the seminar, I will be distributing a questionairre and hopefully will gain some further insight into what worked well and what could be improved on.

Now that the event is over, I can finally start focusing on the History of Medicine Conference coming up on the 12th of July in Melbourne. My talk will be revising the history of anaesthesia to include women and their stories!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the seminar!

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