Conference Summary

Today was the final day for the International Symposium on the History of Anaesthesia here in Boston. Luckily, the program for this year contained a few talks on museums from around the world. We heard from Directors, Curators and Honoray Curators who were representing museums in Wales, Germany, America and Australia to name a few. I am going to summarise and comment on three of my favourite talks from the conference. These were all relating to museums (no surprise) and really highlighted the passion that can be found in this industry. They will be discussed in order of when they were presented.

Just quickly, I was very happy with how my talk on applying historical methodologies to the history was received!

1. Museuming: Things Museums Should Be Doing – Monica Cronin

Day one started with a powerful presentation on the world of museums and how they should be managed/regarded. Monica Cronin from the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History quite literally left the audience speechless. For those who know a little about me, I completed my internship at this museum in 2015.

What I admired most about this talk was how museums were legitimised and presented as complex institutions. The value of a qualified and skilled museum professional was definitely stressed ensuring that listeners were not left ignorant of the extremely hard work and efforts that go into working in a museum. This talk generated much discussion and I strongly believe it left a lasting impression on the audience that attended.

I was particularly interested in hearing about the steps involved in accreditation and what that meant for the museum. As Cronin stated, the average length of time it takes to accredit a museum is three years. That’s three years of incredibly hard work, ensuring policies are either produced or up to date. Also this means applying industry standards not only in the public space, but also, behind the scenes. The Geoffrey Kaye Museum has benefitted greatly from accreditation raising its profile in the museum industry and ensuring best practice is at the forefront.

The significance of the research undertaken by the Curator, Cronin, was highlighted in another talk, “Where Are All the Women? Exploring the Seemingly Invisible History of Women in Anaesthesia.” This talk was a fantastic insight into the role of research in the museum and how museums/Curators can share often neglected histories to wider audiences.

2. The Exhibitions of the Industrial Revolution and Their Impact on Anaesthesia – Dr Christine Ball

I have mentioned before that the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition of 1851 follows me wherever I go. This conference was no exception. Dr Christine Ball was able to find evidence of anaesthetic equipment on display at a whole range of international exhibitions.

The presentation began with a contextualisation of the exhibitions that was both informative and entertaining. The first anaesthetics were used around the same time as these exhibitions so Dr Ball investigated the primary sources to see if the equipment appeared anywhere on display. Through a close reading of the catalogues and an understanding of the display categories at these exhibitions, this evidence was found and analysed.

The most admirable thing about this presentation was how Ball discovered exactly what was mentioned in the catalogues. Vague descriptions of equipment were often cited and Dr Ball was able to compare the catalogues to the equipment of the era and tell us what it was likely to be. This then opened the door for interesting insights into why certain equipment was displayed and how it was innovative or transformative to the discipline.

3. The Mushin Museum Renovation Project: Cardiff University Student Collaboration & Public Engagement and the Mushin Museum: A History of Anaesthesia Told Through the World Wars’ Event – Dr Danielle Huckle

There were two presentations delivered by Dr Danielle Huckle and I couldn’t just pick one. Both provided an amazing insight into the renovation and evolution of a medical museum. Dr Huckle was such an engaging speaker, introducing audiences to the history of the museum and how it is developing.

In her first talk, Dr Huckle spoke about student projects that have contributed to the museum in a variety of ways. The most exciting for me was the creation of education resources that can be sent to teachers and used to teach students within the museum space. It is incredible to think that high school students are learning with the support of objects from a medical collection!

Summer scholarships/internships were promoted to University students to assist with such programs. As part of their experience, they were sent to other museums such as the Hunterian to gain inspiration. I almost clapped in glee that this happened. Interestingly, all students had a medical background. There is a museum studies program at Cardiff University and I would encourage any of these students to apply and transfer their skills and expertise! I took what seemed like a gamble at the time to intern at a medical museum and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

Dr Huckle’s final talk was more focused on how the museum has reached out to the public. There were so many genuinely exciting things discussed. For example, having a fine arts student come in and sketch some of the equipment. They produced a portfolio of stunning drawings that can now be used as visuals in the museum.

For World War I commemorations, the museum ran a workshop with talks and two simulations. The museum is located inside Cardiff University so they were able to use dummy simulations to re-enact surgeries – fake blood included. What a great way to actually get audiences experiencing a snapshot of surgery in the past. Combined with the talks, the workshop sounds like it was a sensory experience.

As well as these talks there were representatives from the Wood Library Museum, the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre, the Japanese Museum of Anaesthesiology, the Crawford W. Long Museum and the Dräger Company Archives. It’s amazing to see the cultural heritage of this profession being used for a vast array of purposes. It’s a testament to how the history of anaesthesia is a story worth telling and one that truly benefits from collaboration between different professionals.

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