Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Behold the Terrible Power of Alternating Electricity!" Thomas Alva Edison, 1903

I just listened to this wonderful audio show about forgotten visionary scientist Nikola Tesla on Studio 360. (Well, perhaps it is not quite fair to say "forgotten" when he has been immortalized by the band Tesla and Tesla Girls by OMD...)

One segment of the show details the battle between Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla regarding direct (AC) vs alternating (DC) (yes--AC/DC!) methods of conducting electricity. Edison, in order to sway the public against Tesla's superior (much safer, better light, exponentially faster ) form of electricity hired representatives to travel to state and county fairs where they would publicly electrocute cats, dogs, horses, chickens, and in one famous incident at Luna Park, an elephant, while saying, "Behold the terrible power of alternating electricity!" Of course, they never mentioned that Edison's proposed DC current would electrocute them just as dead...

Listen to the whole story here. Read more about the elephant electrocution here. and watch it on video above.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New York Times Review of new Wellcome Center

From the New York Times' Museum Review "One Man's Jigsaw Puzzle, Capturing an Odd World" by Edward Rothstein:
...the display cases provide an almost visceral impression of the variety of human preoccupations with the body, its ailments, its pleasures and its trials. It is too bad that the museum could not display thousands of these pieces, because quantity really is as important as selectivity, and repetition as crucial as variation. A vast yearning can be sensed in them, an attempt to comprehend birth, master death and confront human frailty. It is not the history of medicine that is on display; it is the enterprise of medicine in its largest sense. The art of healing merges with the art of living and dying. Science and religion are intertwined.

Read whole article, which details the history of the collection and the institution here. Check out the Wellcome Center Website here.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kircher Society Essential Library of Automata

An encyclopedic list of books on the history, art, and science of the automaton compiled by Dug North, Kircher Society Resident Automatist and the author of The Automata/Automaton Blog. Check out the list here. Find out more about the art and history of automata here, here, and here.

Above video of automaton from the Automatomania website. Description of video, from YouTube: "A late 19th century stage automaton, designed to be driven by a hand crank from under the stage. She is larger than life. Made of Papier Mache, she moves her eyes, eyelids, head turn and nod, heaving chest, bend at waist, cross legs, both arms and right wrist."

Mütter Musuem Interior, c.1890

Photograph taken at the college's previous location at Thirteenth and Locust Streets. From a postcard purchased at the Mutter Museum Giftshop.

Friday, January 25, 2008

"Royal College of Surgeons, Court of Examiners," Henry Jamyn Brooks, 1894

From a Hunterian Museum postcard sent to me by my good friendEric Huang. (Click on the image to see a much larger version--its worth it. This image has many wonderful details not evident at this small size.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Digital Cabinet of Curiosities Compendium

An idiosyncratic collection of wonders, on a blog called "Walking the Berkshires."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mütter Museum Directorship Job Opening

As "AH" of the lovely Illusory Confections blog pointed out, the search is on for a new director of the Mütter Museum. Whoever gets the job will have big shoes to fill, for Gretchen Worden, the former director, was an amazing figure who shepherded the Mütter from a rarely visited professional museum to its current glory, and all with wit and charm.

Check out the job posting here. And, if a directorship seems like just a little too much, there is also an opening for receptionist/museum associate, information at same link.

All photographs taken at the Mütter Museum.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Future of Science is...Art?

Science needs the arts. We need to find a place for the artist within the experimental process, to rediscover what Bohr observed when he looked at those cubist paintings. The current constraints of science make it clear that the breach between our two cultures is not merely an academic problem that stifles conversation at cocktail parties. Rather, it is a practical problem, and it holds back science's theories. If we want answers to our most essential questions, then we will need to bridge our cultural divide. By heeding the wisdom of the arts, science can gain the kinds of new insights and perspectives that are the seeds of scientific progress.

From a very interesting article in the current issue of Seed Magazine called The Future of Science is...Art? In the piece, the author proposes the development of a new scientific method in which science and the arts work intimately together; where every science department has a resident artist to inspire the scientists with their intuitive truths and to make tangible the scientists findings, and where subjective modes of "truth finding" are used to supplement traditionally accepted scientific ones.

Read the whole article here.

Image by Ernst Haeckel, the patron saint of all things art/science.

National Museum of Health and Medicine on Flickr, too! And they want your help.

Truly an exciting day for public domain imagery! I thought LOC on Flickr was amazing. But now Babara Mathé sent me THIS:
The National Museum of Health and Medicine has been uploading pictures to Flickr since September 2006. We've transcribed, of course, all information that we have for each picture, but have also been posting some for which we have relatively little information, such as LC is doing, with the hope that a Flickr user will recognize them and be able to tell us more.

We've been uploading the hard way, mostly one picture at a time, choosing from among the several hundred thousand we've been digitizing over the last three years. Until that database goes live, this is our way of sharing our favorite photos from our many collections.

You can see our photos at:,, and

This is my favorite link: "Favorites of the Archive Staff;" All images here taken from that image set. Many more gems to be found there, as at all the links. I encourage you to check them out for yourself.

Library of Congress on Flickr!

The Library of Congress has really put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the notion of "public domain." In a landmark partnership, The Library of Congress has teamed up with the popular image sharing/networking website Flickr, posting over 3,000 photos from two of their most popular collections: "1930-40s in color" and "News in the 1910s." Best of all, they have only posted images with no known copyright restrictions. So, as well as I can understand, this means they are available for use.

The photo here is from the "1930-40s in color" collection, Vermont State Fair, September 1941. But check out the whole collection! Let's hope they continue on with the trend and add more photographs, and that other institutions follow suit!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Skulls, Paul Sano, Stereo Autochrome, 1912

An intriguing early photo (where was this photo taken? Anyone have any guesses?) Found on Early Visual Media, one of my favorite websites.

"A Morbid Medical Museum"

Article in The Daily Free Press about The Warren Anatomical Museum in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Famous for its possession of the skull and life mask of Phineas Gage (see above images, top image from Cabinet of Art and Medicine.) Looks to be open to the public, too--something I had long been unsure of. Read more here, and find out more about the museum here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ophelia, Odilon Redon, C.1900-1905

Just came a across this wonderful rendition of the much-painted Ophelia, in the book Die Couch: Vom Denken Im Liegen

Friday, January 11, 2008

Call for papers for the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences

This call for papers just in from James Edmonson. It looks like it will be a popularly interesting conference, focusing on medical models and other human simulacra held and exhibited in medical museums. Full description below. Not sure when papers are due, will inquire and add to post. Please distribute this to any interested parties.

Call for Papers
The 14th Congress of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences, 17 – 21 September 2008
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

The Body: Simulacra and Simulation: models, interventions, and prosthetics.
Models in wax or plastic, wood or metal, plaster or papier-mâché are held in almost every medical museum in the world; while the development of surgical interventions and prosthetics has also led to a range of materials being used to replicate and imitate external and internal parts and movements of the body. Congress 2008 will explore aspects of the use, culture, history, art and manufacture of models, surgical interventions and prosthetics. It is hoped that the conference will be the catalyst for the development of a European-wide electronic catalogue of models and prosthetics held in medical collections.

Keynote speakers for the Congress include Thomas Söderqvist (Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen) and Ken Arnold (Head of Public Programmes, Wellcome Trust).

Association Européenne des Musées d'Histoire des Sciences Médicales /European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences

Submit proposed papers to:
Dawn Kemp, Director of Heritage
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
Nicolson Street Edinburgh EH8 9DW Scotland UK
Tel: 0131 - 527 - 1649 Fax: 0131 - 557 - 6406

First image from The Mutter Museum, the second one is from the National Museum of Health and Medicine, and the third is from the Pathologisch-Anatomisches Bundesmuseum in Vienna.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Interesting Anatomical Grafitti

Seen in Soho, NYC.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Death and The Civil War

On NPR's Fresh Air today, Historian Drew Gilpin Faust will talk about her new book, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.

This looks to be a fascinating book about changing ideas and cultures of death in America in response to the Civil War and its atrocities, made viscerally visible to the nation through the new technology of photography via the work of individuals such as Mathew Brady. Here is a small portion of an excerpt from the WNYC homepage:

Mortality defines the human condition. "We all have our dead—we all have our Graves," a Confederate Episcopal bishop observed in an 1862 sermon. Every era, he explained, must confront "like miseries"; every age must search for "like consolation." Yet death has its discontinuities as well. Men and women approach death in ways shaped by history, by culture, by conditions that vary over time and across space. Even though "we all have our dead," and even though we all die, we do so differently from generation to generation and from place to place.

Civil War Americans often wrote about what they called "the work of death," meaning the duties of soldiers to fight, kill, and die...Of all living things, only humans consciously anticipate death; the consequent need to choose how to behave in its face—to worry about how to die—distinguishes us from other animals. The need to manage death is the particular lot of humanity.7 It is work to deal with the dead as well, to remove them in the literal sense of disposing of their bodies, and it is also work to remove them in a more figurative sense. The bereaved struggle to separate themselves from the dead through ritual and mourning. Families and communities must repair the rent in the domestic and social fabric, and societies, nations, and cultures must work to understand and explain unfathomable loss.

This is a book about the work of death in the American Civil War. It seeks to describe how between 1861 and 1865—and into the decades that followed—Americans undertook a kind of work that history has not adequately understood or recognized. Human beings are rarely simply passive victims of death. They are actors even if they are the diers; they prepare for death, imagine it, risk it, endure it, seek to understand it. And if they are survivors, they must assume new identities established by their persistence in face of others' annihilation.

Read whole excerpt and listen to the interview here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Conjoined Twins Online Exhibition

From a wonderful online exhibition entitled "From 'Monsters' to Modern Medical Miracles: Selected Moments in the History of Conjoined Twins from Medieval to Modern Times," on the National Library of Medicine website. Via Hugo Strikes Back!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Wonderful Depiction of a Popular Anatomical Museum, 1913

Caption reads: "A. Friedländer, Plakat für ein anatomisches Museum, Hamburg, 1913, Münchner Stadtmuseum, Puppentheatremuseum." From the wonderful book Ebenbilder. Kopien von Körpen - Modelle des Menschen (translated by Babelfish as "Images. Copies of bodies - models of humans.")

Image and details, scanned from the book. Recent posts on similar topic here, here, and here.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Contemporary Post-Mortem Photography

A Colorado nonprofit organization has revived a grieving custom widely practiced in the nineteenth century, particularly in Britain and the United States: the making of photographic portraits of the dead, or "memento mori."

Read whole story on The Victorain Peeper. Make sure to check out the excellent links to 19th Century post-mortem photograph collections (from which these images were drawn) as well.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Shannon Rankin, 21st Century

Discovered this interesting artist, working with map and anatomical tropes, via a favorite blog, Street Anatomy.