Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Minders of the memory

We're inspired today to give a shout-out to our current favorite blog Biomedicine on Display and, in particular, the recent post on "Biomedical Memory", about the, shall we say, lack of historical awareness among many in biomedical fields. Readers are encouraged to challenge the standard "history" learned from casual conversations with colleagues and to do some digging of their own to form a truer picture of the past. One of the suggestions for boning up:
If you are very eager to excavate alternative biomedical memories you can also try one of the archival and museum institutions around the world that collect and keep documents (images, laboratory notebooks) and material objects from the history of biomedicine. There aren’t many of them, and it will cost you a substantial amount of money to travel to get access to their holdings. But you will be rewarded.
And here I really must protest: it's not always that hard! We do a huge amount of "e-reference" (meaning you email us and we email you back and information gets exchanged) and a lot of digitization-on-demand (meaning you can see the stuff, or a digital reproduction of it at least, right on your own computer!!). Sure, it might take us a while, but a little bit of delayed gratification never hurt anyone (I think: we may have an old case report on that in the archives...)

Here at OHSU, we are keenly aware of the need to collect materials from all corners of the health sciences, to collect as broadly as possible (within the scope of our mission, of course), and to represent all sides of a given issue. But we can only collect what donors offer, and so the Medical Museion's caution remains as important as ever:
Remember that not everything about the past is accessible. Much will remain silent for ever. There are most probably subjugated perspectives which are difficult to get hold of and marginalized positions which are never told ... Sometimes the gaps and absences are more interesting than that which is superficially present in the interview, on the printed page or in the archive.
History belongs to the depositors! Long live the archive!

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