From the Cabinet of Wonders to the Popular Anatomical Museum: Regimes of Exhibition and Material Culture of Medicine

The project aims to study several scientific collections based primarily on human remains or its representations in various media, which were created, processed and displayed in the cities of Madrid and Barcelona over an extended period from the seventeenth century to the first third of the twentieth century with the ultimate aim of contributing to a urban history of science in modern and contemporary Spain. The objects of research in this work are the following collections of objects: a cabinet of natural history (Barcelona); two university museums settled in two 19th Century faculties of medicine (Barcelona and Madrid); an international exhibition (Madrid); a museum of natural sciences (Barcelona); and two companies of spectacle and sideshow (Barcelona and Madrid).

The research raises the need to overcome the old and powerful narrative still used in the historiography of museums. An interpretation that strongly claims and considers the evolution of museums in the context of modern science and the new bourgeois culture by following a linear and relatively simplistic scheme that goes from the cabinets of curiosities or wonders (an exhibition space par excellence of its scientific materials, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment) to the museums themselves that arose from nation-states throughout the nineteenth century. On the contrary, the project is proposed to put at the forefront the importance of public display (restricted or general) as a means of acquiring knowledge and therefore is interested in the development of a material culture of medicine that is forged from different regimes of exhibition, which were not replaced linear and orderly one another, but were developed with different rhythms, often coinciding or overlapping in time and in varied and plural specific areas that marked the relationship between exhibitors, things displayed and the audience attending those exhibition spaces.

Thus, the research is aimed at understanding how objects displayed acquired centrality in the construction of explanations regarding the scientific and medical discourse. We are interested, therefore, in the spaces and uses granted to those objects. So these are the agents who built collections (context of production), and the exhibition regimes of production, the purposes of their use (teaching, disciplining, leisure, etc.) (context of display). We will pay attention as well to the look of those who observed, interpreted and appropriated, adapted and giving them meaning (context of reception).

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