Embracing Digital History: How Medicine Became Modern

It’s #FutureMW for Museum Week! Where do we hope to go in the future? The Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, in collaboration with design partners and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, presents: How Medicine Became Modern, an innovative new way to explore the artifacts, people, and stories behind the great innovations of our age!

What was it like to be sick 50 years ago? 150 years ago?
What medical innovations most changed American lives?
How did Cleveland rise to importance as a medical city?
In other words:
How did we get here?

Museums nationally and internationally are reaching new audiences—while retaining and engaging present ones—through the medium of digital technology. The Philadelphia Museum of Art presented inter-actives for Treasures of Korea; the Field Museum of Chicago showcased a 3D exhibit about Tyrannosaurus bones; the British Museum of London installed 3D touch-activated Explorer Tables allowing virtual autopsy of a mummy. More locally, the Cleveland Museum of Art opened the award-winning Gallery One.

Now, the Dittrick Museum embarks on a project to make history come to life through a 10ft by 4ft interactive digital wall–a place where visitors can “handle” artifacts (rotating BC-Logo_LGand zooming), and more importantly, a place to engage with the human stories behind them. Partnering with Zenith Systems and Bluecadet, and supported by NEH’s Museums Libraries & Cultural Organizations grant, How Medicine Became Modern will go live in 2017!

Exhibit Details:

  • 6Free-standing 10ftx4ft wall in the main gallery
  • Ability to zoom, rotate, interact with artifacts
  • Links to the stories behind artifacts/Access to interactive game-play
  • Four lenses into medical history:

HMBM

 Want to hear more?

How would something like this work? Why would a museum want to take part in digital mediums? The 225th anniversary of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Historical Medical Library (also the parent body of the Mütter Museum) asked these very questions in 2013. The answer? Museums and libraries must see new ways of engaging the public–and of building community. As I say in an essay for H-Sci-Med-Tech, History—far from being lost in the past—is by these means coming out to meet new friends. The story of medicine’s past offers something valuable to medicine’s future, a new way of interfacing between worlds that is both physical and digital, then and now. We enter the story through these public spaces, and through digital mediums, medical collections around the world are beginning to reach beyond them as well. What we see is a convergence of exhibit, interaction, and digital outreach.


A Practical Example from the Project:

L0057592 Fowler's phrenological head, Staffordshire, England, 1879-18 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Lorenzo Niles Fowler’s (1811-96) detailed system of phrenology is shown on this phrenological head. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. For instance, the area under the right eye relates to language and verbal memory; the desire for foods and liquids was thought to be located in front of the right ear. Fowler’s system, based on his thirty years of research throughout the world, was just one of many. He was an American phrenologist who led a revival in phrenology after its decline in the 1850s. In 1860, Fowler emigrated with his family to the United Kingdom and set upon an ambitious lecture tour. In 1887, Fowler set up the British Phrenological Society, which finally disbanded in 1967. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Staffordshire, England, United Kingdom made: 1879-1896 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Fowler’s phrenological head, Staffordshire, England, 1879-18
 Science Museum, London.

The history of medicine offers much more than static displays or old tech. Each object, from a cast of Joseph Lister’s hand to a full-scale working x-ray machine, tells a tale of personal tragedy and triumph, of success and failure, of hopes and dreams.

Take, for instance, the phrenology bust. Sleek, smooth–replicas are attractive enough to show up on end-tables and mantle pieces. But what’s the story? It’s about Diagnosing by the Bump!

Franz-Joseph Gall (1758-1828), proposed that different functions, such as memory, language, emotion, and ability, were situated in specific “organs” of the brain. These portions of the brain would grow or shrink with use, and the changes would appear as bumps or depressions on the skull. Called Phrenology, the practice of “reading” the bumps supposedly allowed a practitioner to assess different abilities and personality traits. Does that make sense? What might our own phrenological assessment look like? The digital display allows the viewer to see a chart with interactive sections of the brain. Why not do your own “reading”?

William Cowper. 1737. The anatomy of humane bodies
William Cowper. 1737. The anatomy of humane bodies

But that’s not the only story. Phrenology resonated with the American Dream. Johann Kaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) arrived to begin a speaking tour, and found a very willing audience. Why? It fit the “American Dream” idea of rising from nothing, emphasizing the ability to train the mind and attain social mobility. In other words, despite the bumps you were born with, we could all get better, a kind of rags-to-riches idea very popular even today. One of Cleveland’s own doctors had his “head examined”—Jared Potter Kirtland. On the other hand, phrenology and it’s sister pseudoscience physiognomy had a dark side; they privileged one race, one class, and one sex. Not exactly a “dream” of equality. (And for the record, Kirtland did not apparently agree with the reading; the booklet has his marginal notes!) The digital display offers the visitor a window in time; they can see the images and texts (and hand written notes!) while learning about larger ethical dilemmas.

Phrenology was later abandoned and its practitioners were attacked as charlatans and fakes. Even so, phrenology helped to move psychological understanding forward in two important ways: 1. it suggested that different parts of the brain did different things and 2. It demonstrated that individual effort could be just as, if not more, important than biological inheritance. The take-away? Through digital means, the visitor doesn’t just see the bust in a cabinet. Instead, he or she can look at it closely, from all angles, and then walk through time.

Johann Heinrich Oesterreicher. 1879. Atlas of human anatomy
Johann Heinrich Oesterreicher. 1879. Atlas of human anatomy

Better yet, the visitor can walk through the body—through anatomies and flip books of fugitive sheets (where each layer reveals more of the anatomy underneath). So much of our fragile history remains out of reach for visitors–but digital humanities/history projects can do much more than show the item itself. It can open up that artifact as a window into another time, another place.

We look forward with great anticipation to bringing this digital history/digital humanities project to life–the human story behind medical history: “How Medicine Became Modern.”

ABOUT THE BLOGGER
Brandy Schillace, PhD, works as Research Associate and Public Engagement Fellow for Dittrick Museum. She is also a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer, lecturer, blogger, and the managing editor of a medical anthropology journal, Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. View her recent TEDx talk on the history of medicine and “steampunk,” featuring artifacts from the museum!

Embracing Digital History: How Medicine Became Modern

Brandy L. Schillace

What was it like to be sick 50 years ago? 150 years ago?
What medical innovations most changed American lives?
How did Cleveland rise to importance as a medical city?
In other words:
How did we get here?

The Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, in collaboration with design partners and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, presents: How Medicine Became Modern, an innovative new way to explore the artifacts, people, and stories behind the great innovations of our age!

Museums nationally and internationally are reaching new audiences—while retaining and engaging present ones—through the medium of digital technology. The Philadelphia Museum of Art presented inter-actives for Treasures of Korea; the Field Museum of Chicago showcased a 3D exhibit about Tyrannosaurus bones; the British Museum of London installed 3D touch-activated Explorer Tables allowing virtual autopsy of a mummy. More locally, the Cleveland Museum of Art opened the award-winning Gallery One.

Now, the Dittrick Museum embarks on a project to make history come to life through a 10ft by 4ft interactive digital wall–a place where visitors can “handle” artifacts (rotating BC-Logo_LGand zooming), and more importantly, a place to engage with the human stories behind them. Partnering with Zenith Systems and Bluecadet, and supported by NEH’s Museums Libraries & Cultural Organizations grant, How Medicine Became Modern will go live in 2017!

Exhibit Details:

  • 6Free-standing 10ftx4ft wall in the main gallery
  • Ability to zoom, rotate, interact with artifacts
  • Links to the stories behind artifacts/Access to interactive game-play
  • Four lenses into medical history:

HMBM

 Want to hear more?

How would something like this work? Why would a museum want to take part in digital mediums? The 225th anniversary of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Historical Medical Library (also the parent body of the Mütter Museum) asked these very questions in 2013. The answer? Museums and libraries must see new ways of engaging the public–and of building community. As I say in an essay for H-Sci-Med-Tech, History—far from being lost in the past—is by these means coming out to meet new friends. The story of medicine’s past offers something valuable to medicine’s future, a new way of interfacing between worlds that is both physical and digital, then and now. We enter the story through these public spaces, and through digital mediums, medical collections around the world are beginning to reach beyond them as well. What we see is a convergence of exhibit, interaction, and digital outreach.


A Practical Example from the Project:

L0057592 Fowler's phrenological head, Staffordshire, England, 1879-18 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Lorenzo Niles Fowler’s (1811-96) detailed system of phrenology is shown on this phrenological head. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. For instance, the area under the right eye relates to language and verbal memory; the desire for foods and liquids was thought to be located in front of the right ear.  Fowler’s system, based on his thirty years of research throughout the world, was just one of many. He was an American phrenologist who led a revival in phrenology after its decline in the 1850s. In 1860, Fowler emigrated with his family to the United Kingdom and set upon an ambitious lecture tour. In 1887, Fowler set up the British Phrenological Society, which finally disbanded in 1967. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Staffordshire, England, United Kingdom made: 1879-1896 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Fowler’s phrenological head, Staffordshire, England, 1879-18
 Science Museum, London.

The history of medicine offers much more than static displays or old tech. Each object, from a cast of Joseph Lister’s hand to a full-scale working x-ray machine, tells a tale of personal tragedy and triumph, of success and failure, of hopes and dreams.

Take, for instance, the phrenology bust. Sleek, smooth–replicas are attractive enough to show up on end-tables and mantle pieces. But what’s the story? It’s about Diagnosing by the Bump!

Franz-Joseph Gall (1758-1828), proposed that different functions, such as memory, language, emotion, and ability, were situated in specific “organs” of the brain. These portions of the brain would grow or shrink with use, and the changes would appear as bumps or depressions on the skull. Called Phrenology, the practice of “reading” the bumps supposedly allowed a practitioner to assess different abilities and personality traits. Does that make sense? What might our own phrenological assessment look like? The digital display allows the viewer to see a chart with interactive sections of the brain. Why not do your own “reading”?

William Cowper. 1737. The anatomy of humane bodies
William Cowper. 1737. The anatomy of humane bodies

But that’s not the only story. Phrenology resonated with the American Dream. Johann Kaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) arrived to begin a speaking tour, and found a very willing audience. Why? It fit the “American Dream” idea of rising from nothing, emphasizing the ability to train the mind and attain social mobility. In other words, despite the bumps you were born with, we could all get better, a kind of rags-to-riches idea very popular even today. One of Cleveland’s own doctors had his “head examined”—Jared Potter Kirtland. On the other hand, phrenology and it’s sister pseudoscience physiognomy had a dark side; they privileged one race, one class, and one sex. Not exactly a “dream” of equality. (And for the record, Kirtland did not apparently agree with the reading; the booklet has his marginal notes!) The digital display offers the visitor a window in time; they can see the images and texts (and hand written notes!) while learning about larger ethical dilemmas.

Phrenology was later abandoned and its practitioners were attacked as charlatans and fakes. Even so, phrenology helped to move psychological understanding forward in two important ways: 1. it suggested that different parts of the brain did different things and 2. It demonstrated that individual effort could be just as, if not more, important than biological inheritance. The take-away? Through digital means, the visitor doesn’t just see the bust in a cabinet. Instead, he or she can look at it closely, from all angles, and then walk through time.

Johann Heinrich Oesterreicher. 1879. Atlas of human anatomy
Johann Heinrich Oesterreicher. 1879. Atlas of human anatomy

Better yet, the visitor can walk through the body—through anatomies and flip books of fugitive sheets (where each layer reveals more of the anatomy underneath). So much of our fragile history remains out of reach for visitors–but digital humanities/history projects can do much more than show the item itself. It can open up that artifact as a window into another time, another place.

We look forward with great anticipation to bringing this digital history/digital humanities project to life–the human story behind medical history: “How Medicine Became Modern.”

ABOUT THE BLOGGER
Brandy Schillace, PhD, works as Research Associate and Public Engagement Fellow for Dittrick Museum. She is also a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer, lecturer, blogger, and the managing editor of a medical anthropology journal, Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. View her recent TEDx talk on the history of medicine and “steampunk,” featuring artifacts from the museum!

One Lump or Two? Phrenology Diagnosed by the Bump

L0057592 Fowler's phrenological head, Staffordshire, England, 1879-18 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Lorenzo Niles Fowler’s (1811-96) detailed system of phrenology is shown on this phrenological head. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. For instance, the area under the right eye relates to language and verbal memory; the desire for foods and liquids was thought to be located in front of the right ear.  Fowler’s system, based on his thirty years of research throughout the world, was just one of many. He was an American phrenologist who led a revival in phrenology after its decline in the 1850s. In 1860, Fowler emigrated with his family to the United Kingdom and set upon an ambitious lecture tour. In 1887, Fowler set up the British Phrenological Society, which finally disbanded in 1967. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Staffordshire, England, United Kingdom made: 1879-1896 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Diagnosing by the Bump

Franz-Joseph Gall (1758-1828), proposed that different functions, such as memory, language, emotion, and ability, were situated in specific “organs” of the brain. These portions of the brain would grow or shrink with use, and the changes would appear as bumps or depressions on the skull. Called Phrenology, the practice of “reading” the bumps supposedly allowed a practitioner to assess different abilities and personality traits. It’s a curious idea: what might our own phrenological assessment look like?

Phrenology and the American Dream

Sometimes, we see what we want to see… Americans were very receptive to phrenology when it arrived stateside in 1832. Johann Kaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) begin a speaking tour, and found a very willing audience. Why? Partly because it fit the “American Dream,” emphasizing the ability to train the mind and rise in society. In other words, despite the bumps you were born with, we could all get better, a kind of rags-to-riches idea very popular even today.

Having Your Head Examined

What does it take to be a phrenology expert? American brothers Lorenzo Niles Fowler (1811-1896) and Orson S. Fowler (1809-1887) made and marketed phrenology busts with the important “organs” of the brain mapped out. The Fowlers took the heads on the road in 1834, lecturing for free and examining heads for a fee. They even provided their “patients” with a 175 page manual for improving the brain!

“For thirty years I have studied the Crania and living heads from all parts of the world, and have found in every instance that there is a perfect correspondence between the conformation of the healthy skull of an individual and his known characteristics. To make my observations available I have prepared a Bust of superior form and marked the divisions of the Organs in accordance with my researches and varied experience.” L. N. Fowler.

CollyerHow right was the technique? Well, in Cleveland, Collyer did a reading for Jared Pottre Kirtland (a doctor). Collyer, an itinerant phrenologist in the late1830s, lectured in Cincinnati, where Kirtland was a professor at the Medical College of Ohio. Kirtland evidently attended a lecture by Collyer, followed by a private consultation. The results of this “reading” of Kirtland’s skull are found in a “Phrenologic analysis, showing a delineation of character,” pasted in the back of Collyer’s Manual of phrenology. In general, Kirtland felt that the reading gave accurate results, as indicated by his pencil notations throughout the book. For instance, Kirtland scored high on his ability to remember events (16+: “I recollect events that occurred at four years of age — every battle that Bonaparte fought after his Italian campaign”), but his retention of proper names was poor (6: “Remember the person but soon forget the name”). Of greater importance, Collyer rated Kirtland extremely high in his “love of approbation,” in his sense of “caution,” or carefulness, and in his degree of “conscientiousness.”

Democratic Medicine?

Phrenology was later labeled a “pseudoscience” and its practitioners were attacked as charlatans and fakes. Even so, phrenology helped to move psychological understanding forward in two important ways: 1. it suggested that different parts of the brain did different things and 2. It demonstrated that individual effort could be just as, if not more, important than biological inheritance. On one hand, such ideas had positive consequences: we have learned that different parts of the brain *do* have different tasks (though not the ones the phrenologists expected!) Separating ideas about nature and nurture as is pertained to education also had positive effects. However, phrenology, like physiognomy, frequently reinforced racial and gender stereotypes, privileging white men as superior.

How seriously did people take the “readings”? It has been compared to astrology–sometimes the pronouncements  made sense, sometimes they didn’t. Dr. Kirtland made notes in the margins of his copy of Collyer, suggesting that he, at least, wasn’t entirely sold on the idea!

[1] Collyer, Robert. Manual of phrenology, or, The physiology of the human brain : embracing a full description of the phrenological organs, their exact locations , and the peculiarities of character produced by their various degrees of development and combination. 1838.