Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Cultures of Collecting: The Leiden Anatomical Collections in Context

The general aim of the project is a description and analysis of the Leiden anatomical collections from a humanities perspective. The project investigates how historical and cultural practices and concerns have shaped anatomical preparations and how exhibitions of the anatomical body have informed cultural imagery of the body.

Robert Zwijnenberg

The programme consists of three interrelated (art- and medical) historical projects investigating the cultural and academic embedding of the collections. Moreover, on a meta- level the synthesising project analyses the dynamics of anatomical collections as public history. Since anatomical collections are today increasingly viewed not only as a specialists’ affair but also as cultural heritage relevant to the public at large, the anatomical past must be taken into consideration. It does not do to dismiss public interest in the anatomical body as mere ‘popularisation’ or ‘entertainment’, but it is necessary to develop new positions on the relationships between academic anatomy and public interest in the body. 

This will (a) importantly contribute to a better understanding of today’s tensions accompanying the public display of human remains and (b) help with the practical question of how to exhibit the anatomical past in today’s museum.

Column by Rina Knoeff in Times Higher Education

Following the Leiden Declaration on Human Anatomy/Anatomical Collections, Rina Knoeff has published a column on the future of historical medical collections in Times Higher Education.

Rina Knoeff publishes entry in European History Online

The Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG) has included an entry by Rina Knoeff on Dutch Anatomy and Clinical Medicine in 17th-Century Europe. The entry can be found in the European History Online (EGO).

Kennislink article

Dutch science website Kennislink has published an article on Marieke Hendriksen's research project.

University newspaper article on project Marieke Hendriksen

On 14 June, Mare, the Leiden University newspaper, published an article on Marieke Hendriksen's research project. The article (in Dutch) describes Hendriksen's findings about eighteenth-century Leiden anatomist B.S. Albinus' preparations.

Marieke Hendriksen on Bessensap radio

On 4 June 2012, Marieke Hendriksen presented her research to journalists at Bessensap, NWO's (the Dutch research council) yearly press-meets-researchers event. She was awarded 9 out of 10 points by a jury of science journalists, winning her an interview with Dutch science radio programme Hoe?Zo!. You can listen to the interview via this link.

Cultures of Anatomical Collections: International conference, Leiden University, 15 – 17 February 2012

The conference ‘Cultures of Anatomical Collections’ will explored anatomical preparations and collections (preparations of human material as well as wax and other models) as important parts of cultural heritage. This means that we treat them in a similar way as we would examine other historical artifacts stored in today’s museum. Although the history of anatomy and anatomical illustrations has been a popular topic in the history of medicine during the last decade, the history of its material remains has been somewhat neglected. And yet, in particular when taking into account recent historiographies of materiality and medical practices, it offers challenging interdisciplinary questions on the history of anatomy as a whole. The conference addressed questions such as: How do the technical details of anatomical preparations tell us about the ideas of their maker; how do ideas on beauty and perfection shape preparations; how were preparations handled and used for teaching purposes: how does the interest of non-medical audiences shape anatomical preparations? On collections as a whole we can ask: How are particular collections build up; how do decisions of curators affect the build-up of collections; how does the housing of a collection affect its outlook and popularity? Keynote Lectures: Andrew Cunningham, Ruth Richardson, Anita Guerrini, Sam Alberti, Simon Chaplin and Anna Maerker. Organisers: Rina Knoeff, Marieke Hendriksen, Hieke Huistra. Conference proceedings will be published in 2013.

Hieke Huistra presented paper at conference "Discipline Formation and the Universities", 24 August 2010

On Tuesday 24 August 2010, Hieke Huistra presented a paper entitled "Right time, wrong place: collections and the institutionalisation of comparative anatomy at Leiden University." at the conference Discipline Formation and the Universities, organized by the Descartes Centre at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. The two day (24-25 August) conference was held simultaneously to the International Committee of Historical Sciences congres in Amsterdam.

Marieke Hendriksen presented paper at conference 'The Body on Display'

On July 6th, Marieke Hendriksen presented a well received paper entitled "The Aesthetics of Eighteenth-Century Anatomy: the Anatomical Illustrations of Petrus Camper (1722-1789) and William Hunter (1718-1782)" at the conference The Body on Display from Renaissance to Enlightenment, held at Durham University, UK, July 6-7 2010. The conference was very well-organized by three graduate students, and over thirty PhD candidates, postdoctoral researchers and professors from the UK, Europe, the USA and Australia participated.

On 19 March, Hieke Huistra presented a paper at a symposium on the public use of Dutch nineteenth-century collections.

On Thursday 11 March 2010, Hieke Huistra presented a paper at a symposium on the public use of Dutch nineteenth-century collections. The symposium took place in Teyler's Museum in Haarlem. Eight speakers discussed different types of specialised collections; including collections of art, history, anatomy, natural history and physics. The aim was to discover similarities and differences in the development of these collections. Tony Bennett's The birth of the museum served as a starting point for the discussion. More information and a detailed programme can be found here (in Dutch).

Cultures of Collecting Specialist Workshop

From 5 to 7 November 2009, the Cultures of Collecting project organized a specialist workshop. We discussed the progress of the project with a number of our academic advisors and some additional guests in the historic surroundings of the Gravensteen. The workshop started on Thursday afternoon with a Salon Boerhaave lecture by professor Harold Cook, writer of Matters of Exchange - Commerce Medicine and Science in the Dutch Golden Age (Yale University Press, 2007). On Friday we continued the workshop with a number of papers and presentations and a visit to the Leiden anatomical collections at the LUMC. The last day of the workshop, Saturday, brought more papers and final comments and was closed of with lunch. The workshop was very stimulating, thanks to our guests and their contributions. We look forward to meeting them again in the future.

SPNHC 'Cultures of Collecting' presented at SPNHC

On Friday 10 July 2009, Hieke Huistra and Marieke Hendriksen, both PhD candidates with the 'Cultures of Collecting' project, chaired an expert discussion at the international 'Bridging Continents' conference hosted by the Society for the Protection of Natural History Collections (SPNHC). Moreover, they presented the first results of their research at this conference. For more information click check the conference website.

'Cultures of Collecting' presented at Woudschoten Conference

On Friday 26 June 2009, Hieke Huistra and Marieke Hendriksen, both PhD candidates with the 'Cultures of Collecting' project, presented the first results of their research at the third Woudschoten Conference.

Rina Knoeff presents paper at 'Blood, Sweat and Tears' colloquium

On Friday 17 April 2009, Rina Knoeff, postdoc in the 'Cultures of Collecting' project, has presented a paper entitled ‘New Wine in Old Bottles. Herman Boerhaave’s Neurology and the Unchanging Nature of Physiology’ at the colloquium 'Blood, Sweat and Tears' in Wassenaar.

Marieke Hendriksen presents paper at 'Perfection et perfectionnement du corps' conference

On Monday 5 January 2009, Marieke Hendriksen, PhD candidate with the 'Cultures of Collecting' project has presented a paper entitled 'The role of perfection in the working relationship of Bernard Siegried Albinus (1697-1770) and Jan Wandelaar (1692-1759)' at the conference 'Perfection et Perfectionnement du Corps' at the Université Lyon 1. Later this year, a French translation of the paper will appear in the Alliage journal.

'Cultures of Collecting' starts officially

On 19 November 2009, the 'Cultures of Collecting' project was officially presented at the Leiden Anatomical Museum. After presentations of the subprojects, the guests were given a tour through the anatomical museum. Afterwards, the opening of the project was celebrated with coffee and cake.

The Leiden Declaration on Human Anatomy / Anatomical Collections is the outcome of a recent conference in Leiden on the history of anatomical collections and results from the worries all the conference participants seemed to share concerning the fate of many anatomical collections worldwide. Without denying that in many institutions anatomical collections are well cared for, we are also aware of many collections kept in appalling circumstances: bone collections stored in sea containers, preparations kept inappropriately in un-acclimatized cellars and attics, wax preparations abandoned to attics where temperatures reach to over 50 degrees Celsius, insecure storage, pots not topped up, provenances lost. 

Particularly in times of financial crisis and the strain this puts on academic funding for staff time to sustain the conservation, adequate storage and good preservation of collections, it is important to reinforce oversight of our academic and anatomical heritage. The Leiden Declaration addresses the great importance of good custodianship of anatomical collections. It is our sincere hope that it will help initiate discussion and actions concerning the care of this important part of our international academic and medical heritage.

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