Archival Imaginarium: Thinking Through Things project launch NNMHR Annual Congress, 23-24 January 2020, University of Sheffield.
Our Archival Imaginarium takes Wellcome’s digital collection as its starting point, asking how the digital encounter influences the way medical humanities research is conducted. Researchers frequently describe experiences of a collection through notions of chance, in ‘happening upon’ or ‘discovering’ items. However, the organisational framework placed on the material is masked through catalogues, hierarchies and search terms. This invisible framework limits and governs the stories told by implicitly shaping the responses that researchers then formulate.
Our provocations use Brian Eno’s (1975) ‘Oblique Strategies’ as a serendipitous model for engaging with Wellcome’s digital Collection and ask how we might reimagine the archival experience with chance as our guide. By displacing the organisational framework, there is the potential to expose choices, exclusions, and gaps that are inevitable, but often invisible, in any collection.
An interdisciplinary panel of ECRs have each created a response to the same object, ‘Combined knife and fork’ (1914-1918), chosen at random using an Oblique Strategy as a non-hierarchical digital collection search tool. Each provocation uses an Oblique Strategy as title and prompt, and draws upon the participant’s particular disciplinary expertise. This highlights the diversity of potential modes of experiencing and understanding the archival medical object, and suggesting ways in which these multiple modalities of approach might shape original perspectives on health and its associated concepts.
This panel event has been programmed as part of the NNMHR 2020 Annual Congress.
Thinking Through Things ECR training day
Wellcome Collection, London, 12 February 2020, 11-5
This training day, hosted by Wellcome Collection in collaboration with the project Thinking Through Things, is designed to provide ECRs with the skills necessary for working with objects, images and artworks for research, teaching or engagement in the medical humanities.
Designed to maximise interactivity between participants and objects, the day will include a conservator-led session on object-handling; practical training in catalogue use; the opportunity to meet Wellcome archivists and to engage with a selection of archival materials from the Collection; and short presentations from ECR academics who have previously worked with the Collection.
In addition to developing practical skills, the day will also seek to address a number of theoretical and methodological questions in relation to the Collection and beyond. How can objects, images and artworks be used as ‘things to think with’ (Turkle, 2011), feel with, and imagine with, in order to address health-related topics in original and innovative ways? What is the affective potential of the archival encounter in health-related research? What is gained by handling archival objects directly, rather than reading about them or encountering them through facsimile? How does an archive (re)contextualise an object, image or artwork? What does it mean to categorise an object as ‘art’, and what are the consequences of assembling an art collection around subject matter rather than ‘aesthetic’ or ‘cultural’ value?
This training day is aimed at ECRs from all disciplines interested in learning more about working with the objects, images and artworks held by Wellcome Collection. We welcome ECRs with existing experience of object-based scholarship, and those with little or no experience who feel that their research could benefit from this approach. We define the category of ECR broadly, from first-year PhD students to researchers up to ten years post-PhD who do not yet have a permanent academic job.
A number of bursaries are available to cover reasonable travel and accommodation expenses.
How to apply:
Due to the interactive nature of this workshop, places are limited. Please send *protected email* an expression of interest of up to 200 words outlining your work in the medical humanities to date, and your reasons for wanting to participate in the workshop. If you would like to be considered for a bursary, please mention this when submitting your expression of interest, and give an indication of costs.
Deadline for applications: Friday 20th December 2019.
We aim to respond to all expressions of interest by Friday 10th January 2020.
Object provocations workshop, Manchester University, summer 2020 (date tbc)
This workshop, which will be co-facilitated by Professor Allison Morehead (Queen’s University, Ontario), centres around the innovative use of object provocations. This format was recently pioneered by Professor Morehead at the workshop ‘Doing Medical Humanities with Art, Non-Art, Objects and Things’ (Oslo, June 2019), which utilised collection objects from the Munch Museum and the Norwegian Medical Museum in order to prompt interdisciplinary debate.
Our workshop will place artefacts from Wellcome Collection in dialogue with objects from Manchester University’s Museum of Health and Medicine. It will involve approximately 30 invited participants from a variety of disciplines and professional backgrounds, including early career researchers, artists and other creative practitioners, and museums and collections professionals (including archivists, conservators, curators) both from Wellcome and from regional organisations with links to the Northern Network. The mix of participants will be designed to disrupt traditional disciplinary boundaries and generate original approaches to new and familiar questions.
Participants will be assigned an object in advance of the workshop, and asked to consider how they might best provoke conversation about it. At the workshop, participants will be put into small interdisciplinary groups (e.g. a historian, an artist, a curator) of people who have been assigned the same thing, for a 90-minute discussion about how the group might best present their object in an interesting or provocative way to the other participants; this will be followed by group presentations of 20 minutes each. This format offers a productive method for eliciting interdisciplinary dialogue around how the meaning, relevance and histories of how medical objects are constructed, and allows for the intersection of creative responses with traditional academic research.
The remainder of the workshop will give ECRs and other practitioners the opportunity to present research-in-progress relating to aspects of the Collection. Academic papers, artist’s presentations and other non-traditional formats will all be given equal consideration.
This workshop offers a playful and creative approach to Wellcome Collection’s holdings. Enabling participants to step outside of their usual disciplinary comfort zones, it will produce genuinely interdisciplinary conversations, fresh perspectives on health-related objects, and a real sense of excitement about the Collection. The event will be documented via photographs, audio-recordings, podcasts, and interviews, with all participants encouraged to contribute to the project’s dedicated column on The Polyphony, the UK’s leading medical humanities web-platform, hosted by the Institute for Medical Humanities at Durham University.