What changes, endures

My first ever visit to the Pauls Stradiņš Medicine History Museum must have been a very similar experience to that of many other people in Latvia. It was a school tour. It was in the 80s of what is now known as ‘last century’, and we, students of Rēzekne Secondary School No. 5, went on a trip to Riga — making a stop at the Salaspils Memorial on our way, obviously, and then paying a visit to the Medicine History Museum. It was a powerful experience. Everything seemed so special: mysterious semi-darkness; panorama displays of historical scenes; life-size human figures that seemed almost alive. The museum building was pervaded by an air of mysticism. Inspired by my parents, I was dreaming of studying medicine, and the trip to the museum struck a chord with me. 

Over time, my path led me back to the museum every now and then — sometimes, not often, to visit a new exhibition, but mostly to attend an event hosted on the museum premises. 

Last summer, guided by the museum director Kaspars Vanags, I toured the permanent exhibition from one end to another; in addition to that, I enjoyed the rare opportunity to visit the storage space of the museum holdings, the office rooms where the museum employees work and the auxiliary rooms. Memories of my school time trip came back in a flash. There was this sense of being ‘in search of lost time’ — of time encapsulated in the display, the rooms and the concept. A paradoxical fusion intertwining the museum employees’ vocation, history, the impact of great personalities and also chronic poverty. And above everything else — a huge potential.

A museum of history — be it of medicine or art — does not necessarily have to be an old and outdated establishment. Quite the opposite: to speak to the younger generation about history today, you must be able to use a vocabulary and phrasing they understand. Medicine is perhaps one of the areas currently undergoing the most rapid and radical transformation, and these changes will go on. Medicine cannot be separated from health, a broader and more inclusive concept of health. The health of every person and the society as a whole depends not just on our treating each other responsibly but also on our respect for environment and nature generally. We all live in a single interdependent and fragile ecosystem. The moral dilemmas posed by the development of technologies demand that we attempt to find answers to fundamental questions regarding the value of life and situations where the principles of medicine are at odds with an individual’s freedom to make their own choices, their right of self-determination. These, too, are subjects that should be addressed by the museum. 

Museum as a fully fledged actor in the field of education, both for young people and adults — it is no longer even a choice; it has become a necessity. Museum in the digital medium — it is also a reality of this age, one we must prepare for and bring about. The iconic words of the Latvian poet Rainis — what changes, endures — are an apt description of the journey ahead for the Pauls Stradiņš Medicine History Museum. 

I wish the museum a wonderful, inclusive, historically perceptive process of transformation. May our children and grandchildren continue to enjoy their school trips to the museum and later come back again, already as grownups, with their own children and grandchildren, each new generation finding something particularly significant and interesting for themselves.

Published: January, 2021

Ilze Viņķele

Ilze Viņķele

Former Minister of Health of the Republic of Latvia


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