What happens to a museum focused on the history of a field that is currently in the epicentre of an emergency? How can a medical history museum be socially engaged, proactive and relevant when ‘history’ is reduced to an ever-turning 24-hour data cycle of pandemic statistics, on which the future is modelled? When conspiracy theories erode the authority of experts — is there sufficient immunity for a museum’s narratives about medicine?
The emergency situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted limitations in the performance of the Pauls Stradiņš Medicine History Museum. This has prompted us to carry out a health check of the Museum itself, as well as to find out what we mean by ‘health’ in this context. These issues will become central for the Museum’s 2021 public programme.
The 2021 programme will take place in a form of institutional self-criticism during a time of change. The global experience of the pandemic has brought a tension into social thinking on health-related issues. That is why it is crucial that medicine, as a science of nature and technology, recognizes the perspective of social history, anthropology and cultural theory. In the course of a public exchange of ideas, the entire history of the Museum’s operation will be reconsidered — the goals of its founding and the consequences of ideological distortions; the provenance of the collections and the social-political dimension of accumulating the Museum’s holdings; the traditions of exhibiting nourished during the last six decades; as well as the relationship dynamics with the existing and potential audience of the Museum.
For the whole year, the Museum will work as a multidisciplinary research laboratory, conducting a complete blood count and analysing its own future prospects. Maintaining vitality in the conditions of an ever-changing environment — to the Museum, as to any other organism, this means a constant ability to recover. And each instance of recovery tends to transform the understanding of what health actually is.