3 - Knox College

Exhibition Reviews
Nicholas J. Hoffman
History Museum at the Castle
Appleton, Wisconsin
doi: 10.1093/jahist/jat458
National Museum of Health and Medicine, U.S. Army Fort Detrick Forest Glen Annex, Silver Spring, Md. http://www.medicalmuseum.mil/.
Permanent exhibition, opened May 2012. 5,000 sq. ft. Adrienne Noe, museum director;
Gallagher & Associates, exhibit planning and design; KlingStubbins in coordination with
the Baltimore district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, architecture and engineering.
On May 21, 2012, 150 years to the day after Surgeon General William Hammond authorized the creation of the Army Medical Museum, its latest incarnation, the National Museum
of Health and Medicine (), reopened in a new, purpose-built building on the grounds
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the  organized a multiethnic party on the second floor of the hall to benefit striking families. Witness reports varied, but most people claimed someone yelled “fire,” causing a panicked stampede down the stairs where seventy-four people suffocated. The strike ended the
following spring, but the mines never fully recovered. In 1984, the Friends of Italian Hall
and Local 324 of the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations
(-) created the green space after the building was demolished, saving only the sandstone arch that formed the entryway to the hall. The tour guidebook and a Michigan Historic Site marker interpret the location’s history, outlining the tragedy’s relationship to the
strike and narrating preservationists’ failed efforts to save the building.
Visitors to the  would have difficulty finding contemporary labor’s perspective on
the memory of the strike and the copper boom. When the Italian Hall Memorial Park did include the perspective of unionized workers, it was a powerful and direct summary of many
of the lasting consequences of the industry’s decline. The simple - plaque affixed to
the monument recites a quote attributed to Mother Jones: “Mourn for the dead, but fight
for the living.” Standing in the archway, near a pile of stamp sand, across from vacant buildings and near houses still home to people who are fighting for Calumet’s future, the lasting
consequences of the boom are most apparent. Exactly one hundred years after unionized residents fought against corporate control, people are still struggling in the aftermath of the strike
and deindustrialization, but they are gradually trying to climb out of the mining company
As state legislatures flirt with the proposition of mining booms, the opportunity for fast
fortune can make the potential legacy of heavy industry difficult to imagine. This is why the
 matters today. Already, North Dakota’s oil companies are recruiting workers, exerting
social control, and using a paternalistic management style similar to Agassiz’s. In the north
woods of Wisconsin, environmental protections have been relaxed, perhaps paving the way
for another mining boom on Lake Superior. Nearby, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, shorelines are clogged with heavy metals that seep from stamp sand into the Great Lakes. What
the  does best is teach visitors about the rise and decline of a boomtown and how corporations controlled every aspect of life for its work force. I hope this information better
equips tourists and residents to understand how corporate agendas have a lasting influence
on the landscape and communities they inhabit.
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of the U.S. Army’s Fort Detrick Forest Glen Annex. Although favorite items, such as the bullet that killed President Abraham Lincoln and a stomach-sized hair ball, remain on display, the
refreshed exhibits attempt to balance the ’s rich legacy as a leading medical research
institution with the “freakish” and titillating items that lure many visitors into medical museums. The tension between medical curiosities and “serious” research permeates the museum’s
history as well as its current content. The three galleries in the new space house revamped exhibits that foreground the museum’s long and complex history while also celebrating contemporary advances in military medical care and biomedical research.
The three exhibit spaces are arranged off a central lobby, and visitors can move through the
galleries in any order. To the right of the entrance is “The Human Body: Anatomy and
Pathology,” to the left is “The Military Medicine: Challenges and Innovation,” and directly
across from the entrance is “The Collection That Teaches,” by far the largest gallery in the
museum. In “The Collection That Teaches,” large windows along the back wall allow visitors to look into a portion of the museum’s storage area and a working Biosafety Level 2 laboratory. Both jarring and thought provoking, the juxtaposition of modern scientific apparatus
with the museum’s nineteenth- and early twentieth-century artifacts underscores the continuity between the museum’s research and educational missions over the past 150 years.
Despite having a name that implies a comprehensive history of medicine, the museum focuses primarily on military medicine, especially field and trauma medicine. The War Department,
and later the Department of Defense, has always been the museum’s major source of financial support. Originally called the Army Medical Museum, the  remains part of the
Department of Defense in the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command. The
museum collects a broad spectrum of medical history, including dental history, from the eighteenth century to the present, and microscopes dating back to 1650. Although its collections
remain inclusive, its new displays focus narrowly on military medicine. This narrow focus ultimately excludes patient voices, civilian health and medical issues, and most chronic diseases
from the museum in favor of medical technology and pathology specimens.
Notably absent from the museum’s displays are artifacts related to rehabilitative care, endof-life care, substance abuse, or other chronic health conditions that soldiers (and civilians)
experience. This reflects the bureaucracy of military and veteran health care. The Department
of Veterans Affairs (), the institution most likely to provide long-term care to veterans and
their families, has no relationship to the . Reflecting the government’s own separation
of these medical services, the exhibits at the  stop short of presenting a comprehensive
picture of medical and health issues impacting either military or civilian populations.
The ’s collection, which today includes approximately 25 million objects, began modestly on a shelf above Dr. John Hill Brinton’s desk in the Surgeon General’s office in 1862.
Readers interested in a brief but comprehensive history of the museum’s earliest years should
consult Michael G. Rhode’s “The Rise and Fall of the Army Medical Museum and Library”
(Washington History, nos. 1–2, 2006, pp. 78–97) and Helen R. Purtle’s “Lincoln Memorabilia
in the Medical Museum of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology” (Bulletin of the History of
Medicine, Jan.–Feb., 1958, pp. 68–74).
Almost immediately after the museum’s creation its collections were available for public
viewing. Inviting the public into the museum, however, invariably highlighted the tension
between its research and educational missions while also raising concerns about propriety.
Though never explicitly associated with the era’s popular (and bawdy) anatomy museums, the
Exhibition Reviews
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 elicited enthusiastic responses from the public for its display of maimed and diseased
body parts. The museum’s heavy-handed patriotism—draped flags and swords figured prominently in its early displays—and brief, dry label text no doubt insulated it from accusations
of impropriety.
The museum’s move into Ford’s Theater only added to its allure. The museum opened to
the public at this location in April 1867 and by the end of the year over six thousand visitors
passed through its doors. Visitors to the Ford’s Theater location felt that they were visiting
a shrine to President Lincoln and the Civil War dead. The mere presence of remains spoke to
a generation still struggling to come to terms with battlefield death. Some guidebooks even
implied that the museum was haunted and promoted the thrilling prospect of viewing unburied dead.
Despite the museum’s popularity as a tourist attraction, its curators considered it a research
institution. Reflecting the era’s slow shift toward scientific medicine, curators emphasized the
collection’s role as a teaching, research, and reference tool. The first major publication based
on the museum’s collections, the mammoth Medical and Surgical History of the War of the
Rebellion (1861–65) (6 vols., 1870–1888), reflected the profession’s move toward statistical, scientific inquiry. As the museum’s collections and space grew, its leadership emphasized providing resources for sustained medical research. The museum staff offered diagnostic
help to army doctors and, in 1893, the army’s medical school moved into the museum’s building. This positioned the museum at the center of medical and scientific thought in Washington, D.C., through the early twentieth century.
The museum moved its physical location and position in the army’s bureaucracy two more
times before settling in its current location in Silver Spring, Maryland. Each move forced the
museum to reconsider its mission and reconfigure its physical space to meet public, research,
and bureaucratic needs. After two decades in Ford’s Theater, the museum relocated to its own
building at Seventh Street and Independence Avenue , now the site of the Hirshhorn
Museum and Sculpture Garden. The location on Seventh Street included space to house soldiers’ medical records, several public galleries, a library, teaching space, and archives. In 1971
the museum moved again, this time to a substantially smaller space on the grounds of Walter
Reed Army Medical Center () in the northernmost part of D.C. In this location, over
five miles from the city’s monumental core, visitation dropped substantially. The newest location, even further from the center of the city, has ample free parking, is accessible by public
transportation, and no longer shares space with a working hospital.
The  is rightly proud of its history and features it prominently in its new exhibitions.
“The Collection That Teaches” gallery presents an overview of the institution’s founding
and a large number of its Civil War artifacts. The exhibit is bookended by two cases
full of objects displaying what the galley curators Ken Arnold and Thomas Söderqvist call
“presence effects.” Objects with a presence effect, they say, activate a visceral, emotional, or
sensual experience in the viewer. They emphasize that bodies or biological specimens and
medical tools have an innate amount of “presence” because visitors can easily understand a
body, or a tool used to bend, break, or spread the body. While these effects bring many visitors into museums to gawk at disassembled bodies or medical oddities, this presents a problem for the . Medical museums must carefully structure the text on labels, cases, and
galleries to allow visitors to experience “presence” while also moving them toward understanding the item in its historical, cultural, or economic context—what Söderqvist refers to as the
level of meaning. The careful balance of presence and meaning animates the entirety of
“The Collection That Teaches.”
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The first case, “150 Years of the Army Medical Museum,” houses unusual objects from
the museum’s various collections—a gilded skull, a portion of President James A. Garfield’s spine, slides of President Ulysses S. Grant’s tumor, a piece of “biographical lace” produced by a psychiatric patient. The  provides only the most basic information about
each item in this case. Without a curatorial voice providing guidance, the visitor is left with
a personal, visceral reaction to these items. Söderqvist and his colleagues emphasize that
this can be a productive way into an exhibit for the nonspecialist. However, without guidance the visitor may be unable or unwilling to move beyond presence to understanding. There
is little contextual information to help visitors position these objects in relationship to the
medical objects and specimens in the other cases. A video kiosk located behind visitors and
around a corner from this case, under the windows that look into the storage space, includes recordings of curators discussing some of the objects. Curators share interesting background about the objects and explain their relevance to the museum or to the history of
medicine. For example, one video offers more information about the patient who produced the
“biographical lace”: her condition, and the symbols she used in it. However, the video station’s
distance from the case limits its utility as a guide to meaning.
The next display, “Lincoln’s Final Hours,” also depends on presence effects for its impact.
The objects in this case are some of the most popular in the museum: the bullet that killed
Lincoln, fragments of his skull, a few strands of his hair, the surgeon’s bloodstained cuff, and
the tool used to remove the bullet. The display assumes that visitors are familiar with Lincoln’s assassination and instead focuses very narrowly on the medical events that followed
John Wilkes Booth’s shot. The inherent emotional resonance of these objects, combined with
the label text’s reverent tone, positions Lincoln’s skull fragments as secular, democratic relics.
This case encourages visitors to feel the presence of President Lincoln.
These Lincoln items naturally transition the visitor into the lengthy display of the museum’s
Civil War–era collections. With a few exceptions, the displays present multiple versions of a
wound, body part, or medical instrument. In many cases the use of multiples presents the process
of change over time. This technique is also used to demonstrate variation in a particular kind of
bone or medical instrument. Some of the items explicitly rebut myths about Civil War medicine. For example, an anesthesia kit and bottles of various pain medications respond to popular visions of soldiers screaming during amputations. The panel text for items such as these,
though brief, provides ample information for visitors to reconcile popular imagery, medical history, and their visceral response to large needles, brass medical instruments, and bone saws.
While presence effects are what draw many visitors in, the museum generally avoids indulging in any kind of “freak show” aesthetic. However, the final portion of “The Collection That
Teaches” gallery displays a hair ball the size and shape of a person’s stomach, conjoined twins,
malformed fetuses, and other spectacular examples of anatomy. The strong, visceral reaction that many visitors have to these items, combined with a lack of descriptive labels to guide
the visitor’s interpretation, contribute to the sense that the items in this case are freakish,
different, and possibly dangerous. Elsewhere, the  has worked to move away from
this kind of case and this type of visitor experience. Despite the museum staff’s efforts to
downplay these objects, guidebooks, newspaper reporters, and writers on online review
sites such as Yelp consistently mention these items as a highlight of their museum trip. Yet
while these specimens may get visitors in the front door, they do not dominate the gallery
or the museum. The  has successfully contained the freakish objects in a few cases
and kept the majority of objects focused on the less sensational aspects of medical history.
Exhibition Reviews
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Visitors to the second gallery, “Military Medicine: Challenges and Innovations,” learn about
the military’s contemporary and historical biomedical research successes. The tone of this gallery’s version of the history of military medicine is relentlessly affirmative. Even when it acknowledges complex, controversial topics such as the psychological costs of war, the exhibit’s
narrative, its focus on field medicine rather than rehabilitative care, and the artifacts on display highlight the development of technological and scientific fixes for these medical problems,
not the patient’s experience. Upon entering the gallery, visitors see a case with a video screen
and ten different objects. A spotlight illuminates an object while the screen presents an approximately five-minute video about it. Doctors and researchers, not patients, explain the item
and the vital role it plays in military medicine. Among other items, the objects include the presidential medical bag used by the military physician detailed to the White House, fly traps, and a
virtual-reality headset used to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder ().
The virtual-reality helmet and telemedicine “Skype a Psych” tools are the only places where
the museum acknowledges the psychological costs of war. This omission is glaring given the
tremendous amount of recent media coverage of  in deployed soldiers and returning
veterans. The museum’s emphasis on technology and striking or unique artifacts precludes
displays of visually generic items such as pharmaceuticals or a therapist’s note pad. Similarly,
information about long-term therapy, substance abuse/self-medication, or resiliency training—
all essential to today’s military—does not lend itself to physical display. These omissions
underscore the ’s distance from the , where many soldiers seek treatment for the
psychological consequences of war.
Visitors continue on to a wall-length display that covers a broad spectrum of military medicine. Each case emphasizes a particular theme and displays items that represent military medical
technology at different periods. For example, one case displays helmets from several different
wars. The most striking item in this area is unlike any other in the museum. A large chunk of
floor from the hospital at Joint Base Balad in Iraq rests upright in a display case. A quote from
a nurse, describing how the scuffs and bloodstains on the hospital floor consecrated the ground,
is etched into the case’s glass. Unlike the presence effects in “The Collection That Teaches,”
the hospital floor confronts visitors with traces of recent injury and heroism. Unlike the
nineteenth-century bones that intrigue the modern visitor, the hospital floor evokes a more
solemn, patriotic kind of presence effect.
The third and final gallery, “The Human Body: Anatomy and Pathology,” is the most general
medical display in the museum. It includes three sections. First, a large, wall-length case of anatomical specimens, including a plastinated spleen and heart, wax anatomical models, and a
complete upper torso embedded in plastic represent healthy anatomy. Second, this gallery
contains the “skeletal development case” in which a series of skeletons, ranging in age from
four fetal months to five years, are displayed upright in what a travel writer for RoadsideAmerica.
com described as a kind of “chorus line” of skeletons (“National Museum of Health and
Medicine,” RoadsideAmerica.com). Like the large hair ball and fetuses in “The Collection That
Teaches,” the skeletal development case is popular enough to get its own dot on the museum
map. Although ostensibly displayed to show change over time, these fetal and child skeletons
come close to the carnivalesque displays common in the nineteenth century.
Finally, the gallery includes a special display on the brain. Banners hanging from the ceiling
display quotes about the mind’s relationship to the body, the only place in the museum that
introduces the social meaning of bodies, and two freestanding cases in the center of the room
probe the uncertain relationship between personality and the brain’s anatomy. The first case
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emphasizes that “madness,” broadly defined, only sometimes reveals itself in anatomy. In this
display, the presidential assassin Charles Guiteau’s brain, kept for study after his execution,
shares space with a syphilitic skull and brain. The case’s text panel notes that investigators
found no physical evidence of insanity in Guiteau’s brain. In contrast, the label for the syphilitic skull notes that late-stage syphilis often contributed to dementia or insanity. The second
freestanding case underscores what physical examination of a brain can and cannot reveal
about its function. This case houses slices of Albert Einstein’s brain with some basic information about preparing and interpreting slides. In addition to providing the visitor with information about the structures in the brain, these cases imply that the brain and the “mind,”
“madness,” or “genius” remains something of a medical mystery.
A large case along the far wall includes several examples of brain injuries and cranial
surgery from the pre-Colombian era to the present. In this area, the museum juxtaposes a
football helmet to an army helmet to introduce a brief discussion about the effects of multiple concussions. While the display text is clear that traumatic brain injury () and multiple concussions are the “signature injury” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this case stops
short of discussing the emotional or psychiatric consequences of .
The exhibits in all three galleries foreground anatomical specimens, medical technology,
and the experience of doctors, nurses, or researchers. Patient experiences and voices are absent
from the ’s permanent exhibits. However, the idiosyncratic experience of illness and injury does appear in a temporary art installation in a hallway just off the museum’s lobby. In
“WHACK’ed . . . and then everything was different,” the artist Eliette Markhbein, herself a
traumatic brain injury survivor, juxtaposed semiabstract portraits of individuals with a traumatic
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In May 2012 the National Museum of Health and Medicine, formerly the Army
Medical Museum, reopened in Silver Spring, Maryland. The new building, shown
here, includes five thousand square feet of exhibit space, the Otis Historical Archives,
and the museum’s collection of approximately 25 million objects. Photograph by
Ashley Bowen-Murphy. Courtesy Ashley Bowen-Murphy.
Exhibition Reviews
Ashley Bowen-Murphy
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island
doi: 10.1093/jahist/jat457
“‘War/Photography’: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath.” Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston. http://www.mfah.com.
Temporary exhibition, Nov. 11, 2012–Feb. 3, 2013.
Traveling exhibition, March 23–June 2, 2013, Annenberg Space for Photography, Los
Angeles, Calif.; June 29–Sept. 29, 2013, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Nov.
8, 2013–Feb. 2, 2014, Brooklyn Museum, New York, N.Y. Anne Wilkes Tucker and Will
Michaels, curators.
War in the modern era is a beast—its grip on the human condition poorly understood, the
breadth of its effects immense. From the time of Homer to the twenty-first century the struggle
to comprehend the human propensity for war has been ongoing. Since the mid-nineteenth
century, war photographs have occupied a central place in that endeavor. Given their immediacy, presumed authenticity, and audience effect, images of war may affect public attitudes even
more than film or the written word, historians suggest. The images are capable of lodging in
the public memory and, with time, may become meaning-bearing icons.
In 2012 the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, mounted “War/Photography: Images of
Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath,” an exhibition of nearly five hundred wartime images
ranging from daguerreotypes of the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848 to photographs
of the 2011 civil war in Libya. The display was unprecedented in its size and range; the interpretation was equally ambitious. Over the course of ten years of research Anne Wilkes Tucker
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brain injury with first-person accounts of the person’s life after . The eleven portraits hanging in the show represent athletes, soldiers, car crash survivors, and television news reporters. This
show underscores that while “concussion” may be a specific diagnostic category, the individual
experience of a concussion has distinct and personal impacts far beyond the medical. These portraits are the only place where the museum foregrounds the idiosyncratic experience of illness
or injury. Other recent programs with visiting artists suggest that the museum intends to continue these initiatives and introduce some individuality to the medical story.
The National Museum of Health and Medicine faces complex challenges in its new space.
The strange, curious specimens that motivate many visitors to trek out to Silver Spring complicate the museum’s claim to display serious medical (or military) history. Likewise, the museum’s current name promises a breadth of exhibits and topics that its ties to the Department
of Defense ultimately restrain. In its public programs, such as the “organ of the month,” the
 is working to expand its content without shifting the exhibits’ focus on military medicine. Finally, the museum’s emphases on tools and pathology specimens mean that patient
experience is absent from most of the museum. Continued work with artists and in public
programs may help remedy this and allow the museum to move beyond its traditional focus
on military medicine. Since 1862, the  has struggled to blend public display, medical
research, and military history. The museum’s new exhibits and building should be understood as part of this ongoing struggle to balance the general public’s interest in the “freaky”
medical past with the scholar’s interest in material culture.