AIDS Objects (from 2017)

Fighting, Caring, Grieving, Surviving – AIDS in the Netherlands

The AIDS pandemic has generated a vast amount of historical and cultural material and yet museums tend to collect only a very limited range of items for permanent preservation and for reuse in exhibitions. Historically significant objects and images have been lost or destroyed – in grief, to protect the privacy of the deceased, or because their value for museums and archives is not well understood. As a result, museum collections do not include a broad enough range of objects to document and exhibit the diverse and complex histories of AIDS. The AIDS Objects initiative is intended to stimulate the identification of artifacts for use in exhibitions and to raise awareness of the importance of preserving material still retained by individuals or health and advocacy organisations.

This digital scrapbook was inspired by a lost object – a scrapbook of staff and patient images, ephemera, and personal memories documenting the activities in the Netherlands’ first AIDS ward at the OLVG. The original artifact has not been found and is presumed destroyed. In this project, images from public archives and private collections and interwoven with a brief history of AIDS in the Netherlands, presented in a digital scrapbook to draw attention to the limited collection and preservation of the material culture of HIV and AIDS.

The project was developed in collaboration with Hugo Schalkwijk and funded by the Amsterdam Centre for Heritage and Identity. A pop-up exhibition based on the scrapbook research was on display in the Amsterdam Pavilion at the Global Village of the International AIDS Society conference, 23-27 July 2018.

In conjunction with the International AIDS Society conference in Amsterdam in July 2018, the AIDS Objects team based at the University of Amsterdam is undertaking a series of projects.

Voices of the Epidemic (2018)

It has been more than thirty years since people were first diagnosed with AIDS in the Netherlands. Since then, we have learnt how to prevent the spread of HIV and to prolong the lives of those who are HIV positive. Yet as the early years of crisis fade from memory, we face a new era of infection, with ongoing inequalities that put some at higher risk of contracting the virus, and which prevent others from accessing affordable care. A new film, Voices of the Epidemic, asks people who have been involved since the very beginning to reflect on their experiences and the lessons we still need to learn from the history of HIV and AIDS.

Approx. 25 minutes long, in Dutch with English subtitles. Funded by the Amsterdam School for Historical Studies and the Amsterdam Centre for Heritage and Identity at the University of Amsterdam, and the Public Health Service of Amsterdam.

Production team: Manon S. Parry (University of Amsterdam), Hugo Schalkwijk (Oude Wasgoed) and Paul de Jong, Marlinde Venema and Machiel Spruijt (Jaar en Dag Media)

Voices of the Epidemic premiered at the Amsterdam Museum and in the Global Village of the International AIDS Society conference in Amsterdam in July 2018 and is available online.

Human Curiosities (2016-2020)

€315,000 research project studying the social relevance of medical museums, culminating in a book and exhibition at Special Collections, University of Amsterdam. While the collections of medical museums, including human remains, are sometimes labeled as “curiosities,” the title refers instead to the idea that it is entirely human to be curious about bodies and that curators can harness that interest in socially-useful ways. However, stakeholders at medical museums disagree on the role of their institutions in contemporary society, on the capacity of audiences to understand complex or sensitive medical issues, and on the most effective exhibition strategies. This project analyzes current medical museum exhibition strategies to identify dominant narratives as well as marginalized histories, and investigate their implications for health and wellbeing.

The focus includes four areas where medical museums could make a significant impact: mental health, infectious diseases, sexuality/reproduction, and bodies of difference (addressing race and disability). This research is of direct relevance to museum practitioners, and is therefore being developed in collaboration with medical museums. Project output includes a Heritage Lab demonstrating interpretive strategies for medical heritage, an online tool for museums and their audiences, as well as an open access journal article and a book. The project will provide the first detailed analysis of exhibition strategies across a range of European medical museums, and the first in-depth study to specifically consider the role of medical museums in promoting health and wellbeing.