Which way should the toenails face? On creating a display for the UWO Medical Collection

Today, some of us had the opportunity to help Dr. Shelley McKellar and Caitlin Dyer set up a display for the UWO Medical Collection.  We were given five (deceptively large) cases on the main floor of Weldon library on campus.

I was eager to help for a couple of reasons.  First, I don’t have much exhibit experience and this was a great way to get my feet wet, so to speak.  When we arrived at the office where the collection is stored, Dr. McKellar and Caitlin had several themes outlined and most of the objects selected.  There was still room to make some decisions, but enough structure so that we weren’t there for 3 hours figuring out what to display.

Caitlin, Brent and Jen deciding how to position the prosthetic leg.

When we got to the library, we broke up into teams of two and each of us were given a case and a theme.  Again, this was the perfect amount of freedom.  There were still many decisions to make within our own case (which items to include? which items to group together? how should the objects be laid out?), but it wasn’t completely overwhelming as I’m sure a large exhibit can be.  It was fun to watch other people work on their cases and offer (and receive) advice and opinions.

I was also interested in this opportunity because I have been working with a medical collection through my RA at Museum London.  As I am not a medical historian (far from it), I have struggled at times working with these types of items.  It can be alarming to open a box and find a prosthetic leg staring up at you.

However, I must say that I’m proud of the progress I’ve made with the collection – I am much more comfortable handling the items and getting much braver at Googling things like “tonsil guillotine.

Caitlin working on the display that she researched and designed herself. (PS: This smile isn't a pose - Caitlin was glowing with genuine excitement the whole time)

My main task at Museum London is to catalog the collection.  This involves unwrapping creepy medical artifacts from boxes, identifying them, conducting some basic research, entering them into a database, labeling them and putting them on a shelf.  Any research I do focuses on an individual item and so my understanding of medical history is a bit fragmented as a result.  It was neat to see these oh-so-familiar objects put on display so that they could tell their story.


5 thoughts on “Which way should the toenails face? On creating a display for the UWO Medical Collection

  1. Hey Joanna,

    Looks like you guys had a good time putting the display together, I’m sad I couldn’t be there. I can’t wait to check it out.
    What would you say, if anything, was the most surprising thing you encountered while setting up and designing the exhibit?


    • I was surprised at how difficult it was to position everything. I can’t speak for my partner (Jessica), but I felt like the objects I positioned were never quite right. Then I looked at Dr. McKellar’s case and it just looked so natural – I guess she’s a pro, though!

      Thanks for the comment – we missed you today!

  2. Great recap of the day, Joanna! (Excellent blog title too!) You did a fantastic job putting together the homeopathy/pill making case!

    The most surprising thing I encountered today was the so-called “sexiness” of objects. I learned this lesson walking across campus with a prosthetic limb in arms!

  3. Good pictures Joanna! I was glowing with genuine satisfaction, material culture is cool and I love grossing people out. Check back for my soon to be posted rundown of the event.

    P.S. I like the redesign!

  4. Pingback: That Was Used for What?! | Caitlin Dyer's Blog

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