Identify medical objects in museum collections


While there are a number of specialist health and medicine museums in Australia, there are also many local historical museums with medical, nursing, pharmaceutical and hospital items in their collections. These objects can tell important stories about a locality’s history–stories about hospitals and baby health clinics that were features of community life; medical practitioners who presided over births, illness and deaths in the area; pharmacies that were an integral part of the business community; women who were the principal custodians of their family’s health.

For lay people working in museums, these items can sometimes be difficult to identify or give a date to. If objects cannot be identified, their value to the collection is compromised and their potential for research and display is reduced. As a result they may be overlooked when objects are being chosen for exhibitions, they may be labeled incorrectly or inadequately in displays, or they may languish amongst the museum’s store of ‘mystery items’.

Another important reason why it is important to identify medical and pharmaceutical objects–some of them may pose a risk to people or to other museum objects. The key to safety is awareness of any potential hazards so that risks can be managed appropriately.

For more information download the ‘How to: Identify Medical Objects in Your Collection’ pdf above.