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Acta Hist Leopoldina. 2007;(48):217-39.

[Without sense and understanding? Rudolf Virchow's strategy of collecting by the example of his pathological museum].

[Article in German]

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  • 1Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité, Berlin.


The Berlin pathologist Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) has been called a "m anic" collector in the most recent studies on the history of science and culture because of his collection of over 23,000 pathoanatomical wet and dry specimens. A closer look at Virchow's collecting efforts, however, reveal that there was system behind the relative abundance of objects. This contribution will attempt to reconstruct Virchow's collection concept as well as his ideas about a meaningful arrangement of the specimens in the museum he founded in 1899. The study follows a reference of Virchow's to the corresponding specimen collections in the English hospital schools, which Virchow had always seen as exemplary. In this connection, the strategies and concepts of the British pathologist Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) will be investigated more closely as they relate to the specimen collection he administered at Guy's Hospital in London. There, abnormally changed organ specimens were presented along the two axes of anatomy and nosology. Virchow encountered this practice under the Charité prosector, Robert Froriep (1804-1861), where he experienced his socialization as collector and presenter in pathology between 1844 and 1847. In his second Berlin phase between 1856 and 1902, he expanded his institute at the Charité to a worldwide renowned center for pathology. During this time, Virchow added a third dimension to his collection strategy under the heading "progression", in order to document whole series in the developmental process of all diseases in all primarily and secondarily affected organs. After the opening of his Pathological Museum on the grounds of the CharitY, he strove until his death to arrange his specimens in the form of a three-dimensional textbook. Various structural conditions, a dearth of exhibition cases, as well as his decreasing vitality limited the scope of Virchow's achievements. The most essential reason why Virchow realized only a small portion of his exhibition concept, however, lay in the sheer endlessness of diseases to be portrayed in their being and manifestation.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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