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Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits, recipient 2021

Recipient 2021: Medical Museion (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

For the online exhibition: “Life Support” https://www.museion.ku.dk/en/life-support/

Medical Museion in Denmark responded to the first COVID-19 shutdown in spring 2020 by creating an online exhibition called Life Support. Beyond just providing digital access to some of the physical materials held by the museum, this online exhibition highlights the role of historical perspective as developed by museums in a period of tremendous uncertainty and anxiety, while at the same time providing insights into the history of diverse everyday aspects of the current pandemic.

An introductory film that opens the exhibition presents the idea of museums as anchors in difficult times, situating the present moment in its continuities. The exhibition is divided into five themes; Knowing, Breathing, Cleaning, Isolating and Dying; each making use of diverse digital materials and incorporating material artifacts from the museum’s collections. Discussing the complexity of material practices and systems of knowing, the exhibition approaches the technologies of managing a global pandemic, thus contributing to the history of technology. As a visitor you are made aware of the technology behind the different subjects. At the same time, the website showcases technology without placing technology in the spotlight; instead, the human stories and emotions are foregrounded.

Through its poetic style the exhibition invites visitors to contemplate on the temporalities and complexities of the policies, practicalities, and emotions the pandemic has introduced. In line with the idea of offering support in difficult times, the exhibition also invites its visitors behind the scenes of its own curating process, showing the museum staff in their zoom tiles as they discuss different ideas and shape the exhibition. Incorporating historical objects and information next to contemporary content adds to the experience.

The site is presented by a Danish museum but accessibility to an international audience is advanced through its English-language translations. The referees and the Committee were impressed, educated, and moved by this exhibit.


In addition to the winner, the Dibner Award committee wishes to commend the following excellent online exhibition:
“Constellations: Reimagining Celestial Histories in the Early Americas”. The John Carter Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island, USA. This exhibition breaks new ground in encouraging visitors to see connections among different historical texts while navigating an illuminating website.