From a private collection to a state museum: Pauls Stradiņš Museum of the History of Medicine
In 2021, Pauls Stradiņš Museum of the History of Medicine in Rīga (Latvia) will celebrate 60 years since it acquired the status of a state museum. This article describes the history of its creation, the work of the museum from 1961 to 2019, its basic functions and structures, the consequences of ideological deviations, and outlines the vision for the future development of the museum.
On the one hand, the museum is based on the idea and collection of Doctor Pauls Stradiņš, an avid enthusiast, and his skill in keeping, supplementing, and improving his collection and legalising it as a state-run institution. However, no less important has been the attitude of the public and the authorities towards this institution, public support for P. Stradiņš’ idea. The relatively liberal attitude towards the initially private museum is explained by the fact that healthcare was declared one of the priorities of the Soviet Union, and the history of medicine was ideologically a relatively neutral field. In addition, the “national” moment was less emphasised in P. Stradiņš Museum – in the context of Latvia, the museum mainly showed folk medicine, fighting against epidemics, medicine in cities but did not highlight medical achievements during the years of Latvia’s independence.
The paradigm of the museum has changed today. Aspects of medicine, as in natural and technological sciences, which are within the competence of social history, anthropology and cultural theory have come to the fore. The experience of the global pandemic has brought conflict and tension into and around health in public opinion. This calls for a review of the six decades of exhibition traditions and the dynamics of the relationship with the museum’s existing and potential audience, which has been cultivated for six decades.