Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum

I recently found myself in Philadelphia with my boyfriend on an unseasonably warm day, without any real plans of what we would see or do in the city. Due to the high heat, we didn’t want to just pick a neighborhood and wander, which is usually my go-to activity in any large city. We settled on the Mutter Museum, mostly because of the awesome student discount, its central location in the city, and the promise of a few uninterrupted hours of air conditioning.

The interior of the main section of the Museum

The Mutter Museum is a medical museum that contains hundreds of historical medical instruments, wax representations of different diseases and samples of mutations and “oddities.” The museum is named for Dr. Thomas Mutter, who collected many of the specimen now in the museum throughout his career in the middle of the 19th century, keeping many of the skeletal and wet samples for his own biomedical research purposes. Dr. Mutter greatly improved the surgical techniques of his time and expanded the understanding of the ways in which the human body works and heals. With the student discount, a ticket to the museum is only $13, which grants access to every single exhibition, collection, and the garden full of medicinal plants in the museum’s courtyard.

At first, I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy or even “get” the museum. I am not very fluent in medical terminology, and haven’t taken any biology-related science since my freshman year of high school. I also usually favor art museums over any other type of museum when I am traveling. That being said, I recommend the Mutter Museum to everyone, regardless of their interest in or knowledge of science and medicine. As someone who is more humanities-inclined, I appreciated the historical approach taken by the museum towards medicine. I can honestly say that the Mutter museum is equal parts science and history. There are many specimen that are completely unique to the museum such as slides of Albert Einstein’s brain, the full skeleton of an “American giant,” and the connected livers of Chang and Eng Bunker, a set of Siamese twins born in 1811. The collections allowed me to reflect on the ways in which the practice of medicine has drastically changed in the last 200 years or so, and better appreciate the fact that I am alive in a time of modern medicine, anesthesia, and better acceptance and understanding of genetic mutations and birth defects.

The skull collection, containing 139 skulls from various people throughout the world.

Personally, my favorite part of the museum was a permanent exhibition focusing specifically on medical care and access during the Civil War in the hospitals of Philadelphia. This collection included surgical instruments and horrific descriptions of common medical practices such as amputation. I also appreciated the focus on the important role of women as nurses in the Civil War hospitals, and the use of Walt Whitman quotes throughout the exhibition, which further combined science with the humanities.

Just one of the many interesting skeletal specimen you can check out in the museum!

After visiting, I can truly say the Mutter Museum has something for everyone, regardless of personal interests and prior knowledge. I highly recommend taking advantage of our university’s proximity to Philadelphia and visiting the fascinating museum for yourself!

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