Since its foundation in 2010, on the initiative of Professor Jan G. van den Tweel (1942–2020), the European Society of Pathology (ESP) History of Pathology Working Group has grown steadily, thanks to the commitment of all its members of different ages and from different scientific fields. The main goal of the Working Group is to spread the values of historical discoveries, messages and material, which the ESP acknowledges can inspire new generations of undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Anatomy and pathology museums are no exception to the gradual loss of interest in scientific museology, and, without forgetting their conservative priorities, it is mandatory to keep in step with the times if they are to maintain their original didactic role . During the first half of the twentieth century, pathology museums were a principal educational resource in medical schools. Since the dawn of modern medicine in the second half of the twentieth century, an ever-increasing body of knowledge has been progressively included in the medical curriculum and the teaching of gross pathology disparaged. Museums that have survived this cultural upheaval can be found all over the world, mainly in Europe. Several university-related collections are also located in North America, South America and Australia, such as the Maude Abbott Medical Museum in Montreal, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (including the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine) in Baltimore, the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro and the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology in Melbourne . Many of these early “pathology classrooms” are still in use, reshaping and reinventing themselves to stay relevant in a digital world. The same technical ways and means of communication that now rival traditional museums can contribute to their innovation and improve access to ancient collections, through digital photographs and documentation recorded on appropriate appliances (CD-ROM, DVD) or shared via the World Wide Web . For any anatomical specimen in the museum, a “route” may be contemplated covering patient clinical details, radiological images and histological findings, along with up-to-date literature on the topic. Scientific interpretation and contextualisation of the historical case will offer students a novel educational experience and scholars a chance for deeper investigation. To all intents and purposes, anatomical collections are “biological archives” open to research through state-of-the art imaging and biomolecular technologies (Fig. 1).
Preservation of specimens and facilities is neither easy nor costless and calls for patronage. The development of a European Pathology Museum Network would promote the study, access and divulgation of historical collections. The ESP History of Pathology Working Group has endeavoured to produce a comprehensive picture of the many facets (i.e. history, diversity, location, institutional status, existing networks and stakeholders, projects, professionals, audiences, policies, best practices and publications) of European pathology museums.