Telling the story of Urology through instruments

08 December 2015 Loek Keizer

European Museum of Urology unifies continent’s collections on new website

The culmination of many years of development, the EAU History Office’s European Museum of Urology was launched in the summer of 2015. The online museum brings together different European collections of urological objects, from private and public collections alike. By combining relatively small and geographically diverse collections, the European Museum of Urology tells the story of urology on the continent in a way that a physical museum would not be able to.

The museum features an archive with pictures of individual instruments, mementos and other objects of historical value. The “Story of Urology” is told through new research and material adapted from previous EAU History Office publications, and it is illustrated with the new photos from the Museum’s collections.

Curated by Mrs. Michaela Zykan, who is based in Vienna (AT), the past three years has seen the collection grow to feature 843 items, in nine collections from five countries. Mrs. Zykan is a graduate from the University of Vienna, Austria, and has has been affiliated with the EAU History Office for the past 15 years, arranging historical exhibitions on a variety of urological topics.

Michaela Zykan is also the curator of the Endoscopy Museum of the Nitze-Leiter Research Society for Endoscopy which is located at the Josephinum in Vienna. We spoke to her about this milestone achievement.

The Origins and goals
The initial concept behind the Museum was wildly ambitious: “I wanted to establish a ‘House of Urology’, which would have been a museum shaped like the urinary tract with all its belonging organs,” Mrs. Zykan explains. “It would’ve been a highly detailed museum depicting the history of urology. At the same time, it would illustrate the topography, the functioning and malfunctioning of the urinary system in a vivid and clear way to any non-medical visitors. Clearly, creating a virtual ‘House of Urology’ is bit easier to realise, while at the same time reaching people from all across the world.”

Rather than simply displaying items from a single collection, the European Museum of Urology truly spans the continent. At the moment, it features collections from Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Finland. Future additions are expected from Central Europe.

Having an online museum clearly has its advantages according to Zykan: “Aside from several national urological societies who manage their own urological collections, there are a lot of enthusiastic private collectors all over Europe. Whether they are exhibited by the society or the private collector, all those instrument collections only attract very local attention. In the age of the internet, the problem of limited dissemination can easily be solved by uniting all these collections on one platform. This platform is provided by the EAU’s European Museum of Urology.”

Primarily, the museum presents a unique achievement in unifying a variety of urological museums or collections from across Europe in one digital museum. Zykan: “Another goal of course is to show the history of urology with all its main personalities and pioneers in the most comprehensive way possible. The History of urology, paired with specific instruments are the ideal foundation of this comprehensive endeavour.  All historically-minded urologists are invited to contribute!”

Assembling the museum
The first step of adding a collection to the digital museum is travelling to the physical location of the collection and inspecting it. “How many instruments are there, in what condition are they, have they already been provided with an inventory number?” Zykan asks herself. “In some cases we have to start from scratch. The next step is to take pictures of the collection’s instruments. To guarantee a uniform way of presentation I position the instruments in a photo tent and add special lighting.”

The EAU uses museum-grade professional archiving software to manage the European Museum of Urology’s ever-expanding collections. In addition to acting as an image bank for the website, the software documents each item’s location, contact data, the origin, whether they were purchased, donated or on loan, and so forth.

Future additions to the museum’s collection include the recently-acquired Jos de Vries Collection (see below) and potential accessions from Southern and Central Europe.

Highlights and desired additions
At the moment, the EAU’s European Museum of Urology features many rarities, but its curator is still on the lookout for certain iconic instruments.

“After viewing quite a number of collections I may say that almost each collection keeps one to two special ‘treasures’, which you may admire per mouse click any time on your computer: The proto- endoscope, the “light-conductor” by Philipp Bozzini, dated 1805; the first endoscope by Antoine Desormeaux of 1857; surgical instruments by the famous French instrument maker Benoȋt Charrière from the 19th century; early blind lithotriptors from the 19th century and of course the first cystoscopes constructed by the Austrian manufacturer Josef Leiter as well as early photo-endoscopes. One of my favourite object is Gustave Trouvé’s polyscope of 1873, a little case for different endoscopic procedures (illustrated below). Not to forget a wonderful collection of bladder stones.”

04polyscope

“It would be great to have ancient surgical, urological instruments included in our collection. Maybe we could also trace surgical-urological instruments dating from the times of Ambroise Paré of the 16th century and include them in our Museum.”

The European Museum of History can be accessed through history.uroweb.org.

The Jos De Vries Collection
The EAU has its own collection of urological artefacts, and a large proportion of these come from donations from individuals. In September 2015, the EAU acquired a sizeable collection of a prominent Dutch urologist, the late Associate Professor Jos de Vries.

De Vries was an avid collector and kept a large room in his house dedicated to his collection. It includes many dozens of urological instruments like cystoscopes, lithotripters and surgical kits. Additionally, the collection features many early prints of medical books, spanning many centuries of knowledge. Other medical rarities, artefacts and several works of art complete the Jos de Vries Collection. As part of the arrangement, the EAU has promised to preserve the collection as one whole, dedicated to Jos de Vries.

The Jos De Vries collection will be digitized for inclusion in the European Museum of Urology as soon as possible, and small selections from the collection will be displayed at the EAU Central Office in Arnhem and at EAU events like the upcoming Annual EAU Congress in Munich.

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