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Article: The mummy and the medical gaze: digital visualisations in the British Museum’s exhibition Ancient lives, new discoveries

Karin Wagner
The British Museum’s exhibition Ancient lives, new discoveries (2014–2015) is analysed from the point of view of how medical imaging was used to convey new knowledge about mummies and ancient history to the general public. Real mummies were on display together with interactive visualisations. The dramaturgy was based on eight mummies’ life stories and the audience was encouraged to identify with the mummies as individuals. However, the article argues that the visualisations are not neutral tools, but are based on a certain way of seeing, what Michel Foucault called the ‘medical gaze’ – a distancing gaze applied by doctors that separates the body of the patient from the individual. The prestige and credibility claims of the visualisations are also discussed, as well as the performative and interactive aspects of the exhibition. The article concludes by suggesting that visitors could oscillate between two positions, peers and doctors, and that a third position, as a new kind of discoverer, is a latent possibility.