Questions of Practice: Museum Director Robert Hicks and Artist Matt Adams on the Relevance of Pandemic History

Spit Spreads Death QoP Block 1

How will this moment be remembered? A Center-supported exhibition at the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia—commemorating a pandemic from a century earlier—offers some perspective on how history may regard the stories and circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Spit Spreads Death examines how the 1918–19 influenza pandemic affected the lives of Philadelphians. Built on data from death certificates of over 20,000 individuals who died from the flu outbreak in the city, the exhibition opened in October 2019, closed for several months during the 2020 pandemic quarantine, and has since reopened with limited visitor capacity.

In conversations recorded before the exhibition opened—and before the pandemic—we spoke with Robert Hicks (then the director of the Mütter Museum, now its senior consulting scholar) and Matt Adams (a member of Blast Theory, a UK-based artists’ group that collaborated on the project). These prescient interviews explore why this topic was relevant even before the COVID-19 outbreak and how the Mütter approached making a difficult subject relevant and accessible to a contemporary audience.

Questions of Practice: Museum Director Robert Hicks and Artist Matt Adams on the Relevance of Pandemic History

Robert Hicks and Matt Adams. Filmed at the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia on September 10, 2019.

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Robert Hicks is the senior consulting scholar and William Maul Measey Chair for the History of Medicine of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Prior to this role, he served as director of the Mütter Museum and Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia for more than a decade.

Matt Adams is a co-founder of Blast Theory, a UK-based multidisciplinary artists’ group specializing in interactive work and new technologies.

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