Museopathy: Exploring the Healing Potential of Handling Museum Objects

Helen Chatterjee, Sonjel Vreeland, Guy Noble


To coincide with emerging arts and health practices, University College London Museums & Collections and University College London Hospitals Arts partnered to create a pilot project, entitled “Heritage in Hospitals”, which sought to assess whether handling museum objects has a positive impact on patient wellbeing. Quantitative data from 32 sessions conducted with patients in May through July (inclusive) of 2008 demonstrated, on average, an increase in self-reported measures of life satisfaction and health status after handling museum objects. Constant comparative analysis of the qualitative data collected from the sessions revealed two major recurring themes: “impersonal/educational” and “personal/reminiscence”. The first theme included instances where handling museum objects allowed patients to access truths about the objects ascertainable solely through touch (such as gauging weight, texture, temperature, and spatial relation to the body), to verify what was seen, to facilitate an intimate and imaginative connection with the museum objects and their origins, to investigate and explore the objects, to permit an interaction with the “rare” and “museum-worthy”, and to assist with aesthetic appreciation. The second theme illustrated the project’s potential to assist with counselling on issues of illness, death, loss and mourning, and to help restore dignity, respect and a sense of identity (particularly among elderly patients) by providing a springboard for reminiscing and the telling of life stories in a highly institutionalized setting. This paper contextualizes the project, explores the implications of the project’s methodology and its findings, and provides questions for future research.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Helen Chatterjee, Sonjel Vreeland, Guy Noble

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360