Museo de la Deuda Externa [Museum of External Debt]

Currently, there has been a lot of protesting around public education, the lack of funding, and the teachers’ and professors’ terribly low pay, so I will be making an effort to visit the museum network of UBA. The Museum of External Debt is the second one I’ve posted on.

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One of the consequences of growing up middle class in the USA is a general sort of insulation from macroeconomics.  At least for me, there just wasn’t an awareness of what went on at the national level.  Part of that was childhood, sure, but I don’t think you really find economic turmoil that really disrupts the political institutions of the US after the Industrial Age–and really, not *that* disruptive.

You don’t have to go back very far to find that kind of chaos in Argentina.  You can see damaged door handle of a bank in the post on the Banco Cuidad museum.  There were riots, police brutality, dozens killed, and an iconic image of the president fleeing the Casa Rosada in a helicopter.

Against that backdrop of economic chaos in 2001, students and professors in the Universidad de Buenos Aires’s economics department began to discuss a museum on Argentina’s external debt.  In 2005 the museum display opened at its first location.  It is currently located within the economics building of UBA, and it has a travelling version and also a healthy online presence.

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It’s tucked into the first floor, and you can it through the windows on the other side of the building.

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The physical space of the museum is just the one exhibition room.  And it is basically a room-sized pamphlet.  It is all text and photos.  None of that text is in English.  But, an English audio tour is available if you ask at the desk.  There’s a pretty slick booklet about the museum available, with text in four languages: Spanish, French, Italian, and German.  Haha.

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These are postcards that were designed at UBA’s architecture, design and urbanism department, for the museum, and they are pretty eye-catching.

If your Spanish kinda sucks, you are definitely going to want the English audio tour.  It doesn’t read the displays word for word, but it gives you a solid idea of what’s there, and it’s simple to follow along.

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There’s plenty to parse on the disastrous war of the triple alliance against Paraguay, but there are two things widely agreed on:  1) Argentina owed Great Britain money, and 2) Great Britain made out pretty well as a result of the war. 

 

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In the interest of national sovereignty, paying off external debt was a priority during Perón’s first term.

The history of Argentina’s foreign debt is sketched out, along with the problems the debt (and whatever attending corruption came with it) contributed to for the population of Argentina.  Things get super ugly, as things do, during the military dictatorship of the 70s/80s.

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The debt gets very huge and the economy tanks, but the population can do very little about macroeconomics when the leadership is actively murdering opposition.

Argentina has really been in a state of economic crisis or at least crisis-adjacent ever since.  Being unable to untangle itself from a considerable foreign-held debt has had some pretty crippling effects, and addressing the problems has been insanely complicated.

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Economic collapse and a president evacuated from the Casa Rosada by helicopter.  NOT IDEAL.
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The next four guys came and went within EIGHT DAYS.

The museum ends with the economic policies of Néstor Kirchner and the restructuring of the debt.  Wish I could say it stops in 2007 because everything got super rad after that, but alas. As of this posting, Twitter is flush with memes by Argentines laugh-crying their way through the latest plunge of the peso.

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Comics and Debt

The museum has created a heck of a lot of sophisticated supplementary materials, including four entire comic books and a board game (you can read the comics online for free here).  There is a documentary.  There is a cartoon miniseries.  There is a stunning array of media available on the topic.

The museum is open from 9am to 9pm, Monday-Friday, and it’s free.  It’s across the street from the Facultad de Medicina stop on the D line of the subway.  If you aren’t near enough to visit, the website is quite robust, so you can absorb it from afar.  As a bonus, unrelated factoid, if you look at the top of the economics building, you’ll see a medical scene, as the building was originally the medical school.

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“Today, we will be conducting the autopsy of the economy of Argentina…”

Museo de Patología de la Universidad de Buenos Aires [Pathology Museum of the University of Buenos Aires]

The Museo de Patología was the first museum established within the University of Buenos Aires, in 1887.  The first specimens came from the medical school hospital, and later, small collections from other hospitals were incorporated, making the museum an interesting piece of heritage for the medical school.

Sooooooooo…..

This museum is really a collection of specimens in jars.  Like, body parts. There were so many fetuses, you guys.

As you might imagine, the museum has a notice posted admonishing visitors to consider the collection a place of learning and reflection and not a freak show gawk fest. Understandably then, photographing the specimens within is not permitted, and I did respect that. But holy shit there are people who did not and so there are photos available on Google Maps. They don’t include what were grimmest for me personally, so yay?

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The museum is tucked away on the third floor of one of the UBA’s medical school buildings. You can just walk in, sign in, deposit any backpack you might be carrying in a locker and continue to the collection. Before you enter the actual zone, you might take a look at the exhibits they have outside the door.

Stock-photo cool guys are prohibited.

These exhibits have a few of the milder specimens, and give some information about the pathologies involved.  If you’re disappointed by the lack of a human specimen example for mermaid syndrome, don’t worry–you can find one inside, you absolute lunatic.

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This is the head of a sheep with cyclopia. There is a human specimen inside. There’s a lot of sad stuff inside.

Ever wonder what the effects of tuberculosis look like on the inside?  You are in luck, buddy.

 

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Lung holes. It looks like lung holes. Although it can also mess up  literally everything.

This case explains that tuberculosis is a common infection in Argentina; one in three people have come into contact with the bacteria. There are three possibilities in case of contact: the body fights it off completely (ya good), the body doesn’t fight it off (ya sick), or the body fights it off just enough to prevent symptoms but not eliminate the bacteria (ya latent). It lays out the risk factors for developing the disease, and now you can lie awake at night, contemplating the fragility of the human condition.

This here is a fatty liver.

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Also from a tuberculosis patient, incidentally. I would like to note that the Wikipedia entry for “fatty liver” begins with “Not to be confused with foie gras,” which makes this my favorite “not to be confused with” label ever.

The display on liver health includes very helpful emojis.  While that might seem a bit jarring juxtaposed with actual diseased human organs, I actually appreciate the effort made to communicate the information visually and clearly.  Science museum exhibits are introductions, not text books.

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If actual french fry cartons came like this, I might be successfully guilted into ordering the smallest size.

Inside, the museum is apparently undergoing a bit of a renovation, although what that entails isn’t clear; presumably the jugs of formaldehyde on the floor will at least get a cabinet during visiting hours.  The whole museum is two large rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs, crowded with shelves and shelves of specimen jars grouped by pathology.  The labeling is minimal, and includes no context information.  This didn’t really bother me–aside from making it a collection for a highly specific audience that does not include me, museum-going boob Jo Public–until the tattoos.  There are several pieces of skin (and one entire hand) displayed specifically for their tattoos.  My exceedingly-chill-about-going-to-see-corpse-pieces friend and I estimated, based solely on a couple of dates included in the tattoos themselves, that they were probably around 100-125 years old.  We also assumed they came from indigent patients at the medical school hospital.  However, there is nothing to really confirm this in the labeling.  There were a couple that seemed to have belonged to a sailor (sailors?) that had an anchor and the USA and Norwegian flags.  There were a couple of examples of basic line drawings of circus performers, like a trapeze girl (boobs out) and a strong man.  The subject matters also seemed to bear out our extremely rough idea of their age and origin.  Tattoos are not a pathology, so the lack of context here was galling.  I really, really wanted to know how old they were, who they belonged to, how they came to be preserved.  This was easily the most interesting part of the collection, for me.  As a museum that specifically includes the public in its mission, it would be nice for it to have more explanatory and educational displays.  A cohesive exhibit about the history of the museum would be very cool, too.

Aside from all the jars, the museum also includes a historical library of pathology books in various languages as well as historical laboratory equipment.  It is, as I mentioned, open to the public, but if you’re bothered by preserved body parts (think torsos and heads, not just organs and tissue), it’s best to give it miss.  There is no signage in English, and since using your translation app is easily mistaken for photography, you’re on your own if your Spanish is terrible. The museum is located in a medical school building a couple blocks from the D subway line.  It’s open Monday through Friday from 2pm to 6 pm, and it is free.