In Denmark, from 1945-1982 the Institute of Brain Pathology collected 9.479 brains without consent from psychiatric patients who died in hospital care. The collection is still used in research. These brains, and the people who worked with them, are the subject of my PhD-thesis from 2019. In seven chapters, I follow the collection in different contexts from the histological techno-scientific conception of its creation, over the quotidian practicalities of collecting and storing, and uses in research, to heated bioethical debates, and depictions in Danish popular culture.
I am currently working on turning the thesis into a book.
Until then, you can read it here.
At the thesis defence 2 March 2020, the opposition consisted of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Karin Tybjerg, and Mikkel Thorup. Below is an excerpt from their evaluation of my work.
The Danish Brains provides an exciting and rewarding piece of research. It offers simultaneously a clear and readable history of an important collection and the practices surrounding it, and a conceptual analysis of how the Aarhus Brain Collection has been understood, worked with and presented.
Thomas Erslev has done a very good job in paying attention to the different, at times contradicting perspectives under which this collection was established, was able to grow, declined, and entered into a phase of heated debate at a rather belated point in time. It is not often that one comes across a historical piece of work that is written with such epistemological consciousness.
The Danish Brains very importantly moves across questions of science and ethics and it manages to both stay true to the way that actors intermingle these concepts and provide analytical clarity to their complicated interrelations.
We want to stress, finally, the formal and the literary quality of the work. Each chapter is properly introduced and ended by a short, summarizing conclusion, which guides the reader smoothly through the chapters. Besides that, The Danish Brains is written in a literary style that makes reading it a pleasure. These qualities can rightfully be emphasized, as they are not encountered frequently in academic writing.