Suddenly on Point? ‘Dr Beak’ at the DHM

Life at the moment is entirely dominated by the containment measures for slowing down the spread of the novel coronavirus. Hygiene regulations, limits on social contact, ‘social’ (or physical) distancing, and – especially – face masks are now all the subject of hot debate. These kinds of measures and equipment have been deployed time and again throughout history in efforts to contain disease and sickness, which is why the Deutsches Historisches Museum’s collection includes a number of masks. However, one mask in particular has recently attracted considerable attention. After the Yorkshire Museum challenged fellow curators on Twitter to show off their ‘creepiest object’ (under the hashtag #CuratorBattle), we responded by posting the ‘plague mask’ from our permanent collection. But was it really used as ‘beaky plague protection’, as we reported in a post from our ‘What’s That For?’ series in 2017? Sabine Witt, head of our ‘Everyday Life’ division, explains why there’s reason to doubt the object’s provenance and, in particular, its use as a protective mask. In an article co-authored with Stefan Bresky, head of Education and Communication, she recently wrote about this object in the second issue of the DHM’s Historische Urteilskraft magazine. In light of the current situation, we’re sharing a slightly abridged version of the article exclusively on the DHM Blog.