Tag Archives: History of Medicine

Bring Out Yer Dead: Why Edinburgh’s “Public” Dissections are Important

A Lecture at the Hunterian Anatomy School
A Lecture at the Hunterian Anatomy School

Last month, word began to spread that Edinburgh University will be offering anatomy lessons. This does not sound all that unusual: it’s one of the oldest and most prestigious medical schools in the world, of course the study of anatomy should be at the forefront of the curriculum. What makes this exciting, however, is that the university is offering anatomy lessons using real cadavers, and the lessons will be open to the public. The first mention I saw of this boasted that this is the “First public anatomy lectures planned in the UK since Burke and Hare,” referring to the infamous 1828 case in which William Burke and William Hare delivered over a dozen bodies through the back door of Dr. Robert Knox’s dissection theater for use in teaching anatomy, bodies that were killed for that very purpose (and for the meager sum it paid). Continue reading Bring Out Yer Dead: Why Edinburgh’s “Public” Dissections are Important

The Body on Display: A Day at the NYAM Medical History Festival

Late eighteenth century physicians (for the most part) increasingly L0025772 A. Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septum.embraced the wisdom of learning anatomy directly from a dissected corpse. Feeling the textures and depths of the body’s interior and seeing it all firsthand became an invaluable tool for beginning physicians. However, this method of teaching ultimately relied on the advancements in medical thought demonstrated in the sixteenth century by one man: Andreas Vesalius. The brief version of his contribution to this field is that he turned a system in which the physician dictated dissection from a space removed from the actual body, and a surgeon performed what he was told on the body. Physicians, in this system, rarely encountered the actual interior of the body. Vesalius changed all that. Not only did he dissect his own corpses, but, by doing so, he corrected many of the errors in previous anatomical texts based on an assumed closeness between human and animal anatomies. His most famous work is the beautiful, fully illustrated De Humani Corporis Fabrica (often referred to as just the Fabrica). You probably recognize the frontispiece pictured here. Continue reading The Body on Display: A Day at the NYAM Medical History Festival