restricted access Cultures of Death and Politics of Corpse Supply: Anatomy in Vienna, 1848–1914
Abstract

Nineteenth-century Vienna is well known to medical historians as a leading center of medical research and education, offering easy access to patients and corpses to students from all over the world. The author seeks to explain how this enviable supply of cadavers was achieved, why it provoked so little opposition at a time when Britain and the United States saw widespread protests against dissection, and how it was threatened from mid-century onward. To understand permissive Viennese attitudes, we need to place them in a longue durée history of death and dissection and to pay close attention to the city’s political geography as it was transformed into a major imperial capital. The tolerant stance of the Roman Catholic Church, strong links to Southern Europe, and the weak position of individuals in the absolutist state all contributed to an idiosyncratic anatomical culture. But as the fame of the Vienna medical school peaked in the later 1800s, the increased demand created by rising numbers of students combined with intensified interdisciplinary competition to produce a shortfall that professors found increasingly difficult to meet. Around 1900, new religious groups and mass political parties challenged long-standing anatomical practice by refusing to supply cadavers and making dissection into an instrument of political struggle. This study of the material preconditions for anatomy at one of Europe’s most influential medical schools provides a contrast to the dominant Anglo-American histories of death and dissection.


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