In early-nineteenth-century America, anatomical narrative was crucial to the acquisition and performance of medical identity. Dissecting the dead, robbing graves, making and exhibiting “anatomical preparations,” and joking with bodies and body parts all served to affirm membership in the cult of medical knowledge. So did telling stories about such things. Through an examination of the autobiography of Charles Knowlton (1800–1850), a rural physician who practiced in northwestern Massachusetts, this article argues that the recitation and exchange of anatomical stories enabled medical practitioners to assert professional identity, healing competence, and filiations with theories and cliques. In both content and performance, the anatomical tale rehearsed the storyteller’s structural relationship to patients, the public, colleagues and rivals, and, above all, made a claim to knowledge and mastery of the body.


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pp. 460-498
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