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Artificial Parts, Practical Lives

Modern Histories of Prosthetics

Katherine Ott, David Serlin, Stephen Mihm

Publication Year: 2002

From the wooden teeth of George Washington to the Bly prosthesis, popular in the 1860s and boasting easy uniform motions of the limb, to today's lifelike approximations, prosthetic devices reveal the extent to which the evolution and design of technologies of the body are intertwined with both the practical and subjective needs of human beings.

The peculiar history of prosthetic devices sheds light on the relationship between technological change and the civilizing process of modernity, and analyzes the concrete materials of prosthetics which carry with them ideologies of body, ideals, body politics, and culture.

Simultaneously critiquing, historicizing, and theorizing prosthetics, Artificial Parts, Practical Lives lays out a balanced and complex picture of its subject, neither vilifying nor celebrating the merger of flesh and machine.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. v-vi

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The Sum of Its Parts: An Introduction to Modern Histories of Prosthetics

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pp. 1-42

"HISTORIES OF PROSTHETICS are probably better written by playwrights than by historians. The stories are full of contradiction, emotion, creativity, intrigue, and myth, gestures that are fraught with meaning, and sometimes improbable (but more often than not, tedious) events. There is the young woman, a double leg amputee, deciding what height she would like to be and her preferred shoe size as she is..."


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pp. 43-44

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Engineering Masculinity: Veterans and Prosthetics after World War Two

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pp. 45-74

"THE EVENTS OF World War Two straddled an uncomfortably unstable period in United States history between the desperate 1930s and the arrogant 1950s. Before the booming economy and unbridled prosperity normally associated with the mid-1950s Pax Americana, many Americans spent the first years of the postwar period recovering slowly from the disruption that wartime had generated in their daily..."

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Re-Arming the Disabled Veteran: Artificially Rebuilding State and Society in World War One Germany

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pp. 75-101

WHILE THE BATTLEFIELDS of the First World War left unprecedented numbers of German soldiers dead, the intensity of the conflict fostered medical innovations that enabled a far greater percentage of severely injured men to survive. Over the course of the war, doctors gained enough experience with amputation surgery and antiseptic procedures to save lives that would have been lost to gangrene..."

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From Cotton to Silicone: Breast Prosthesis before 1950

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pp. 102-118

"IN 1904 LAURA WOLFE, a single woman who worked as a saleslady in downtown Columbus, Ohio, filed a patent for an “artificial breast pad.”1 After earning her patent two years later, she described the product as “durable and efficient and simple and comparatively inexpensive to make.”2 Like many inventors seeking patents for breast forms, she relied on basic and accessible products to create the forms. By combining..."

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”How a One-Legged Rebel Lives”: Confederate Veterans and Artificial Limbs in Virginia

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pp. 119-144

"ON 3 JUNE 1861, a cannonball tore eighteen-year-old James E. Hanger’s left leg off at the knee during a skirmish with Union troops at Philippi, the first battle of the Civil War. A student at Washington College in Lexington, he had returned home at the outset of the war and joined Confederate troops on the battlefield. Grievously wounded two days later, Hanger was taken prisoner and had his leg amputated by an..."


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pp. 145-146

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Hard Wear and Soft Tissue: Craft and Commerce in Artificial Eyes

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pp. 147-170

"IN 1881, FORTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD Jacob Groff was using an uncooperative ox to haul logs through the countryside of Elkhart County, Indiana. Groff cracked his whip at the unruly animal and the whiplash struck him in the eye. The injury blinded him at once and he felt so sickened he nearly vomited. Groff’s neighbor, John Mann, a nineteen-year-old farmer, began his day as usual, long before dawn, groping around..."

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Modern Miracles: The Development of Cosmetic Prosthetics

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pp. 171-198

"IMAGINE AN ARCHEOLOGICAL dig some centuries in the future focused on medical practices of past times, a time when the term “primitive” is even more out of fashion than it is today. The dig site? One of the many cosmetic surgery centers that sprinkled the North American landscape in the late years of the twentieth century."

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Casing the Joint: The Material Development of Artificial Hips

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pp. 199-226

" INTRODUCTION Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide walk with the hidden aid of entirely artificial hips. Many have had artificial replacements installed for both of their hip joints. These devices, implanted by orthopedic surgeons in risky and expensive operations, restore locomotor function and reduce pain from arthritic or otherwise damaged joints...."

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”There’s No Language for This”: Communication and Alignment in Contemporary Prosthetics

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pp. 227-246

"THIS ESSAY IS about how contemporary lower-extremity amputees and prosthetists communicate with each other during the process of fitting and aligning a prosthesis in clinic. Amputees approach the use of prostheses from a subjective perspective, while prosthetists speak about fitting and aligning prostheses in the language of biomechanics.Since fit and alignment are essential to using a prosthesis, prosthetists..."

Use and Representation

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pp. 247-248

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The Prosthetics of Management: Motion Study, Photography, and the Industrialized Body in World War I America

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pp. 249-281

"I'D LIKE TO BEGIN with a familiar metaphor, first coined by Adam Smith and subsequently revised by many observers of business and economics. The metaphor is that of the "invisible hand," which Smith used to describe a capitalist market coherence driven by individual gain but resulting in common economic good.1"

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”A Limb Which Shall Be Presentable in Polite Society”: Prosthetic Technologies in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 282-299

"THE DISPLAY OF the A. A. Marks Company must have been one of the more memorable at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 (fig. 10.1). In an impressive bid to capture visitors’ attention, the firm had constructed four large display cases roofed by a gilded dome and a “colossal golden leg” that towered over the surrounding exhibits. Each glass case, the..."

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The Long Arm of Benjamin Franklin

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pp. 300-326

"IN 1786 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN invented a device "for taking down Books from high Shelves.” He called it “the Long Arm” (fig. 11.1). This “simple machine,” a wooden pole with a somewhat pliable end-piece, extended not only its inventor’s arms but also his legs, since it made mounting a ladder unnecessary. Franklin further anthropomorphosed the machine by referring to its end pieces, which grasped books, as..."

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Technology Sits Cross-Legged: Developing the Jaipur Foot Prothesis

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pp. 327-348

"THE TERM “JAIPUR FOOT” is a convenient way of naming a whole class of prosthetic feet developed in the city of Jaipur, India. It refers to a class of handcrafted, multiple-axis prosthetic devices that evoke the human foot exceptionally well in form and function, and yet are cheaper than a pair of Indian shoes. Nonliterate artisans..."


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pp. 349-350


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pp. 351-359

E-ISBN-13: 9780814762431
E-ISBN-10: 0814762433
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814761977
Print-ISBN-10: 0814761976

Page Count: 366
Publication Year: 2002