Abstract

When I found myself at the center of a controversy over the disposition of an old collection of human fetal specimens at Mount Holyoke College, I was motivated to explore the historical transformation that turned embryo collecting for research and pedagogical purposes from a noble to a disparaged practice, and dead fetuses from prized anatomical specimens to ugly, anomalous entities. Using Linda Layne's analysis of the literal and symbolic erasure of dead fetuses from American cultural discourse, this article examines the shifting circumstances that once encouraged the collection of fetal specimens but that now mandate their disappearance. Using Mount Holyoke as a case study, it describes the scientific logic and specific social exchange networks that led to the acquisition of hundreds of fetal specimens in the first half of the 20th century. It also examines the factors—including changes in biology education, concerns about handling hazardous fixatives, and especially the prominence of beautified and lifelike fetal images consistent with the so-called "culture of life"—that prompt the dissolution and demise of human embryo and fetal collections.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 435-451
Launched on MUSE
2006-07-27
Open Access
No
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