Abstract

This essay examines the use of Protestant rhetoric in defense of anatomical dissection in the antebellum United States. The expansion of American medical schools in the first half of the nineteenth century led to increasing conflicts between the growing medical establishment and the citizens of American cities. Much of the controversy centered upon anatomical dissection: medical schools illicitly mined burial grounds for dissection subjects, and sordid portraits of depraved, bodysnatching doctors populated American editorials and fiction. Reading medical lectures, editorials, and legislative documents in tandem with the 1836 novel Sheppard Lee by Robert Montgomery Bird, this essay demonstrates how advocates of the American medical establishment imaginatively recast New Testament ideology to absolve the morally suspect practice of dissection. I suggest that this body of medico-Protestant nationalist discourse not only complicates common equations of the rise of American medicine with the rise of the secular public sphere, but also prompt reconsideration of how we read death and the dead body in literature and culture.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 388-418
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-05
Open Access
No
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