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  • Introduction: Beyond Illustrations:
    Doing Anatomy with Images and Objects
  • Carin Berkowitz (bio)

This forum engages with a central component of medical science and medical practice—the visualization of anatomy, pathology, and disease. It is about the collaborations among surgeons, medical men, and anatomists that were necessary to visualization, and about the authority bestowed upon an image or object that stands for a part of the body or a disease, and also bestowed upon the author of that object or image. It considers aesthetic choices and their social and epistemic contexts and consequences. But it is also about our practices as historians. How do we move beyond thinking of images and objects as simply illustrative? How do we pursue historical inquiry with them? And what are we responsible for conveying about their making and purpose in the images we ourselves display in our books and articles? This introduction provides a brief outline of the themes that structure the three articles collected here and begins to frame answers to such questions.

Identity, Expertise, and Authorship in Anatomical Specimens and Drawings

This forum highlights the importance of contexts of use in understanding visual displays in anatomy, in part by beginning historical inquiry with objects. Anatomy has long been studied through specimens and drawings, its objects serving to encapsulate a body of knowledge as well as delimit a subject under study.1 In some cases, these objects became a part [End Page 165] of collections that aimed to be comprehensive and to capture nature’s diversity in serial, where in others they were representative, standing in for the “normal” or “optimal.”2 Sometimes they were paired with case histories, or sometimes, when specimens came from those still living, even debuted at scientific societies with their former bodies—the patient and what was formerly his arm or leg or tumor appearing side by side.3 In those instances, specimens served as research material. In others, they were used for teaching.

Anatomical specimens and anatomical models have always been important in the classroom, as have illustrations, often based on those specimens.4 The great anatomy collections of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—those of Frederik Ruysch, of John and William Hunter, of La Specola in Florence, and of Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh—were built up as teaching collections. The history of these early collections suggests that they served many functions. Sometimes they taught a citizenry about order and discipline, enlightening them;5 in other cases, they were used [End Page 166] to teach anatomy and natural philosophy;6 and in still other cases, they were accumulated as oddities.7

The nature of teaching collections changed over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Collections slowly became more comprehensive as normal anatomy came to occupy the center of collecting missions, rather than the peculiar, the curious, and the extraordinary. And with pathology increasingly recognized as an independent field within anatomy, such collections began to present an ordered pathology in much the same way as they provided an ordered view of nature through anatomy.8 As Domenico Bertoloni Meli describes in his article (“The Rise of Pathological Illustrations: Baillie, Bleuland, and Their Collections,” pp. 209–42), access to diseased bodies for the making of illustrations and specimens increased steadily over the eighteenth century, with techniques for representing those bodies visually becoming highly developed in countries where dissection was relatively uncommon. By the early nineteenth century, anatomy and disease had become fundamentally interrelated through pathology. Still, representing pathology systematically through illustrations or specimens presented problems that the representation of normal anatomy did not: problems of number of bodies (incomparably more were required for the making of a systematic atlas or collection of pathology), of organization, and of a new aesthetics of disease illustration.9 Features like texture and color that were crucial in pathology drawings presented new technical as well as stylistic challenges. Through the triangulation of different kinds of representation—some of which preserved color and appearance, others of which enhanced features the student was being trained to see, and others of which captured texture—representations [End Page 167] of pathology came to define and constitute anatomically located disease.

Those drawings that conveyed anatomical and pathological...


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pp. 165-170
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