Drift 25, Rm. 302 27 Jul 2019 Organized Session
Biology 09:00 - 11:45

This panel examines some of the various forms and techniques of anatomical representation used to construct and convey scientific understandings of human difference over the long nineteenth century. As anatomists cut into and made objects from the body, they did so with questions about the similarities and differences among humans and, often, attempted to discern anatomical criteria by which human bodies could be sorted into types. These four papers investigate how bodies were translated into scientific objects and representations. We focus on woodcuts, anatomical preparation, photography, skull collection, live demonstrations, and lithography to shed light on the representational techniques employed by anatomists to navigate notions of anatomical universality, racial typology, gender difference, and "monstrosity." Anatomical bodies were made to speak to questions in embryology, anthropology, and medicine. We will show how bodies-- in jars, museums, photographic plates, and artist-drawn illustrations-- were crafted into and mobilized as scientifically-legible statements. By taking into account aesthetics and materiality, our papers provide insight into the methods, philosophies, projects, and preoccupations of anatomical scientists. Collectively, the panel will discuss how the creation and manipulation of anatomical objects shaped knowledge and opinion of human commonality and difference.

Organized by Sara Ray

Tracing Racial Illustrations in Historic Cranial Collections, 1790-1850: Camper, Blumenbach, and Morton
09:00 - 09:30
In comparative racial craniology, the foundation of physical anthropology, authoritative knowledge about racialized bodily difference was produced through intertwined projects of quantifying and visualizing cranial morphology. While craniological quantification has received significant critical attention, visualization has received comparatively less. However, the woodcuts, engravings, and lithographs portraying “racial” skulls prior to the common use of photography in the 1880s were essential in defining and disseminating typological racial templates. Here, I focus on the human cranial collections of Petrus Camper (1722-1799) in Groningen, the Netherlands, of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840) in Göttingen, Germany, and of Samuel George Morton (1799-1852) in Philadelphia, U.S.A., and their associated publications. These three were arguably the most influential craniologists prior to 1850. Comparison of their works is instructive, as each explicitly attempted to improve upon prior methods of visualization, each used different methods for composing illustrations, and each claimed to accurately depict skulls. Comparisons possible by analyzing metrically precise 3D digital models of skulls depicted in these illustrations against the illustrations themselves reveal dramatically different visual practices in an apparently similar genre of craniological atlas. Remarkably, the most “mechanically objective” illustrations were Camper’s, which were chronologically the first. Blumenbach’s illustrations display an idealized, Romantic aesthetic, while Morton’s illustrations are so metrically distorted he could not have produced them with the device he claimed to have used. Taking the materiality of cranial collections seriously as an historical archive can disclose heretofore obscured distortions and transformations in the scientific construction of bodily difference.
Monster Collectors from Peter to Willem: Abnormal Bodies and Embryology, 1697-1849
09:30 - 10:00
The Dutch anatomist Willem Vrolik collected several hundred abnormal human fetuses over the first half of the nineteenth century. Vrolik was one of the early teratologists, scientific men who sought to classify types of bodily abnormality and, through classification, discern what caused them. Vrolik created a museum showing that “monstrous bodies” appeared throughout the animal kingdom in regular morphological types that, he claimed, were produced when the normative workings of an immaterial force called vormkracht were disrupted. Vrolik’s collection and classification of abnormal fetuses followed a century of scientific dispute about the processes of generation. The belief that collecting, anatomizing, and comparing “monstrous bodies” might reveal their natural causes was first put forth by the Russiam Tsar Peter the Great after he learned new techniques of anatomical preservation during his 1697 visit to Amsterdam. Upon returning to Russia, Peter issued a royal order that all monstrous births-- human and animal, alive and dead-- should be sent to him for preservation. It was Peter’s “storehouse of monsters” that Caspar Wolff used later in the century to bolster his theory of epigenetic embryological development. Beginning with Peter’s monster collecting and ending with Vrolik’s teratological museum, this paper examines how preservations of “monstrous births” offered materialized epistemological tools for naturalists attempting to unravel the mysteries of embryological development. While "wet" preservations were new in Peter’s time, they had become a central part of anatomy collections by Vrolik’s. I argue that this shift in material evidence was crucial to the epigenetic turn in embryology.
Reading Skulls: An Object-Based Study of the Vrolik Collection of Racial Anthropology to Determine a Change in Focus of Collecting, 1800-1860
10:15 - 10:45
In the history of nineteenth-century collections of racial anthropology, a shift is detectable in the way in which skulls were collected and described. Late-eighteenth century and early-nineteenth century collections-- like those of Blumenbach-- are typological in the sense that certain races or types were represented by only one or a few skulls and, as such, these skulls came to be the ‘ideal’ representatives of those races. Due to positivism and objectivism, a more quantitative or craniometrical approach took over in the late nineteenth century. The aim was to collect as many skulls of a certain race or group and to take as many measurements as possible. The nineteenth-century craniological collection of Amsterdam anatomists and collectors Gerard Vrolik and his son Willem Vrolik was brought together between 1800 and 1860. In theory, the collection history may demonstrate the shift from the typological towards the craniometrical. The main problem with the collection is that its catalogue, written at the end of Willem Vroliks life, gives us only sparse information about the years of entry of individual skulls or other information regarding provenance. However, by using the actual skulls as historical source – the different styles and systems of numbers and labels on their surface and their stands-- I argue that a shift in focus within its 60 years of collecting did occur and can be observed. This object-based study is thus not only of value with regard to specific provenance research, it is also an example of the role it may play in determining broader historical questions.
Docteur Doyen’s Photographic Anatomy Show: Objectivity, Showmanship, Difference, and the Reinvention of the Anatomical Image in Belle Époque France
10:45 - 11:15
It’s Paris, 18 April 1910. Eugène-Louis Doyen (1859-1916) takes the stage to deliver a lecture on topographical anatomy. Doyen intends to astonish the crowd with a carnivale moderne of medical science. There will be: lantern-slide projec­tions of color photographs of machine-sliced cross-sections of “scientifically mummified” cadavers; silent films of surgeries; displays of actual cadaveric slices, via direct presentation and episcopic projection; even a bit of onstage dissection. As the program commences, Doyen’s supporters and detractors come to blows. The lecture becomes a notorious fiasco, reported on in the Parisian press and New York Times. It’s an episode full of juicy details that bear on the politics and practice of elite French medicine, the staging and meaning of scientific lectures and photographic presentation, the performance of scientific persona, and the media milieu of belle époque France. Yet historians have somehow overlooked the riot, Doyen’s photography, and the larger corpus of photographic anatomical image production from its 1860s origins through its development over many decades following. This paper focuses on the 279 photographic plates of Doyen’s amazing, disturbing Atlas d'anatomie topographique (1911-12)—the unheralded masterpiece previewed onstage that April evening in Paris. I want to consider the meanings, aesthetics, dramaturgy and boundaries of Doyen’s extremophile scientific and representational practice—anatomical photography as social, cultural, and professional performance. My questions: What difference did photography make to anatomy? And, if photographic construction of the universal anatomical human violated normative conventions of idealized anatomical representation, what difference did photography make to the representation of difference?
Commentary: Anatomical Representation and Bodily Difference in the Long-Nineteenth Century
11:15 - 11:45

University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
Museum Vrolik, Amsterdam University Medical Centers
Uppsala University
Utrecht University / University of Amsterdam


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