"Brought to Life" today: a new medical history resouce


Wax anatomical figure of reclining woman, Florence, Italy, 1771-1800
Science Museum London

Starting today, the Wellcome Trust and sciencemuseum.org.uk open a brand spanking new collection of medical history archives. "Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine" is searchable by people, place, thing, theme, and time. You can view a timeline of medical history in Europe next to similar timelines for the Islamic empire, Egypt and Greece (I do wish China and India were as prominently placed). You can read essays about larger questions, like what "wellness" means, or play with a cool interactive demo of John Snow's analysis of the Broad Street cholera epidemic, which is perfect for students (teachers: check out the curriculum links here.)

I love seeing figures like the wax model above placed in a historical and cultural context:

Female wax anatomical models were often referred to as 'Venuses', after the goddess of love and beauty. Reclining on silk or velvet cushions, in positions copied from works of art, they often had flowing hair and jewellery, which added nothing to their anatomical use. They served to show not just physical differences but also gender differences, as perceived in European culture at that time. A third way of understanding the model is to see the exposed body layers as a symbol of nature 'unveiling herself' to the medical gaze. Looking deep into the body was considered to be the route to knowledge. In just one model, ideas about art, anatomy, gender, flesh and knowledge were all conveyed. (source)

A few years ago when I wrote my post "Wombs, Waxes, and Wonder Cabinets," there was very little discussion out there on the web about the cultural context and history of anatomical models. There was scholarship on the topic, of course, but it wasn't accessible where students or nonspecialists usually look first - Google. It's wonderful to see how things have changed, partly because of organizations like the Wellcome putting their archives online, and partly because of amazing blogs like Morbid Anatomy facilitating discussion and discovery. It's easier than ever before to explore how our modern attitudes towards our bodies, medicine, and corporeality evolved!

Check out more of "Brought to Life" at sciencemuseum.org.uk when you have a chance!

Related posts:

Wombs, Waxes and Wonder Cabinets

Invading Hands, Sleeping Beauties

The Visible Embryo: a Visual History

The Hunterian Museum

More like this

Honestly, I think you must have the best blog in existence. When my rss tells me there's an update, it makes me so doggone happy.