martes, 20 de septiembre de 2011

fun with Cadavers

I came across Warner and Edmonson's fascinating book Dissection while touring the Old Operating Theatre museum in London.

The hardback book features revealing shots of medical students all dressed up and posing for their class picture including the medical cadaver. These pictures were commonly taken throughout the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States. 

 The effects range from humorous, as students have a little fun with the medical skeletons and cadavers, to downright disturbing in nature, as the photos illustrate the more troubling aspects of the medical history of the United States, particularly it's treatment African-Americans and poor whites who made up a majority of medical cadavers throughout history. 

These mostly poor, African-American and some white men's remains are awkwardly posed, and exposed on the dissecting tablet, surrounded by medical students. It was common for students to have a class slogan on the dissection table for the photo, such as "He lived for others, he died for us." 

Common photos include cadavers or skeletons posed to appear lifelike, participating in a game or cards or drinking, or posed as doctors, dissecting one of the living. How much of these exercises were intended to lighten the mood? Perhaps break some of the tension involved when dealing with remains and death, or do they speak to a more sinister aspect? 

Some of these messages posted below corpses verge on the troubling or horrific; "all coons smell alike to me" is scrawled below the remains of one african-american cadaver.  

The book lends an interesting perspective into how the treatment of medical subjects; death; and human remains are treated; the meaning of respect of toward the dead, and who receives that respect has changed, and in some cases how it has not. Most importantly, one can gain a level of understanding of the deep-seated mistrust and fear that many people living in this country continue to have of medical institutions.

skeletons posed for the camera.

Game of cards with skele friend.

Many Cadavers were those who could not afford proper burial, or who had no living kin.

Greeting Card from Medical Student

"A Student's Dream" These enactments were popular.

"A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever."

Information and photos Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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