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Anatomy, scientific authority and the visualized body in medicine and culture (Belgium, 1780-1930).

While anatomical dissection of human bodies has been a domain of interest to various educated audiences since the early modern era, the late eighteenth century witnessed a process of growing scientific and cultural authority of anatomy. Anatomical dissection gained a prominent place within medical curricula and evolved into an important constituent of academic medical identity, enabling physicians to define boundaries with 'non-scientific' forms of healing. At the same time, medical authors and educators began to advocate the teaching of anatomy to children and to a lay public. A new popular anatomical culture of anatomical museums and side shows took shape, supported by an increasingly individualist and materialist approach to health and well-being and in dialogue with a longstanding tradition of the production and exhibition of anatomical illustrations, preparations and models. During the heydays of this visual anatomical culture, however, gross anatomy as a medical subdiscipline lost much of its academic prestige. Its central epistemological position within the medical profession became superseded in the last third of the century by emerging fields as anatomical pathology and experimental physiology. This raises the question how the public authority of medicine and medical knowledge related to the popular image of the discipline, and in general, how popular medical culture related to the legitimization and recognition of academic expertise. This project will investigate the ways in which anatomy gained and/or lost prestige and visibility within the medical and the broader educational and cultural field in Belgium between 1780 and 1930. It will do so by focusing on the ways in which medical anatomical knowledge circulated between these fields and acquired in this process new meanings, and by investigating how different forms of representation or display of the human body did (or did not) support anatomy's legitimacy or authority. This general research question will be specified by distinguishing two domains of enquiry. The role of anatomy and visual display of the anatomical body will be researched in the formation of medicine as a scientific domain and in the fields of medical education of children, teachers and the lay public, including popular representations and displays of human bodies.
Date:1 Jan 2013  →  31 Dec 2016
Keywords:Anatomy, authority, medicine