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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Anatomy Museum

Death and the Body Displayed

Distributed for Reaktion Books

Anatomy Museum

Death and the Body Displayed

The wild success of the traveling Body Worlds exhibition is testimony to the powerful allure that human bodies can have when opened up for display in gallery spaces. But while anatomy museums have shown their visitors much about bodies, they themselves are something of an obscure phenomenon, with their incredible technological developments and complex uses of visual images and the flesh itself remaining largely under researched. This book investigates anatomy museums in Western settings, revealing how they have operated in the often passionate pursuit of knowledge that inspires both fascination and fear.
Elizabeth Hallam explores these museums, past and present, showing how they display the human body—whether naked, stripped of skin, completely dissected, or rendered in the form of drawings, three-dimensional models, x-rays, or films. She identifies within anatomy museums a diverse array of related issues—from the representation of deceased bodies in art to the aesthetics of science, from body donation to techniques for preserving corpses and ritualized practices for disposing of the dead. Probing these matters through in-depth study, Anatomy Museum unearths a strange and compelling cultural history of the spaces human bodies are made to occupy when displayed after death.

408 pages | 120 color plates, 60 halftones | 6 1/2 x 9 | © 2016

History: General History


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“Hallam uses the Anatomy Museum at the University of Aberdeen, UK, to anchor a history of collections of human anatomical remains as ‘synoptic mazes’—labyrinthine summations of knowledge. She charts their convoluted chronicles of acquisition, dissection and preservation, weaving in a narrative on the cultural display of death, from ancient ossuaries to plastinated bodies.”


"Keenly aware of the broader context and making liberal use of other collections in the UK, Hallam shows us how dynamic and diverse a successful collection like this was . . . She guides us beyond the museum to other anatomy spaces, especially the lecture theatre and the dissection room . . . Anatomy Museum is well worth reading. It is impeccably researched, nicely produced and lavishly illustrated. It spurs us to think differently about collections of all kinds, and relationships between the things in them. . . . From papier-mâché to plastic, from plastinates to plasticine, there is beauty to be found in the anatomy museum."

Museums Journal

"For the reviewer, a fan of the history of science in general, particularly the study of anatomy and physiology, it is difficult not to be effusive about this volume . . . This book will be a valuable addition to collections that serve practitioners and historians of the study and treatment of the human body. Recommended."


“The book is a museum. A collection of ideas, material objects, and relations collected meticulously and ordered, but allowing the visitors/readers to draw new connections between them and use them for their own purposes in teaching and research. As a well-kept museum, its references are in good order and the notes are a gold mine on the literature of the field.”

Medical History

“This book concerns the post-mortem experience of those patients, or parts of them, as well as the lived experience of the students who studied them. It is as much a history of anatomical education (in which museums played a changing role) as it is of this type of museum itself. It is a peculiar, but ultimately successful, mix of a history of animated display, reviewing how anatomical specimens have been ‘brought to life’ over a period of several centuries, and a specific social and cultural case study of the Anatomy Museum of Marischal College (Aberdeen), from its origins in the 1830s until its closure in 2009. . . . The author draws on her experience of using the museum, prior to the transfer of the collections elsewhere, and this lavishly illustrated book contains several photographs drawn from the small archival room she discovered there. . . . Innovative.”

British Journal for the History of Science

“If you are not comfortable with pictures of dead human bodies, this may not be ideal bedtime reading. However, the topic is covered sensitively and with due reference to social, cultural, and historical contexts. . . . The many illustrations complement the text, particularly the sections about anatomical images and art depicting the human body in death. Some of the historical photographs are of lower quality, but their inclusion is valuable, as they help bring history alive. . . . As many anatomical museums are not open to the public, this book provides an alternative insight. Mostly fascinating, sometimes disturbing, but very readable, Anatomy Museum will be of interest to human biologists, medical professionals, and historians of medicine, as well as artists.”


Table of Contents

Introduction: Articulating Anatomy
                Hand and Eye: Dynamic of Tactile Display
                Animations: Relics, Rarities and Anatomical Preparations
                Nerve Centre: Museum Formation I
                Skeletal Growth: Museum Formation II
                Visualizing the Interior
                Living Anatomy
                Paper, Wax and Plastic
                Relocations and Memorials
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements


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