Ill-gotten Brains: The Grisly History of Sourcing Bodies for Anatomical Learning


Opera omnia anatomica & chirurgica, Andreas Vesalius

An Illustrated Lecture with Megan Curran, Norris Medical Library, USC
Date: Friday, April 22
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5
Presented by Morbid Anatomy

The idea of donating your body to science is actually a very new concept. There wasn’t even a national law governing the process until the late 1960s. How, then, did medical illustrators, going back hundreds of years, acquire bodies to draw? Many bodies were “donated” alright, but the dead people didn’t know they were being so generous. Prisoners, the indigent, robbed graves, and even murders helped supply medical schools and doctors for centuries.

This wild history of sourcing human bodies spans from the dawn of modern anatomy in the Renaissance with Vesalius (and even artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo), through the 19th century’s institutionalized medical school body snatchings, and up to Nazi medicine and the controversy over plastinated bodies in exhibits like Body Worlds.

For tonight’s lecture, join Megan Curran of USC’s Norris Medical Library for fascinating accounts of how bodies were procured for the advance of science, often through less than ethical means, accompanied by images from USC’s rare medical books.

Megan Curran is the Head of Metadata & Content Management for the Norris Medical Library of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA. Megan manages the history of medicine and rare books collections at USC and has been working to promote that collection. Megan serves on the editorial board of the Journal of the Medical Library Association, and is on the board of the Archivists & Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences. Megan originally hails from Philadelphia and is a dyed-in-the-wool rare book nerd.

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