The Dissection Room Photo: A Lost Genre of Medical Portraiture.

An illustrated lecture about the history of dissection photos in America as discussed in his critically acclaimed book “Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930″

By co-author and Chief Curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center James Edmonson.

Date: Sunday, December 6th
Time: 4:00 PM
Admission: $5

Books will be available for sale and signing

“The Dissection Room Photo: A Lost Genre of Medical Portraiture.”
An illustrated lecture by James Edmonson, co-author of Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930 and curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum of Case Western Reserve University.

This illustrated lecture by James Edmonson, based on research and photographs  presented in his critically acclaimed (Amazon top 10 science books of the year, featured in New York Times, New York Times Book Review, Slate, NPR All Things Considered, NPR Science Friday) Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930, will explicate and contextualize an under-seen genre of the American photographic tradition: photographs taken of human dissections by medical students. This book, with more than 100 rare historic photos, will be available for sale and signing at the event, along with other Blast Books publications such as the 2010 Mütter Museum Calendar and books The Mütter Museum, and Mütter Museum Historic Medical Photographs.

More about the book, from the publisher’s press release:

Featuring 138 rare, historic photographs, Dissection is a “landmark book” (Ruth Richardson) that reveals a startling piece of American history, the rite of passage into the mysteries of medicine captured in photography. From the advent of photography in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, medical students, often in secrecy, took photographs of themselves with the cadavers that they dissected: their first patients. The photographs were made in a variety of forms, from proud class portraits to staged dark-humor scenes, from personal documentation to images reproduced on postcards sent in the mail. Poignant, strange, disturbing, and humorous, they are all compelling.

These photographs were made at a time when Victorian societal taboos against intimate knowledge of the human body were uneasily set aside for medical students in pursuit of knowledge that could be gained only in the dissecting room. “Dissection“, writes Mary Roach, “documents—in archival photographs and informed, approachable prose—a heretofore almost entirely unknown genre, the dissection photograph.” “Without looking,” writes John Harley Warner, “we cannot see an uncomfortable past and begin to understand the legacies that American doctors and patients live with today.” That uncomfortable past saw the gradual passing of state laws, from 1831 to 1947, to govern the awkward business of cadaver supply—ever inadequate—bringing an end to reliance on professional “resurrectionists,” grave robbing, and dissection as an extended punishment for murder and as a consequence of poverty.

As James Edmonson notes, “Unsettling though these images may be, they are a thread connecting us to the shared experience among medical professionals over generations. . . . As medical schools explore alternatives to human dissection, this rite of passage may disappear.” Together, the remarkable archival photographs and illuminating essays in “Dissection” present the astonishing social realities of the pursuit of medical knowledge in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America.

James (Jim) M. Edmonson is Chief Curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum of Case Western Reserve University. Jim is a historian of technology who always wanted to be a curator and by a quirk of fate ended up in a medical museum, the Dittrick Museum of Medical History in Cleveland, Ohio. Recent publications include American Surgical Instruments (1997) and Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, 1880-1930 (Blast Books, 2009).  Jim has also recently opened a major permanent exhibition at the Dittrick, “Virtue, Vice, and Contraband: A History of Contraception in America,” and is working on a companion illustrated history of contraception in book form.  In the medical museum field Jim has been past president of the Medical Museums Association and serves as Secretary General of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences. He has been a consultant to the Warren Anatomical Museum of Harvard University, the New York Academy of Medicine, the Mutter Museum, and the Waring Historical Library.

Praise for the book:
“An extraordinary collection of photographs. . . . Forget the truckloads of grandiose prose that has been spun about the art and science of medicine over the centuries: one look at this picture [page 188] and you understand what it is all supposed to be about.”
—Abigail Zuger, MD, The New York Times

“This is the most extraordinary book I have ever seen [and] the perfect coffee table book for all the households where I’d most like to be invited for coffee.”
—Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Bonk

“A truly unique and important book [that] documents a period in medical education in a way that is matched by no other existing contribution.”
—Sherwin Nuland, MD, author of How We Die

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