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234 × 168 mm
448 pages
170 illustrations, 100 in colour
20 Jun 2016

Anatomy Museum Death and the Body Displayed Elizabeth Hallam

Anatomy museums contain some of the most compelling and challenging displays of the human body. This innovative book focusing on one such museum – in Scotland’s northeast – opens up a wide-ranging history of deceased bodies on display, from medieval relics, to nineteenth-century mega-collections of human remains, to the controversial Body Worlds exhibition that is touring the globe. A surprisingly varied and ever-changing material and visual culture of human anatomy emerges through this history, shaped by multiple factors, including colonialism and war, as well as shifts in medical institutions, technologies and media.

Within its massive granite architecture, the Anatomy Museum of Aberdeen’s medical school has grown and transformed over the last two centuries, in relation to a network of diverse yet interconnected exhibition sites. Many such medical museums in Britain have been used for professional training in which bodies after death are treated as vital sources of knowledge about the living. Anatomists and their associates have preserved the dead and designed exhibits to expose the body’s internal composition and workings – using models, drawings, photographs, X-rays, films and flesh itself. Fascinating yet sometimes disturbing, anatomical displays, made with an array of techniques in substances such as wax, plaster and plastics, have enabled students to examine and understand bodies inside and out.

Strikingly illustrated, Elizabeth Hallam’s book investigates the social relationships and cultural practices that render deceased bodies visible and tangible in spaces of anatomical exploration and beyond.

Winner of the Wellcome Medal for Anthropology as Applied to Medical Problems 2016

‘Pickled in formalin, stripped down to articulated skeletons or depicted in wax or plastic, human anatomical remains have educated generations of medics and fired the public imagination. Anthropologist Elizabeth Hallam uses the Anatomy Museum at the University of Aberdeen to anchor a history of such collections as “synoptic mazes” – labyrinthine summations of knowledge. Hallam 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.’ – Nature

'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.’ – Choice

‘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 . . . The dust jacket of this book is correct in describing the author’s approach as innovative.’ – British Journal for the History of Science

‘a wide-ranging volume . . . Hallam’s study offers historical and sociological scope, theoretical precision, and an anthropological attention to terminology, geopolitics, disciplinarity, and institutional processes, while remaining attuned to the intimacies, logics, and poetics of practice . . . should be foundational to future work.’ – Museum & Society

‘The book is lavishly illustrated and beautifully produced, which is especially important because of its emphasis on the materiality of the story . . . The transformation of the Marischal Anatomical Museum at Aberdeen University over time provides a careful picture of the behavioral economy of changes in ideas around anatomical dissection, as carried out by a variety of participants over time. One comes away with a much better idea of the practices and tensions that made anatomical dissection take the course it did in Britain during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For anyone concerned with medical museums or puzzled by rows of jarred specimens in anatomy labs, it is well worth the read.’ – Museum Anthropology Review

‘an innovative, painstakingly researched and excellently produced and illustrated volume on the medical museum as a space of (anatomical) knowledge creation. Focusing on the displays and related medical work at the Aberdeen Anatomy museum this fascinating book discusses the interconnected and shifting meaning of objects and diversely located, socially dense sites of display . . . Beautifully crafted, this is a unique anthropological and historical contribution to the study of contemporary anatomical and surgical learning.’ – Judges for the Wellcome Medal 2016

‘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.’ – The Biologist

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Elizabeth Hallam is a Research Associate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen. Her books include the co-authored Death, Memory and Material Culture (2001), the co-edited volumes Medical Museums: Past, Present, Future (2013) and Making and Growing: Anthropological Studies of Organisms and Artefacts (2014), and the edited Designing Bodies: Models of Human Anatomy from Wax to Plastics (2015).