Posted in biology, communication and networking, literature, medical imaging

Gruesomeness on your coffee table

Most people will need a cup of coffee before they stomach this coffe table book.

From NPR:

Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930 contains hundreds of pictures of medical students posing with the cadavers they were learning to dissect.

These photos were something of an underground genre, says author John Warner, a professor of medical history at Yale. You wouldn’t see one in a doctor’s waiting room, but they were taken and treasured, and sometimes even passed around as Christmas cards.”

Now granted the book is more a study of the living culture surrounding medical training, but if you’re not used to seeing dead bodies (although if you watch any amount of television you probably are), this is quite a shock to see photos of people essentially horsing around with cadavers.

In all fairness it wasn’t all that odd to  photograph the dead, or be photographed with the dead, at the turn of the last century when most of these photos were taken. Taking photographs was still a big deal, and a lot of effort had to be put into the set up and the shot, so people would take photos of anything or anyone important. Many parents would take “death portraits” of their children after they died of an illness to commemorate them. They’re creepy to us, but looking at how the children are posed and the background set up, they were meant to be sweet and loving memorials to a child.

(I’m still freaked out by the ones posed with their eyes left open, though. Ick.)



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.