surface anatomy

Today’s post brought to you through the good folks at Nursing Clio, a really fabulous blog on all things histories, bodies, medicine, gender and politics. The blog’s tagline – “Because the personal is historical” – says it all. On Sunday mornings, Nursing Clio publishes a post called “Sunday Morning Medicine,” a compendium of random blog posts, newspaper articles and images that relate to the kinds of things the blog’s authors find interesting, important and relevant.

Here, for your delectation, is one of those links from yesterday’s Sunday Morning Medicine:
What’s interesting, at least to me, about this anatomy book are the assumptions made by the authors: medical students are male, medical students are hetero and therefore, medical textbooks that cater to these normative (and yes, essentialist) categories will be successful. It’s an equation that many of us try to make in current courses as well: how do we best make our material accessible and engaging to our audience? But these assumptions – together with the images themselves – also tell us a lot about the society in which this text is produced. They tell us about how desire is imagined, who gets to imagine desire and what counts as desirable, for example.

And another thing this book reminds us is that, in the words of Edward Halperin (in a link helpfully provided by one of the commenters on the blog post), author of an article on the genesis of this particular book:

“medicine is fundamentally a social activity which occurs in the context of social mores and customs, that there is rarely a consensus on how to display the human body for anatomical education, that mutual respect between student and teacher or author and reader is an essential element of education, and that a teacher must be mindful of the risks of imposing his/her views regarding controversial social subjects on students.”

We all bring our biases into our research; it’s an inevitable aspect of the human condition. We can’t escape it. Our histories, our politics, our heritage, our experiences…all of this affects the questions we ask, the ways we go about finding answers, the kinds of analyses we undertake and the stories we ultimately  tell. And while we might just see this textbook as a curious find of nothing more than antiquarian interest, I think it can serve a higher purpose: it might just, even for a moment, allow us to make our own world strange; it might allow us to consider some of the bodily assumptions that we take for granted, assumptions that, I suspect, will form the basis of the next generation’s cabinet of medical curiosities.


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