By Maaike Bleeker
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Additional resources for Anatomy Live: Performance and the Operating Theatre
Moreover, cutting into dead bodies remains an uncomfortable experience for students, many of whom are bothered by feelings of uneasiness when confronted with corpses. Anatomical illustrations, for their part, reduce anatomical structures to two-dimensional flat surfaces and are therefore insufficient as teaching tools. The Visible Human purportedly emulates paper representations because digitization allows viewers a three-dimensional perspective on body parts and organs. Before qualifying these claims, I need to elaborate on the role of anatomical dissection in the history of medical education.
Although the dissecting professor literally visualized physiology by demonstrating body parts and viscera to the crowds, only those who sat up front, close to the dissection table, could actually observe his operations. Those further at the back had to rely on the anatomist’s verbal explications, which were comprehensible only to the already initiated. For the ordinary spectator, who was generally illiterate, the anatomist’s elucidation in Latin did not add anything to the visual demonstration (Sawday, 1995, p.
They had to be identified as criminals in order to function as a moral deterrent, yet they had to be anonymous to serve as a scientific object. In most of Europe it was common practice to safeguard the anonymity of corpses for dissection; the British Murder Act even legally stipulated it. 17 Out of respect for the criminal’s family – to spare them the added shame – the cadaver’s identity was not disclosed. Identification of the body would also have distracted from the scientific nature of the anatomy lesson, since the audience would see a dead criminal instead of a scientific object on the dissection table.