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Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0922233342
ISBN-10: 0922233349
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is a startling window into the education of American doctors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries-on both a visceral level and for its revealing cultural record. Cringe-worthy shots of medical students-bare-handed gentlemen and a few ladies in street clothes show off their scalpels, saws and textbooks-while their cadavers, mostly poor and black, are awkwardly posed, and exposed. In one stunning shot, a black woman looks out from behind the young students. "What are we to make of an African-American woman, standing, broom handle in hand, behind the dissection table, her gaze fixed on the camera?" the authors ask. More importantly, they conclude, the photo is now drawn "out of the shadows of history" where "we can at least bear witness." A blood-soaked dissection table makes you want to look away and the dark humor of students playing pranks with skeletons are both hilarious and horrible. Postcards sent to family and friends must have caused shock and awe for postmen and recipient alike. Here, a difficult glance into medicine's "uncomfortable past" offers a grand opportunity to understand the legacy doctors and patients live with, and benefit from, today.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Frank Huisman is a professor in the history of medicine at the University Medical Center Utrecht and Utrecht University, the Netherlands. He also teaches in the Department of History at Maastricht University. He is the author of Stadsbelang en standsbesef and co-editor of Medische geschiedenis in regionaal perspectief. John Harley Warner is Avalon Professor and Chair of the History of Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine and a professor of history and of American studies at Yale University. He is the author of The Therapeutic Perspective and Against the Spirit of System.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Blast Books; 1 edition (May 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0922233349
  • ISBN-13: 978-0922233342
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 0.9 x 10.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #676,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If I could choose to take one class again from back in medical school, it would be an easy choice. I'd do gross anatomy again, the cadaver lab. It was in many ways the most interesting of the courses, learning about the details of the complex cosmos of innards that each one of us carries about. It was a social learning process; my cadaver partners and I were all new to medical school, and we were helping each other in taking apart our specimen, and exposing structures we had never before seen. It was certainly a rite of passage, an initiation that only upcoming doctors got, gaining arcane knowledge that few others needed (or wanted, for that matter). To that end, my gross anatomy lab, with around eighteen tables in it, each containing a tank of formaldehyde into which the cadaver could be lowered at the end of the day's cutting, was a restricted area. No one except us medical students, and our instructors, were supposed to be in there. I did, one time, sneak my wife in, so that she could see where I was spending all that time. There was also a strict rule: there were never to be any cameras in the lab. As far as I know, there never were. Yet this was not always the case, as demonstrated by a strange, morbidly entertaining, and enlightening volume _Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880 - 1930_ (Blast Books) by John Harley Warner and James M. Edmonson. Both authors are medical historians, and Edmonson is curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum of Case Western Reserve University from which most of these photographs come. The pictures are not anatomical studies, but document students at work (and play) as well as giving visual demonstration of social attitudes within medical education at the time.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
This book is perfect for the research that I am doing on the history of medicine, the history of the body and the history of dissection. I have been reading the Flexner Report which relates the sad state of medicine in the early 20th century. Few medical schools were able to provide bodies for their students in order to learn about anatomy. I think that one must understand the exuberance in being able to overcome the taboos regarding death and nudity. These are the first students who were able to see what the books described. Many morgues have signs that say "here is the place where the dead teach the living." This book has epigraphs that say "She lived for others and died for us." From a social standpoint, the book is instructive: there are few female M.D. medical students. Other than the porter (who was probably the diener), most of the "negroes" are subjects of study. Now, look at pages 58 and 59. The University of Pennsylvania segregated dissecting teams.

I could write about this book all day but instead, I encourage others to get this book. In addition to the photographic value, if you are interested in the social history of medicine, or medical anthropology, this book is a must.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an interesting examination of a subject that I'd not read about, and one that I probably would not have chosen to pursue, except that the irreverence of the cover illustration attracted me and aroused my curiosity about this phase of medical training. Once I began to read the text I was quite caught up with the different aspects of this topic and how they have changed. Very thought provoking. Too bad that the picture quality is quite uneven.
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Format: Hardcover
At Galveston, where I went to Medical School, the gross anatomy lab was about 8 city blocks from the beach and palm trees. In our first lecture, the Professor noted that this was a funeral home, and that anyone taking the cadavers to the beach would be kicked out of the school. You think that's a joke at first, until you get acclimated some weeks later and you start thinking, "hey, I could use some sun. Perhaps Karl (the Cadaver) wants some sun, too..." then the warning pulls you short.

The boundary between proper decathexis so that one can continue to think clearly in an emergency and callousness can be very thin...(no, I never did anything bad. Although I am told that the anatomy lab was a favorite haunt for women dates of male medical students, again because of the macabre aspect.)
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Format: Hardcover
I absolutely adore old photographs and paintings of bygone days. Anything that tells a little bit about some aspect of life in the past. When I heard this reviewed as pictures of medical students mugging with their human dissection subjects I couldn't wait to get it. I'm never queasy and often irreverent so I doubted I'd be offended. In addition this book educates about the rather immoral ways of obtaining medical subjects in the past, and I feel its important not to ignore the wrongs of the past. There are many photos from baltimore where many of the subjects of these dissections were black and the phrase that had been chalked on the table in one photo was particularly offensive and educational about the attitudes of many people in the past.
My only problem with this book is that it gets rather dull and repetitive. Lets be honest, it isnt purely an objective analysis of the past that makes photos like this interesting, the subject raises quite a bit of natural (if less than noble) curiosity itself. I really thought the doctors would have been more creative in posing their subjects or themselves. The corpses are often hard to see or so over used that there is not much left to see and the doctors stand the same way again and again. I'm sure this is to be expected but its a bit like seeing tons of posed class pictures of anybody, it get a bit monotonous in spite of the macabre nature of the subject. I wouldn't complain at all except that the book is a bit pricey for something that isn't quite as exciting as it sounds. Still I'm glad I bought it and can definitely understand why it costs so much.
Its also better to buy it on here than your local bookstore like I did. They kept the book behind the counter at my local large bookstore and treated me like I was asking for porn when I asked if they had it.
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