Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Anatomy (almost ) reanimated

The Oregonian Science section this morning is carrying an article on an exhibit currently on display in Seattle: "Bodies...The Exhibition." Exhibition, exhibitionist, this show seems to be designed to educate through a little shock and awe. (Sadly, the online version of the Oregonian doesn't carry any of the pictures printed in the morning edition, but you can get a taste of the show on the exhibit website.)

Anatomy is one of those subjects that we all learn in school, at least a little ("thigh bone connected to the..."). Students in biomedical fields learn much, much more, of course, and the majority of it is now done through virtual means. There's no substitute for working with a real body, however, and the Body Donation Program here at OHSU (also mentioned in the Oregonian's piece) supplies cadavers to institutions across the state.

If you're a little queasy about the thought of the "Bodies" show, or for that matter really, really excited about seeing it, you're not alone. Graphic representations of corpses always seem to produce strong reactions, negative or positive. In November 2004, after giving her OHSU History of Medicine Society lecture on Frankenstein, author Susan Lederer presented another topic for medical students in the history of medicine elective course. She spoke about the early twentieth-century trend in photography wherein medical students posed with their cadavers in elaborate scenes, often sporting with the bodies or dressing them in unlikely guises. Some contemporary observers were horrified while others found it all in good fun; today, I suspect that most viewers of these photos would divide along the same line.

We have a few such images here in our own Historical Image Collection. Only one (rather tame) of these has yet been added to the OHSU Digital Resources Library. Two other images, digitized for use in our Frankenstein exhibit in 2004, give a better sense of what you might see in Seattle should you choose to go: horse and rider and solar plexus. Bodies have been made into art since the 18th century, but I guess everything comes back around at some point. If you dig these Fragonard works, buy your "Bodies" ticket today!

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