The Corpse Walk: Paris, 1660

[This is excerpted from the talk I gave at the New York Academy of Medicine on 13 September 2016, which was itself excerpted from my book The Courtiers' Anatomists] Under cover of night, the dead of Paris made their journey from the burial grounds to the places of dissection.  In this era of recurrent plagues, …

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Vesalius and the beheaded man

On the 12th of May, 1543, Jakob Karrer von Getweiler was executed in Basel, Switzerland.  Reports say he was beheaded, although hanging was a more usual mode of execution.  Karrer was a bigamist who attacked his legal wife with a knife after she discovered his second wife.   According to a contemporary account, Karrer was a …

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The Witches

This review appears in The Public Historian, vol. 38, no. 2 (May 2016), pp. 98-99 The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff. New York, Boston and London: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. ix + 496 pp.; figures, notes, bibliography, index; clothbound, $32.00; paperbound, $30.00; eBook, $14.99.             Like many academic historians, I have a complicated relationship with …

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The Secret Horror of Dissection

The eighteenth-century anatomist William Hunter (1718-1783) told his students that the practice of dissection “familiarizes the heart to a kind of necessary inhumanity.”(1)   A few decades  earlier, Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (1716-1800) expressed more forcefully the “secret horror” that dissection, particularly of the human corpse, elicited in most of its practitioners.   His comments appeared in the “Description …

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Wellcome Trust Research Bursaries

An excellent opportunity to do research in a rich Edinburgh archive.

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) Library and Archive

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The Wellcome Trust have recently introduced a Research Bursaries scheme to support researchers wishing to work on library or archive collections which have been catalogued and preserved through a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Grant. The Library and Archive at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) is therefore inviting academic researchers, conservators, artists, performers, broadcasters, writers and public engagement practitioners to explore and use our collections, many of which remain unexplored. Our historical collections covering anatomy, surgery, medicine and pathology represent a unique resource dating from the early 16th century. The Research Bursaries are for small and medium-scale research projects (they need not be historically grounded) with support available in the range of £5,000-£25,000. You can see details of the funding stream, including applicant eligibility, here

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh is one of the oldest surgical corporations in the world.  Its story begins in the late 1400s when the roles of surgeons and barbers…

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Climate, Sedans, and Bottled Water

17 December 2015 I spent a few days in Beijing last week, the first time since 2005.  I expected to find changes, but I was nonetheless surprised.  Instead of vendors hawking fake Prada bags on the street (they would follow me chanting “Gucci-Prada”), there are now lavish malls selling the real thing.  Christmas trees and …

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The Moving Skeleton

Here's the full version of the Slate blog post: I've been reading Charles Burney's collection of newspapers for close to two decades:  first turning fragile pages in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at the British Library, then dipping periodically into the many boxes of microfilm there, and now online, unfortunately behind the Gale paywall.   …

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