The Skeleton Trade: Life, Death, and Commerce in Early Modern Europe

Objects in Motion: Material Culture in Transition

Anita Guerrini, Horning Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at Oregon State University, discusses the fascinating research which she presented atObjects in Motion: Material Culture in Transition.

Although the human skeleton was well known as a symbol before 1500, the articulated skeleton does not seem to have come into its own as an object – scientific and artistic as well as symbolic – until the time of Vesalius. Curiously ubiquitous, since everyone has one, but yet largely invisible, anatomists revealed the skeleton to view. The well-known illustrations of Vesalius were plagiarized over and over for two centuries after their publication in 1543.

Vesalius, "De humani corporis fabrica", 1543. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Vesalius, “De humani corporis fabrica”, 1543. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Vesalius was the first to give detailed instructions on how to make a skeleton, for although it was a natural object, it was also a crafted object whose construction entailed a lot of work…

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An Eighteenth-Century Sweeney Todd

2 January 2015 A human skeleton was an essential ornament to the early modern dissecting room. Beginning with Vesalius, a number of anatomical textbooks offered instructions for making an articulated skeleton from a dead body, and there was a flourishing clandestine industry in making skeletons and in stealing or otherwise procuring the necessary dead bodies …

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A Sonnet to an Anatomist

Montpellier surgeon Barthélémy Cabrol (1529-1603) first published his Alphabet anatomic in 1594. A series of tables that graphically represented the parts of the body, it was immensely popular, with eleven editions in the seventeenth century as well as translations into Latin and Dutch; the Dutch translation in 1633 was by Descartes’s friend and correspondent Vopiscus …

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Sir Nicholas Gimcrack rides again

In today’s New York Times there is a report on some new experiments on rejuvenation. Blood from young mice, it appears, can reverse signs of aging in old mice. The article cites experiments in the 1950s by Clive McCay (famous for his experiments showing that calorie restriction extends life)  that joined rats together by their …

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Why fierce animals are fierce

The eighteenth-century Dutch physician Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) wrote many books, but among his most famous were his Aphorisms and his Materia medica, both of which were translated and reprinted throughout the century.  They distilled the conventional wisdom of the day and added Boerhaave's own astute observations.  The following observations from Materia medica follow a logic we …

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Playing Chicken

Back in 2012, the US Department of Agriculture proposed new regulations for processing chickens.  These included speeding up the processing line from 140 birds a minute to 175 birds a minute.  At the same time, the number of federal inspectors would be reduced.  This head-scratching equation would supposedly save money and allow inspectors to pay …

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