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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An Ostrich for the New Year

Aristotle had not been entirely certain that the ostrich was a bird, but it took pride of place among the birds in the Versailles menagerie and in the 1676 Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire naturelle des animaux.   Ostriches had first made the long journey from Africa to Paris in the early seventeenth century; the young …

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Montmor’s House

Paris, 26 November 2013 This morning I decided to find Montmor’s house.  Henri-Louis Habert de Montmor (1603-1679) was the Master of Requests for  Louis XIII and XIV, and ran a much-fabled scientific salon from his home in the 1650s and 60s.  His hôtel still stands at the edge of the Marais at 79 rue du …

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The Ghastly Kitchen

Next month, I'll be giving a talk at the International Congress of History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (ICHSTM) in Manchester, UK.  I recently blogged about it on the conference blog: In 1865, the physiologist Claude Bernard described the life sciences as “a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing …

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“M. Couplet will find one”

When the anatomists at the seventeenth-century Paris Academy of Sciences wished to dissect an animal – which was often – they called on Claude-Antoine Couplet (1642-1722). Couplet was an élève (literally, a student) of the Academy, although he was hardly an adolescent.  When the Paris Observatory opened in 1672, Couplet moved in as its concierge, …

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The King’s Elephant

Last month, someone broke into the Paleontology wing of the Paris Museum of Natural History, and used a chain saw to cut off one of the tusks of the elephant skeleton there.  The skeleton dates from 1681 and is the oldest specimen at the museum.  Here is a little on the skeleton’s origins, from my …

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Anatomy vs natural history?

"...Anatomy... differs essentially from natural history. ....natural history dwells upon forms, upon the exterior qualities of bodies, and is restricted, in whatever guise, to skimming their surfaces. Anatomy goes further: it penetrates bodies, divides them, isolates the parts of which they are composed, and seeks to lift the veil hiding the secret of their organization." …

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