University of Cambridge > > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > The 'Great Ice Age' of anatomy: learning from frozen sections c. 1900

The 'Great Ice Age' of anatomy: learning from frozen sections c. 1900

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In the late nineteenth century anatomists claimed a new technique of slicing frozen corpses into sections translated the three-dimensional complexity of the human body into flat, easy-to-read and unprecedentedly accurate images. While histories of anatomical illustration consider frozen sectioning part of a longer trend towards precision in scientific image-making, I use the technique to expand our view of the place of visual aids in nineteenth-century medicine. Traditionally hostile to visual aids, elite anatomists controversially claimed frozen sections had replaced dissection as the ‘true anatomy’. Even more remarkably, obstetricians adopted the technique to challenge anatomists’ authority and reform how clinicians made and used pictures. I show that attempts to introduce frozen-section anatomy into such clinical disciplines as obstetrics and surgery reignited debates over whether medical expertise was constituted from images or through practical experience in the dissecting-room and at the bedside. Studying the making, uses and reception of frozen section anatomy broadens our understanding of the politics of representation in scientific practice.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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