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Human Embryos: A History in Series

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Nick Hopwood (University of Cambridge)

Embryos come in developmental series. These arrangements of progressively more complex forms have been constructed through such practices as collection, dissection, drawing, modelling, ordering and selection, publication and display. The work has been hardest for human embryos and fetuses, and most contested. By reconstructing how it has changed, and the social relations it has involved, we can tell a history of development. The lecture will survey the making of series of human embryos from the mid-eighteenth century, when they were almost nowhere to be seen, to the present day, when they routinely stand for the course of pregnancies and may be generated in IVF clinics. It will pay special attention to the changing ways that disposition in series has shaped the viewing of embryos and fetuses. But it will also reflect on a persistent tension between what by 1902 could be called ‘a cinematographic procession’ and the display of isolated images.

This talk is part of the ReproSoc series.

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