LUNCHTIME SEMINAR – 2ND MAY – RICHARD BELLIS (UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS)

Richard Bellis poster blog

Hunter’s preparations, Clift’s illustrations, Baillie’s book: A case study of the coproduction of anatomical illustrations and anatomical knowledge in the eighteenth century

Matthew Baillie’s A series of engravings […] to illustrate The morbid anatomy of some of the most important parts of the human body (1799-1802) was an extension of the content of his earlier work on the changes in morbid structure due to disease, but also saw significant changes in how the anatomical content was presented. From providing general (though specific) descriptions of typical changes in morbid structure, Baillie now provided illustrations of individual morbid anatomy preparations that visually demonstrated specific morbid changes. The change in presentation was due to the new illustrations – the first systematic representations of diseased soft parts – and the expectations attached to scientific illustrations by the epistemic norm of what Daston and Galison have termed ‘truth-to-nature’ in the period. Yet the illustrations were made by William Clift, not Baillie, and were of preparations mostly made by William Hunter. Baillie’s role was as initiator, selector of preparations, and annotator of illustrations.

This paper asks: how were the illustrations made epistemically acceptable to an eighteenth-century audience in a case like Baillie’s? Through exploring this question in a detailed case study, this paper problematises conclusions drawn by historians who emphasise that the content of anatomical illustrations necessarily stemmed from the anatomist, rather than being coproduced. In turn, this brings greater attention to the production of books – which are typically viewed as summative of scientific careers – as a pertinent area of investigation regarding the epistemic content of anatomy and medicine itself.

 

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