Dissection table writings
For Valentines Day, Nurse Rachel gave me a copy of Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930. It might not seem romantic, but it sure is interesting. In the 19th century, anatomy professors had a hard time legally obtaining bodies for their students. So they hired “resurrectionists” to dig up recently buried bodies from graveyards. The process was shrouded in secrecy. Professors and janitors guarded the dissection room and students were expelled if they divulged the identity of their subjects.
Despite all of this secrecy, there was a strong compulsion to document and commemorate the process. As photography became more accessible in the 1880’s, medical students across America began posing for group portraits in front of their cadavers. Through the 1920’s, this genre of medical photography became a quasi-ritual. Of the hundred or so pictures compiled in Dissected, many share remarkable consistencies. To me the most fascinating stylistic attribute is the phrases students would write in chalk on dissection table: