Body of Knowledge: A History of Anatomy (in 3 parts) (2014)

Presentation Date: 

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Anatomy Theatre in Gallery

This exhibition explored the act of anatomizing not as a process of mapping a finite arrangement of bodily structures, but as a complex social and cultural activity. Body of Knowledge attempted to capture the complexity of the many people, places, and meanings involved in human dissection.

Body of Knowledge gallery view

The exhibition was divided into three sections:

  • Preparation. How have bodies been sourced and prepared for dissection?  How have would-be anatomists articulated their goals and obtained support from religious and political authorities?
  • Dissection. Where have dissections been performed and by whom?  What tools have been used? Who were the audiences?
  • Afterlife. Dissection did not end when the cutting stopped.The material and cultural afterlife of dissection reflects a constant struggle between the forces of transience—a decomposing cadaver or fallible memories—and immortality—of the soul, of the remains, of scientific knowledge, and even of the reputation of the dissector.

Each section also explored three important moments in the history of anatomy: sixteenth century dissections and anatomical drawings, nineteenth century anatomical practices, and today's use of both cadavers and digital technology for anatomic education.  

Body of Knowledge was a collaboration of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Center for the History of Medicine in the Countway Library of Medicine, and Harvard Medical School's Program in Medical Education.  The curatorial team included David S. Jones, Katharine Park, Scott Podolsky, Dominic Hall, Sara Schechner, Jack Eckert, and graduate students Lisa Haushofer, Cara Kiernan Fallon, and Paolo Savoia.

Body of Knowledge received the 2014 Great Exhibitions award from the British Society for the History of Science.  For more photos and press coverage, please visit

Body of Knowlege gallery view


See also: 2010s