Book Review: The Courtiers’ Anatomists

BookReviewLogoReview by Elisabeth Brander

In the history of anatomy, certain people and places have proved to be a popular topic. Andrea Carlino, Sachiko Kusukawa, and many others have considered the significance of 16th century anatomists, often emphasizing the work of Andreas Vesalius, while Andrew Cunningham has taken a broad look at Enlightenment-era anatomy with a particular focus on Italy and England. In The Courtiers’ Anatomists: Animals and Humans in Louis XIV’s Paris (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Anita Guerrini, professor of history at Oregon State University, examines a place and time that has not been the focus of as much academic interest. Her latest monograph describes the activities of a group of anatomists working at the Paris Academy of Sciences during the 17th and 18th centuries.

23130498Guerrini’s narrative is rich and complex. By using a broad framework that discusses the importance of animal dissection for the development of early modern experimental science, she deftly touches on several key components of anatomical practice during the French Enlightenment. The stage is set with an overview of the Parisian anatomical scene during the 17th century: the rivalry between the physicians of the Paris Faculty of Medicine and the surgeons at Saint-Côme for access to dissection material, the question of whether reading texts or performing dissections was more beneficial for the study of anatomy, and the impact of William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood. The physiological discussions precipitated by Harvey, and the mechanistic theories of René Descartes, became central to the work of a number of French anatomists including Jean Pecquet and Louis Gayant, who embraced animal dissection as a means of investigating structure and function. These men carried out much of their work at the Paris Academy of Sciences, an intellectual organization founded in 1666 whose members had a broad interest in scientific inquiry and were active in fields including mathematics, astronomy and, of course, anatomy. Continue reading “Book Review: The Courtiers’ Anatomists”

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Book Review: Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires

BookReviewLogoReview by Boglarka Kiss

In Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians (Routledge, 2011) Richard Sugg, an expert in the fields of medical history and literature based at Durham University, investigates a previously unexplored facet of medical history. The word “corpse medicine” might trigger associations of well-known accounts of bodysnatchers providing surgeons with much-needed cadavers to perform autopsies on, but as the term “medical cannibalism” reveals, the scope of Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires is much more specific, as Sugg focuses on instances of what he defines as “cannibalism” for medicinal purposes. As such, Sugg’s study not only represents a significant contribution to our understanding of medical history, but it also provides a “revision of the history of one of our deepest taboos” (3) by looking at how, from the age of the Renaissance to the Victorian era, European medicine deployed the systematic consumption of various human body parts, organs and bodily fluids in its attempt to reinstate health.

10596894Apart from offering a highly extensive overview of how various body parts and cadavers were acquired, processed and used for medical treatment in Europe from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires offers a revelatory criticism of the discourse of cannibalism itself. Sugg highlights that the practice of “medical cannibalism” was the most prevalent and accepted when stories of “New World” cannibalism caused the greatest outcry in the “Old World.” Significantly, Sugg shows how the very discourse of cannibalism and by extension, barbarism functioned as a “potent form of colonial propaganda” (4) and was used as a justification for colonialism: “once labelled [as cannibals], and effectively dehumanised, tribal peoples in the Americas, Africa and Australasia could be ‘legitimately’ civilised, colonised, or outrightly destroyed” (113). One of the greatest merits of the book is that it reveals that the society which condemned forms of cannibalism as savage and uncivilised, was engaged in a practice which was quite similar, albeit in a medical framework, and that the two customs overlapped not only in time, but sometimes in their logic as well. Sugg claims that “at the broadest level of religious politics, Protestant–Catholic relations in the mid-sixteenth century mirror the psychology of exo-cannibalism with uncanny precision. The implicit message of cannibal violence was this: we deny your identity; we deny your reality as human beings; and we will prove this by the way in which we treat you” (129). By pointing out this paradox, Sugg calls our attention to the fact that the discourse of cannibalism as savagery was systematically used to other, marginalise and ultimately exploit non-European communities. Continue reading “Book Review: Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires”

Book Review: Nature’s Path

BookReviewLogoReview by Jennifer Ernie-Steighner

Titled after the first American lay publication dedicated to natural healing, Nature’s Path: A History of Naturopathic Healing in America (John Hopkins University Press, 2016), eloquently weaves together the insightful and, at times, radical sociopolitical, cultural, and medical history of naturopathy from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.  Susan E. Cayleff, medical historian and professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, proves well suited to undertaking the first comprehensive study of an alternative medical system defined as much by its struggle for self-definition as by its philosophy of natural treatments and medical freedom.  Informed by a myriad of source materials, from patient testimonials to the publications of founding naturopathic leaders and legal proceedings, Cayleff offers a meticulously researched monograph that strives to answer the question: What has occurred since the founding of naturopathy as a broadly-defined set of therapeutics “to alter yet empower the work of naturopaths” (11)?  The conclusion is, much like the practices of nature healers, multi-faceted and complex.

9781421419039Focusing on the history of naturopathy as a profession, rather than its popular reception or clientele, Cayleff provides a necessary boundary for the vastness of her work.  Recognizing that naturopathy has often included an ill-defined assortment of healing modalities, Nature’s Path grounds readers through eleven well-structured chapters of chronological and thematic presentation.  Chapter 1 introduces the origins of the term naturopathy during fin-de-siècle America.  Cayleff highlights the legal, professional, and personal significance of the term for nature curers who often faced legal prosecution throughout the early- to mid-twentieth century.  The term also encapsulates the often radical socio-political stance of numerous natural healers, including prominent American naturopath Benedict Lust, who viewed the term “as a living protest against the autocracy, coercion, imposition, intolerance, and persecution” of allopathic medicine and the growing American Medical Association (14).   Continue reading “Book Review: Nature’s Path”