Friday, April 1, 2022 - 10:00am

Annenberg Room 111

"Monsters in the Cabinet: Anatomical Collection, Embryology, and Bodily Difference in Holland, 1664-1850

Monsters in the Cabinet uses the historical collection of abnormal fetuses to examine how scientific knowledge about non-normative bodies was produced. It asks how the collection, anatomical study, and comparison of real embryos and fetuses with congenital abnormalities—once called monsters—produced scientific knowledge which was embedded with claims about how a body’s form marked its place in the natural and social orders. The dissertation uses a range of Dutch sources, such as the records of midwives, museum collections, public health topographies, and scientific publications. These reveal the networks, scientific practices, and conceptual frameworks that transformed a fetal body into a research object from which knowledge about nature and physiology could be extracted. Seeking to understand the historical relationship between “monstrous births” and disability, the dissertation shows how the scientific knowledge and professional expertise gained from the study of fetal bodies was applied to living people by medical practitioners. It demonstrates that the comparative, synthetic, and material study of “monstrous” bodies was the basis upon which a normal model of development was scientifically produced. The dissertation defense presentation will focus on the chapter "Origin Stories," which uses the records of midwives and anatomical collectors to understand the role of female testimony and expertise in scientific attempts to understand the cause of a monstrous birth.