Have You Ever Seen Hanging Corpses In Your Anatomy Textbook?

by castagay on October 26, 2016 - 10:53am

Empirical Observations

Anatomy of the Bones, Muscles, and Joints published in 1974 and written by John Bell looked old and used on the outside but it’s pages were pristine, it seemed as though there were no visible rips or dents on any of the pages. It was definitely kept in very good condition by its owner(s), yet, used quite often. The front and back covers look faded and discolored. I’m also not sure if the original cover is what has faded or if it was a redone cover. The back strip, or spine, was also replaced to keep the book intact and the pages neatly together, which indicates the frequent use of the book. The size of the book (roughly 8x11 inches) suggests that the printer used quarto folding, which means they took a large piece of paper and folded it twice to create a sort of booklet, and cut the part of the page that wasn’t separated to then separate it, creating 8 pages of paper. There are also remnants of an old style of printing which was to repeat the last word on one page to the top of the following page to assure everything was in the right order. They also put letters at the bottom of sections so the people who checked if the pages were in the right order went faster.


The printing press revolutionized having identical copies of the same book. Before, publishers would hire scribes to re-copy the books but “the difficulty of making even one ‘identical’ copy of a significant technical work was such that the task could not be trusted by any hired hands” (16). This helped the progression of knowledge because it avoided “the corruption of data transmitted over the centuries” and the spread of “false remedies and impossible recipes contained in medical treatises” (38). By having the same exact copy of the original book, information didn’t get mixed up and false ideas weren’t spread, making it earlier for knowledge and ideas to be continuous.

Anatomy of Bones, Muscles, and Joints contains many detailed illustrations from the author. Because of the late publication date, this book is more advanced in printing technology, therefore all of the images in each copy of the book are exactly the same. The illustrations in books used to all be hand drawn before the rise of the printing press. But, the “hand drawn illustrations were replaced by more easily duplicated woodcuts and engravings – an innovation which eventually helped to revolutionize technical literature by introducing “exactly repeatable pictorial statements” into all kinds of reference works” (24). They used line engraving to duplicate the drawings in each copy of the book. Although they are faint, you can see the lines in the pictures attached.

Both images do not resemble anything I’ve seen in a typical biology or science textbook from today. The key differences being that the images today are a lot cleaner and more clear, meaning we can see and label what everything is without a problem. Although they are still drawn, the images are computerized and printed in colour onto glossy paper by a laser printer. Images in textbooks today also tend to be a lot less gruesome than the ones found in this book. It seems as though Bell had a fascination with how muscles worked, and to fulfill his curiosity, he drew pictures of how the muscles fell off the bones of hanging corpses which were most likely in front of him. It wouldn’t be likely to see something like this in a textbook today, mostly because we have better techniques for studying muscles, bones, and joints, as well as better and less disturbing ways of putting them on a platform for people to learn. 


Works Cited

Elizabeth Eisenstein, "Defining the Initial Shift," The Printing Revolutionin Early Modern Europe, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 13-45.


After I read the title of your article, I clicked on it just to see if there would be a picture of the hanging corpse you mentioned and there was! Although images on nowadays textbooks are cleaner, I still think that those on the book you were assigned to are much more interesting as they are more "gruesome", like you said. I think that the corpse was hanged because in real life, it wouldn't sit straight since it was dead and the author of your book had taken that into account. Modern textbooks have a different way of illustrating: they show how the inside of a human body looks like as the body is still alive. This difference may be explained by the fact that we are now capable of seeing through living bodies by the mean of x-ray or other technologies.