Morbid Anatomy never ends

Hace unos posts, allá por principios de año, Alfons despedía al Morbid Anatomy Museum de Brooklyn NYC que cerraba sus puertas. El museo sigue cerrado pero su gente, sus creadores, sus visitantes siguen vivos y bien vivos (de museos cerrados pero vivos en este blog sabemos algo, pero no vamos a eso ahora). Hoy se han descolgado con una nueva entrada en su blog.

Con el pretexto de una reseña que Laetitia Barbier escribe sobre un libro que parece realmente interesante, Graven Images: The Art of Woodcut, de John Crabb, que aún no ha salido siquiera del horno (lo publicará la British Library), nos regalan unos grabados de monstruos(os) renacentistas y barrocos. Que en los siglos XVI y XVII no todo eran iglesias, santos, y estatuas canónicas. Aunque peleas religiosas las había hasta decir basta (no os perdáis la anabaptista degollando un niño ante el spavento del presbiteriano) …

Friendly Demons Frolic in a Satanic Farandole: Book Review of “Graven Images: The Art of Woodcut,” by Jon Crabb for British Library Publishing

Posted: 23 Jun 2017 06:20 AM PDT

– A donkey with binoculars reads the Bible to a crowd of tamed animals.
– Two bishops casually converse as hundreds of rats climb over them, some emerging from their sleeves.
– A coy sphinx pounces, bare breast first.
– Friendly demons frolic in a satanic farandole.
– A rat studies alchemical grimoires in the quiet study of a library.
– Drunk lions fist fight at the table of a tavern.

Although this aberrant enumeration could pass for, as the song goes, “a few of my favorite things,” these visions are a few colorful examples drawn from Jon Crabb’s incredible new book Graven Images: The Art of Woodcut, to be launched August 1by British Library Publishing.

Hundreds of woodcuts, which pages after pages let us time travel through the 16th and 17th century, when the printing process democratized, allowing knowledge, folklore and superstitions to circulate in every hands. These exquisite woodcuts exist in a grey area where dreams and nightmare mingle, a place in which humour, fear and mysticism seems to coexist without paradox. It’s been a while I’ve not be stunned by so much fantasy, so much depravity. The book seems to be a series of flyers inviting you to “Party like its 1666”. My only wish might be to have every single images of this book tattooed on my body, so if luck turned sour and I loose all by belonging, the tremendous joy I had to meet these creatures will be with me for the rest of my life.

Industrial Heritage… Literary Technologies…  the Urban Struggle

In Barcelona, there is a long tradition of struggle for the urban space. During the transition, conflicts over the designation of urban resources were instrumentalized in overthrowing Franco’s political regime. The CEU (Centre d’Estudis Urbans) was established, in secret, in 1972 by members of the Bandera Roja and PSUC political parties in order to exacerbate the crisis of the Francoist state and its anti-democratic policies. A year previously, the founders of the CEU had been fired by the city government within 24 hours of publishing La Gran Barcelona, a Marxist critique of the urban policies of Barcelona’s mayor at the time, José María de Porcioles.

Marc Andreu, historian, journalist and long-time participating member of the FAVB, attributes the toppling of Porcioles’ political career to 4 factors, two of which are conflicts over urban planning in which the municipality was forced to back down: the Pla de la Ribera and the Pla Parcial de Nou Barris. A third factor he attributes to community backlash after several natural gas explosions killed 32 people in the early 70’s. Neighborhood associations were instrumentalized by pro-democratic communities who capitalized on the galvanizing effect of the tragedy in order to organize against the Francoist power structure. The fourth and final factor which, according to Andreu, brought down Porcioles, brings us to perhaps the central issue of all urban planning, the need for adequate housing. In the case of Barcelona, a massive influx of the population of the city had led to vast shortages of housing and social resources, the rapid growth of shantytowns popping up on the city’s periphery, and consequently to the organization of city-wide protests by the OSH (Obra Sindical del Hogar).

The confluence of particular urban, social, and political factors in the recent history of Barcelona has lent the city its distinctive character. As a foreigner living in the city for three years, I have experienced these particularities with all the enthusiasm and disenchantment that comes part and parcel with playing the role of “outside observer.” For example, I remember during my first year of living in Barcelona (on a narrow street of the old city, near the Palau de Musica) the many evenings that I would spend out on a terrace somewhere, Estrella Damm in hand, while Catalan colleagues hassled each other with political discussions. My Catalan that year was very bad. I understood almost nothing, but instead focused on the little beads of perspiration that collected on my beer bottle while I turned over in my mind the single words which managed to make their way through the language barrier and presented themselves to me like one-word riddles—words like: …hipsters… Japoneses… …hotel de lujo….

After three years of living here, numerous terraces, and countless bottles of Estrella Damm, I think I am getting closer to cracking the riddle. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

FARCELONA is a theme park of multi-nationalspeculativereal estate financiers exporting an inauthentic city brand for consumption by foreign gentrifiers and Irish spring-breakerswhile locals live in misery and must continually fight for basic public resources like adequate transportation, education and housing.

Of course, when write it, this phrase comes out overblown and unconvincing, but spoken by a local, preferably in Catalan, this discourse is not only totally sincere, it even sounds cool. In my assessment, this is because of Barcelona’s long tradition of what one might call “the urban struggle”. The centerpiece of this struggle, and the stage on which it is set, is the city street itself. Catalan children take to the streets like fish to water, almost before they can walk, waving banners, denouncing corruption and demanding public resources. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, but maybe that’s partly because I’m from North Carolina where Marxism hasn’t been invented yet. Here, it seems to me, almost everyone has their hand in the Urban Struggle. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do for a living. You could be an expert in the obscure field of, let’s say, the historical production and display of wax anatomical models, and even so you could find a way to relate this back to the Urban Struggle, be it even through the use of a vague metaphor like “Urban Anatomies”.

These wordplay techniques are nothing new in the field of History of Science. John Heilbron talks about them in an essay linked previously to this blog. It’s a fun read. In the following segment we find Heilbron bashing on Shapin and Schaffer’s constructivist program popularized through their award-winning book, Leviathan and the Air Pump:

Shapin and Schaffer understood that a special vocabulary, or, rather, the use of ordinary words in special ways by initiates, would help believers to recognize one another and to proselytize further. In addition to special usage of ordinary words, like authority, discourse, gesture, local, negotiation, space, and technology, they make extensive use of puns to veil meaning and affect profundity. “Body,” as in human, politic, and knowledge; “spirit,” as in soul, angels, ghosts, and alcohol; “power,” as in authority, prime mover, and affectations of matter, are manipulated to suggest connections never demonstrated and probably undemonstrable between knowledge, church, and state. Schaffer, who has been the cult leader through his extensive and brilliant if far-fetched articles and his teaching at Cambridge, has added an apocalyptic style to the “literary technology” of constructivism.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing these metaphors/puns/“literary technologies” but rather I am standing on the sidelines in “outside observer” mode and admiring this case of literary tech in action. Just like with puns, some people just have the gift, and others don’t. But Barcelonians, I can’t help but notice, are absolute naturals. It’s practically tradition here: loading words with vibrant meaning, arming them on banners and in slogans, and launching them against political enemies. And of course Barcelonians are good at it—it’s the basic weapon of the Urban Struggle. Guiri go home! It’s so fun to say that I can’t help but join in the chant as I march down the Passeig de Gracia with an anarchist group protesting a recent eviction. The anarchists have done such a good job with this slogan you might not even notice their brilliance. Everyone knows what a guiri is. He can either be a ridiculous figure to be laughed at as the punchline of a joke, or he can take on his more sinister form as a sort of urban boogeyman, the nemesis of the authentic Barcelona de tota la vida.

So….” I find myself asking, “What do guiris have to do with the eviction that the anarchists are protesting?” But if I’m asking this question it’s only because I’m not from around here and I don’t fully understand the power of this literary technology.

Academics don’t just study literary strategy, they use it. I’d like to conclude this article with some more examples of literary technologies taken from my investigation of the musealization of Barcelona’s industrial past. Essentially, the goal of my research is to find out which groups have shown interest in telling stories about Barcelona’s industrial past, what stories they have told, and what story-telling techniques they have used. This is a topic I first became aware of while working in the neighborhood of Poblenou. The discourse I remember hearing at the time went something like this:

Poblenou, the Manchester Catalan, is a symbol of the competitiveness of the Catalan industrial revolution and its historical importance for the nation and in shaping the identity of the neighborhood and its residents. This invaluable industrial heritage is at risk of destruction by speculative public-private initiatives which target foreign investment while sacrificing authentic, local character as part a political strategy of selective amnesia.

There is an arsenal of keywords here, loaded with meaning and ready to launch, like one-word grenades, at the opposition to the Urban Struggle. Imagine you are an urban planner tasked with the job of creating an “Olimpic Village” in preparation for the 1992 games. You have a limited budget and an inflexible deadline. Your construction site is just past the Ciutadella Park in what might be described as a post-industrial wasteland. Now somebody comes along and drops a grenade on you: “you can’t build here, this is industrial heritage. Those words can turn your job into a nightmare.

If these “word grenades” are effective, it’s partly because of how they simplify the issues in order to instrumentalize them for social movements. If the concept of “industrial heritage” has been useful for militants of the Urban Struggle in Barcelona, it is no coincidence. The first factory to be granted legal heritage status here was the Vapor Vell of Sants in 1985. This conservation victory was won through sustained pressuring from neighborhood associations in Sants with the express purpose of municipalizing the building as a public resource for the community. The factory is now a public library.

But Barcelona’s industrial past is not just a strategic resource for leftist activists. Other groups have laid claims on the city’s industrial legacy, and they have done so for various reasons and through various means. I’d like to end this piece with a few examples taken from my case study of the Vapor Vell. To my eyes, these are beautiful, cutting-edge works of artisanal, Barcelonese literary tech:




This map of Sants (circa 1984) presents a reality in which industrial sites “pop”. They are identified and invested with interest and value.

Maps/Urban Plans: Maps don’t just represent reality, they create a new reality on the page. A map is often the first step in an urban planning project, a first iteration in the materialization of an idea. A city map presents a particular value discourse which emerges from its basic vocabulary: the demarcation of territories, buildings, infrastructure, and natural elements.


This itinerary gives practical information such as the closest metro and bus stops–bridging the gap between the historical object and the present city.

Itineraries: An itinerary is a great example of a word I normally have trouble defining: musealization. Here, the city itself becomes an open air museum and the object of our expository gaze. The object of an itinerary is typically something visible from the public space. This visual value discourse is supplemented with educational information which can be historical, anecdotal, or statistical in the “fun-fact” sense.


This curriculum poster was developed by the Grup de Didactica (UB) as a proposal for how teachers could apply industrial archeology towards a range of disciplines: Experimental Science, Technology, and Social Sciences.

Didactic Materials: The industrial heritage movement arrived in Spain during pedagogical reforms which sought to establish a national curriculum. This curriculum incorporated local and regional history, culture, and most importantly, language. Industrial archeology was envisioned as an interdisciplinary opportunity to bridge the “two cultures” of science and humanities.


This hand drawn cross-section of the Vapor Vell presents an artists’ vision of how the factory may have functioned over 100 years ago.

Cross Sections: This technique of pedagogical illustration opens the object up for exposition. Here, we can observe the processes that make something work. This object could be a machine, or a machine-like factory, or even a machine-like human body. A cross-section is the product of the technical discourse and means of valuing an object.


This is an example of a paper cut-out model of the Vapor Vell designed for classroom use and included in the pedagogical materials for the Vapor Vell.

3D Models: These models serve a similar function as cross-sectional drawings, allowing the observer to see inside. They focus our attention on the technical and aesthetic aspects of an object, its form and function.


This study was published in 1988 by the Grup de Arqueologia Industrial “El Vapor”.

Academic Studies: These studies establish the historicity and character of the object in question, often contributing visibility and adding value. For these studies to be legitimate they must be conducted by recognized experts, a circumstance which in the 1980’s prompted the birth of a new discipline and class of amateurs-turned-experts in Spain: Industrial Archeologists.


This public exposition to “Recover the entire Vapor Vell” was organized by the Centre Social de Sants and set up in the central neighborhood plaza in 1986.

Public Exposition: The objective of this collection of strategies, the legacy of 20th-century grassroots social movements, is mass communication, education, and organization. Slogans and iconography are developed to unify and mobilize constituents around a shared concern. With regards to heritage conservation, these movements have been, in practice, reactive.

vapor vell

This photograph of the Vapor Vell was part of the Ciutat i Fabrica exposition (circa 1999), with the goal of raising awareness of Barcelona’s at-risk industrial heritage. 

Photography: Photography has been key in establishing the value of industrial objects in Catalunya. The photographic value discourse is a purely visual one, and tends to favor the aesthetic over the ugly, the unique over the normal. Architecturally interesting modernist factories have traditionally benefited much more from this technique. 

Vapor Vell Expedient Declaracio BCIN-page-004


Official Heritage Lists: Industrial heritage remains an unrecognized heritage category in Spain. Currently, industrial sites are listed under the category of Patrimonio Historico-Artistico, a designation which has made inclusion difficult. In practice, heritage status for industrial sites is granted based on architectural merit, or as a response to public demands. The gap between official protection and actual preservation remains a topic of debate. 


A protest campout at the Vapor Vell in 1985, claiming the property as a public resource. 

Protest Songs: Perhaps the most ancient and effective literary technology, songwriting is a strong and deeply-felt Catalan tradition. The lyrics that follow are taken from the song, written by Francesc Mir, “We Want the Vapor Vell.”




«Galileu, Valladolid», passejant una amic em deia: 
Sembla que senyali el cel, aquesta esvelta xemeneia. 
El vaig desenganyar, ell no sabia que perillava. 

I per poder-la conservar vam començar a cantar: 

Pensem deixar la pell, lluitant pel VAPOR VELL 
Cauran ben de clatell si ens obren JOAN GÜELL 
Si ens obren JOAN GÜELL cauran ben de clatell. 
Pensem deixar la pell, lluitant pel VAPOR VELL 

Nois que aquest barri ja està prou esquarterat, 
amb vies de tren i avingudes de gran pas. 

No n’han fet prou de desgràcies que volen continuar, 
ara han d’obrir un gran carrer que tot ho assolarà, 
ens trencarà moltes cases, s’endurà el VAPOR VELL 
de tot això, que en diria el senyor JOAN GÜELL? 

I a la història constarà, que la gent de Sants 
cridàvem!! del més gran al més cadell... 

Francesc Mir 

Nuevo libro desde Lovaina

 Tras la publicación en 2015 de The Fate of Anatomical Collections llega ahora, de los colegas de la Universidad de Lovaina y su grupo de investigación:


Bodies Beyond Borders
Moving Anatomies, 1750–1950
Kaat Wils, Raf de Bont, Sokhieng Au (eds)


Around 1800 anatomy as a discipline rose to scientific prominence as it undergirded the Paris-centred clinical revolution in medicine. Although classical anatomy gradually lost ground in the following centuries, general anatomy remained pivotal in the teaching of medicine. Corpses, anatomical preparations, models, and drawings were used more intensively than ever before. Moreover, anatomy received new forms of public visibility. Through public exhibitions and lectures in museums and fairgrounds, anatomy became part of general education and secured a place in popular imagination.
Bodies Beyond Borders analyzes the notion of circulation in anatomy. Following anatomy through different locations and cultural domains permits a deeper understanding of its history and its changing place in society. Take a look inside >

Table of Content


Introduction: Moving Anatomies, 1750–1950
Sokhieng Au, Raf de Bont, Kaat Wils

Artisans, Patrons, and Enlightenment: The Circulation of Anatomical Knowledge in Paris, St. Petersburg, and London
Margaret Carlyle

Anatomy and Sociability in Nineteenth-Century Belgium
Joris Vandendriessche

Corpse Stories: Anatomy, Bodies and a Colonial World
Helen MacDonald

Anatomical Collecting and Tropical Medicine in the Belgian Congo
Sokhieng Au

Imitating Anatomy: Recycling Anatomical Illustrations in Nineteenth-Century Atlases
Veronique Deblon

Alternative Anatomy: The Popular Lectures of Constant Crommelinck in Brussels (1850–1880)
Tinne Claes

“Specimens Calculated to Shock the Soundest Sleeper”: Deep Layers of Anatomical Racism Circulated On-Board the Louisiana Health Exhibit Train
Stephen C. Kenny

International Anatomies: Teaching Visual Literacy in the Harvard Lecture Hall
Naomi Slipp

Shaking the Tyranny of the Cadaver: Doctor Paul Richer and the “Living Écorché”
Natasha Ruiz-Gómez

Animating the Anatomical Specimen: Textbook Anatomy and the Incorporation of Photography in JCB Grant’s “An Atlas of Anatomy”
Kim Sawchuk

About the authors
Gallery with color plates

Anatomy’s photography, conferència de Michael Sappol

Cicle de col·loquis de la SCHCT (2016-17)

Objectes Perduts:
explicar i exposar ciència a museus i altres llocs públics


“Anatomy’s photography: objectivity, showmanship and the reinvention of the anatomical image, 1860-1950”

a càrrec de Michael Sappol
(Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala, Sweden)

Dijous, 23 de març de 2017, a les 19.00 h

a l’Institut d’Estudis Catalans,
(carrer del Carme, 47, Barcelona)


La SCHCT ofereix una nova edició del cicle de col·loquis dedicats a reflexionar sobre el patrimoni científic, els significats de la materialitat i el potencial evocador i explicatius de la cultura material de la ciència. En aquesta edició fixem la mirada en la creació d’objectes científics i en els seus règims d’exhibició: qui i com els crea, quins usos tenen, com circulen i, aleshores, com es transformen i creen nous significats per part de nous públics.

El cicle planteja enguany tres presentacions centrades en el procés de comprensió del patrimoni i en la seva posada en escena: els models anatòmics revisitats des de la història de l’art, els estudis literaris, la història de les emocions i l’art contemporani; les exhibicions d’éssers humans en el context de les exposicions al món occidental del trànsit al segle XX; i la reinvenció de les representacions anatòmiques a partir dels nous usos fotogràfics.

La tercera sessió, a càrrec de Michael Sappol, planteja una recerca sobre un àmbit negligit en la història de la fotografia mèdica: la fotografia en l’anatomia. La fotografia va tenir una recepció i un impuls decisiu pels metges des de mitjan segle XIX. Van contribuir a la pretesa forja de la modernitat, de l’objectivitat científica, a partir de la creació d’objectes de ciència lliures d’intermediació humana. Però les coses sembla que foren prou diferents per part dels anatomistes, que no s’interessaren per la fotografia fins els anys 1900 i a més van intervenir de manera decisiva en la construcció dels seus objectes. No només van treballar la mise-en-scène, sinó també les mateixes fotografies. La conferència es planteja així el debat sobre la condició epistemològica, el poder retòric i les implicacions morals de les imatges fotogràfiques.

Michael Sappol Historiador a la History of Medicine Division de la National Library of Medicine, on forma part del projecte Medical Movies on the Web i, des de fa poc més d’un any, Fellow del Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study a Uppsala. Es va doctorar en Història a Colúmbia el 1997. El seu treball s’ha centrat en la història cultural del cos, la història de les representacions mèdiques i anatòmiques i del cos, la història de pràctiques mèdiques alternatives i populars i la història del cinema mèdic. Ha comissariat l’exposició Dream Anatomy (2003) sobre la història de la il·lustració anatòmica i l’exposició Visible Proofs (2006) sobre la història de la medicina forense i, amb Paul Theerman, Rewriting the Book of Nature; Charles Darwin and the rise of Evolutionary Theory (2009). Autor de nombroses publicacions, entre d’altres llibres: A Traffic of Dead Bodies, Anatomical Dissection and Embodied Social Identity in 19th-century America (2002); editor també de llibres, amb Stephen Rice, A cultural history of the human body in the age of Empire, 1800-1920 (2010) o més recentment de Hidden Treasure (2012). Acaba d’aparèixer el seu darrer llibre Body Modern: Fritz Kahn, Scientific Illustration and the Homuncular Subject (2017). Treballa ara en fotografia anatòmica i en anatomies “queer” en un projecte anomenat: “Queer anatomies: Perverse desire, medical illustration and the epistemology of the anatomical closet”.

Crèdits il·lustració-fotografia: Marinelli the Anatomical Puzzle (Boston, Forbes Co., 1886) National Library of Medicine.

Publicacions de Michael Sappol


Con la ayuda de los ojos de John Berger…

Se levanta el nuevo año 2017 con la muerte de un hombre comprometido, de un pensador influyente.  Su legado resplandece hoy. Son muchas las razones que permiten convocar la presencia de John Berger en nuestro blog. No las glosaremos todas.

Una de las ideas que nos animaron a pensar históricamente las “Anatomías Urbanas” procedía de la comunión con una forma bergeriana de observar y de tratar de entender las relaciones humanas sin perder nunca de vista su contexto. La palabra precisa evita la jerga, embaucadora. Procede a partir de una mirada etnográfica a la compleja realidad que nos rodea y que la repetición normaliza. Dar sentido a la historia: siempre parece que sabe lo que busca. Y las imágenes dando textura al texto. Así se puede entender la dura vida de “un hombre afortunado” como fue la del médico John Sassall en una comunidad rural –un libro que deberían de leer los estudiantes de medicina antes de iniciar su vida laboral. Y también, en “el séptimo hombre”, la no menos dura vida de los trabajadores inmigrantes analizada y retratada en la industrializada Europa del Norte de los años 1960 –otro libro que deberían de leer los estudiantes de bachillerato para reconocer su presente. En estos libros las fotografías de Jean Mohr y las palabras de Berger se convierten en pruebas, evidencias sólidas, verdaderos argumentos, agentes de cambio. Es una manera de construir un relato despertador.

Otra de nuestras ideas estaba anclada en esa forma de mirar bergeriana: en los “ways of seeing” (1967). O en “about looking” (1980). Libros fundamentales. El conocimiento y la visión tienen una relación compleja. Así, la mirada no puede ser inocente ni neutral: “lo que sabemos o lo que creemos afecta al modo en que vemos las cosas”. Y cada momento y cada contexto condicionan a su vez aquella mirada. De nuevo el sentido de la historia. En esa disputa entre la habilidad pasiva de lo que registra el sentido de la vista y la capacidad activa de la conciencia humana, los modos de ver de Berger contribuyen a historizar los “régimes scopiques” descritos por C Metz (1975) y por muchos otros después. Miramos, pues, con diferentes propósitos -científicos, artísticos, voyeurísticos-, ordenamos, como objetos, lo que vemos y lo situamos en un contexto, dándonos sentido. Así, en nuestra mirada a la ciudad, en la disección anatómica de sus calles, de sus edificios, de sus viandantes, de sus objetos expuestos y circulantes, los de “Anatomías Urbanas” intentamos hallar significados en las apariencias, en los tránsitos, en lo evanescente. Es otra manera de construir un relato despertador.