What can we learn from 175 year old medical lectures?

Cambridge Science Festival runs from the 7th to the 20th of March and the Whipple Library and Museum will be running events throughout. On the 11th March, Visualising Medicine: an evening of art, anatomy, and science will see the Museum and Library open from 5.30pm – 8.00pm, and will offer a unique opportunity to look at some of the historical anatomical models and books that are not always on display. For more information, have a look at the events listings page on the Science Festival website: http://www.sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk/events.

Dr. Louis Jerome Auzoux’s snappily-titled Leçons élémentaires d’anatomie et de physiologie, ou Description succincte des phénomènes physiques de la vie dans l’homme et les différentes classes d’animaux, à l’aide de l’anatomie clastique (‘Elementary anatomy and physiology lessons, or A succinct description of the physical phenomena of life in man and different classes of animal, using the clastic anatomy’) was one of many accessible tools he made for studying anatomy during the 1800s in France. The book could be used in combination with one of Auzoux’s ‘clastic’ human anatomical models, facilitating independent learning.

The Whipple Library’s copy of Leçons, published in 1839.

Auzoux was a prolific creator of anatomical models, driven by his own experience of human anatomy whilst studying medicine in the 1810s. Cadavers were not readily available as dissection was perceived to be dishonourable due to the association with the use of criminals’ bodies and the prevention of conventional funerals. Additionally, when cadavers were available, they deteriorated quickly and expensive alternative wax models would distort when handled frequently.[1] By the 1820s, Auzoux had developed cheaper, more durable anatomical models made with a secret papier-mâché mixture, comprising hundreds of removable pieces and an accompanying key to inform users of the names of various body parts: Auzoux named this method of dissecting models ‘clastic anatomy’, derived from the Greek klastos, meaning ‘broken into pieces’.

Some of Louis Auzoux’s models are housed in The Whipple Museum, including this model that could have been used in combination with Leçons.

The models, endorsed by the Academy of Medicine, were extremely popular as students and those who would not usually have had access to anatomical teaching were able to self-educate.[2] Auzoux consistently strove to make the models user-friendly and accessible, making them smaller and cheaper and with more removable parts as well as creating methods of paying in instalments.[3] In 1839 Auzoux first published his Leçons, which included 5 of his lectures about human anatomy and could be used in conjunction with a model. Three editions of this book were published during the year, each with more lessons included. The library has the second edition, with seven of eight lessons and an affixed note informing the reader that the eighth will be published shortly. Thus, readers would have repeatedly purchased the lessons, aware of the ensuing publications; Auzoux had increased the accessibility of the text whilst cleverly generating demand.

The book contains lessons on the main functions of the human body, including digestion, respiration, circulation, the nervous system, the five senses and organs that function independently of the brain, as well as how humans can get diseases unconsciously. Contained within fragile paper wrappers, surviving due to unusual disuse (indicated also by the uncut pages), the book demonstrates Auzoux’s marketing by maximising accessibility to information as well as his generating credibility by referring throughout to specific models’ parts – which also created demand for the accompanying model.

Back cover
The back cover of the book advertises the prices of the various models.

Although some of Auzoux’s success can certainly be attributed to his addressing a gap in the market, he also increased the number of potential consumers by promoting his tools to a broader audience. The book wrappers promote his ‘clastic anatomy’ and give a price list for anatomical models, simultaneously validating the scientific authenticity of the works whilst making the information for ordering a model immediately available not just to owners, but to anyone who saw the book. Auzoux emphasises the ease of ordering: the client need ‘simply’ send an order, giving 3 options for payment. Additionally, the introduction labours the integrity and usefulness of the lectures, demonstrating the broad value of anatomical knowledge. He professes the benefits of other professions attaining anatomical knowledge, including philosophers, magistrates, jurors, law professionals, policemen and soldiers as well as for university teaching. These messages, in combination with the persistent endeavour to create better value and more affordable services, ensured the economic success of his clastic anatomy.

The advertisement promotes the clastic anatomy, defining the term and its origins, and provides information about placing orders.

Auzoux’s Leçons inform contemporary readers about nineteenth century understandings of human bodily functions. They also provide insight into the manufacturer’s integration of medicine, teaching and marketing into his successful business whilst reflecting the intricacies of French medical society.

[1] Sanib Kumar Ghosh, ‘Human cadaveric dissection: a historical account from ancient Greece to the modern era’, Anatomy & Cell Biology, 48 (3), 2015, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4582158/.

[2] Margaret Olszewski, Designer Nature: Papier Mache Botanical Teaching Models of Dr. Auzoux in Nineteenth- Century France, Great Britain and America, (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Cambridge, 2009), p. 28.

[3] Margaret Olszewski, p. 30.

Rosanna Evans, Lunchtime Invigilator