Sunday, October 11, 2009

Postmortem photograph

The photograph above has been in my collection since March 1995 and I have felt some guilt after realizing that I let it become dissociated from the commencement invitation and tickets that accompanied it. But I am pleased to show that I found them during the relocation of my "museum" to Florida! The photo shows students at the Southern Homeopathic Medical College in Baltimore - some of whom have their graduation year painted on their smocks - posed with the African-American cadaver they are dissecting. Their instructor, with book in hand, stands on the right. A pencilled note on the back of the photo notes that it was "made by flash light" on Nov. 10, 1897. The book Dissection, which I mentioned in an April post and reviewed for Fortean Times, includes a 1902 photograph from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Baltimore and 1882 and c. 1924 images from Baltimore's University of Maryland School of Medicine. Of these photos, the authors write, "These dissection photographs recount the rite of passage to a new identity - they present a professional coming-of-age narrative. Privileged access to the body marked a social, moral, and emotional boundary crossing....As visual memoirs of a transformative experience, the photographs are autobiographical narrative devices by which the students placed themselves into a larger, shared story of becoming a doctor." I am thrilled to have reunited the photo and ephemera I have. I do wish I knew which student was George...

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