Body Modern

Join us for a lecture by Professor Michael Sappol (Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala University) on an imaginative exploration of how Fritz Kahn’s popular scientific illustrations visualized and performed industrial modernity.

Body Modern: Fritz Kahn, Medical Illustration and the Visual Rhetoric of Modernity 1915-1960

Wednesday, October 4, 2017, 1 pm at 228 Battelle-Tompkins Hall


A poster first printed in Germany in 1926 depicts the human body as a factory populated by tiny workers doing industrial tasks. Devised by Fritz Kahn (1888–1968), a German-Jewish physician and popular science writer, “Der Mensch als Industriepalast” (or “Man as Industrial Palace”) achieved international fame and was reprinted, in various languages and versions, all over the world. It was a new kind of image—an illustration that was conceptual and scientific, a visual explanation of how things work—and Kahn built a career of this new genre.
In this lecture, Michael Sappol will offer his analysis of Fritz Kahn, his visual rhetoric, and the relationship between conceptual image, image production, and embodied experience.
Kahn and his artists created playful new visual tropes and genres that used striking metaphors to scientifically explain the “life of Man.” This rich and largely obscure corpus of images was a technology of the self that naturalized the modern and its technologies by situating them inside the human body. The scope of Kahn’s project was vast—entirely new kinds of visual explanation—and so was his influence. Today, his legacy can be seen in textbooks, magazines, posters, public health pamphlets, educational websites, and Hollywood movies. But, Sappol argues in his latest book, Body Modern, Kahn’s illustrations also pose profound and unsettling epistemological questions about the construction and performance of the self. Join us for this insightful and unique lecture to learn more about the impact and importance of Kahn’s illustrations.



About our speaker

Michael Sappol lives in Stockholm, Sweden and is a visiting researcher at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in University of Uppsala. For many years he was a historian, exhibition curator and scholar-in-residence in the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine (USA).  Sappol’s work focuses on the history of anatomy, death, and the visual culture of medicine and science in film, illustration and exhibition. He is the author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies (2002) and Dream Anatomy (2006), editor of A Cultural History of the Human Body in the Age of Empire (2010) and Hidden Treasure (2012), and formerly curator of Medical Movies on the Web. His most recent book is Body Modern: Fritz Kahn, Scientific Illustration and the Homuncular Subject (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). Sappol is currently working on two new books, “Anatomy’s photography: Objectivity, showmanship and the reinvention of the anatomical image, 1860-1950” and “Queer anatomies: Perverse desire, medical illustration and the epistemology of the anatomical closet.”



Take a look at Sappol’s books  and visit his website to find links to PDFs of selected works.

A Traffic of Dead Bodies enters the sphere of bodysnatching medical students, dissection-room pranks, and anatomical fantasy. It shows how nineteenth-century American physicians used anatomy to develop a vital professional identity, while claiming authority over the living and the dead. It also introduces the middle-class women and men, working people, unorthodox healers, cultural radicals, entrepreneurs, and health reformers who resisted and exploited anatomy to articulate their own social identities and visions. The nineteenth century saw the rise of the American medical profession: a proliferation of practitioners, journals, organizations, sects, and schools. Anatomy lay at the heart of the medical curriculum, allowing American medicine to invest itself with the authority of European science. Anatomists crossed the boundary between life and death, cut into the body, reduced it to its parts, framed it with moral commentary, and represented it theatrically, visually, and textually. Only initiates of the dissecting room could claim the privileged healing status that came with direct knowledge of the body. But anatomy depended on confiscation of the dead–mainly the plundered bodies of African Americans, immigrants, Native Americans, and the poor. As black markets in cadavers flourished, so did a cultural obsession with anatomy, an obsession that gave rise to clashes over the legal, social, and moral status of the dead. Ministers praised or denounced anatomy from the pulpit; rioters sacked medical schools; and legislatures passed or repealed laws permitting medical schools to take the bodies of the destitute. Dissection narratives and representations of the anatomical body circulated in new places: schools, dime museums, popular lectures, minstrel shows, and sensationalist novels. Michael Sappol resurrects this world of graverobbers and anatomical healers, discerning new ligatures among race and gender relations, funerary practices, the formation of the middle-class, and medical professionalization. In the process, he offers an engrossing and surprisingly rich cultural history of nineteenth-century America.

In antiquity, the human body’s internal structure was subject to speculation, fantasy, and some study, but there were few efforts to represent it in pictures.  The invention of the printing press in the 15th century helped to inspire a new spectacular science of anatomy and equally spectacular visions of the body.  Dream Anatomy, a lavishly illustrated new publication from the National Library of Medicine, is filled with the anatomical imagery made possible by the printing press, ranging from the detailed and informative to the beautiful, whimsical, surreal, and grotesque. This new catalogue, based on the National Library of Medicine’s milestone Dream Anatomy exhibition, displays the anatomical imagination in some of its most astonishing incarnations, from the fourteenth century to present.


Also visit this website dedicated to Fritz Kahn to learn more about his work. Make sure you check out the gallery!




Here are some great pictures from the event. Click here for the full album.

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