Essays in Romanticism

Teaching With the Archive When the Archive Shuts Down

Essays in Romanticism (2021), 28, (2), 113–126.


In this essay, I discuss the design of “Anatomy and the Archive,” a 300-level writing-intensive medical humanities class for students in the health sciences and liberal arts, and how I adapted when the 2020 COVID pandemic disrupted our plans to mount a gallery exhibition of archival anatomical textbooks as its final project. Students read about medical museums, the history of art and anatomy, book history, and ethical issues surrounding working with human remains, and they visited our campus’s cadaver lab. Experts in these fields guest lectured via Zoom and assisted students remotely to assemble the exhibition. When we were unable to visit a local archive or the gallery space, we brought some of the archive to the classroom and watched video tours of the gallery. Students successfully designed an exhibition “Between Beauty and Knowledge: Women’s Bodies in Anatomical Atlases,” which will open once COVID restrictions have lifted.

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Selected Readings

Alberti, J. M. M. Morbid Curiosities: Medical Museums in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Oxford University Press, 2011. Google Scholar

Caldwell, Janis McLarren. “The Strange Case of the Animated Cadaver: Changing Conventions in Nineteenth-Century British Anatomical Illustration.” Literature and Medicine 25, no. 2 (2006): 325-57. Google Scholar

Chaplin, Simon. “Nature dissected, or dissection naturalized? The case of John Hunter’s museum.” Museum and Society 6, no. 2 (2008): 135-51. Google Scholar

Daston, Lorraine and Peter Galison. “The Image of Objecivity.” Representations 40 (1992): 81-128. Google Scholar

Jay, Martin. “Scopic Regimes of Modernity.” In Force Fields: Between Intellectual History and Cultural Critique, 114-33. New York: Routledge, 1993. Google Scholar

Levy, Michelle and Tom Mole. The Broadview Introduction to Book History. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2017. Google Scholar

Richardson, Ruth. The Making of Mr. Gray’s Anatomy: Bodies, Books, Fortune, Fame. Oxford University Press, 2008. Google Scholar

Serrell, Beverly. Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach. Lanham, Maryland: AltaMira Press, 1996. Google Scholar

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Author details

Maatta, Rebecca