Article ID: CBB055115839

From Monsters to Malformations: Anatomical Preparations as Objects of Evidence for a Developmental Paradigm of Embryology, 1770–1850 (2022)


A common object found within medical museums is the developmental series: an arrangement of embryos depicting the transformation of an unremarkable blob into an anatomically organized and recognizable organism. The developmental series depicts a normative process, one where bodies emerge in reliable sequential stages to reveal anatomically perfect beings. Yet a century before the developmental series would become a visual model of embryological development, the very process of development itself was discerned through the comparative study of preserved human fetuses—specifically, those deemed “monstrous” or characterized as “malformations.” This article examines how anatomically diverse fetal bodies were reformulated from singular curiosities into alternative developmental pathways whose characteristics testified to the laws of nature and to the primordial, physical relationship between humans and other species. In early nineteenth century Amsterdam, the father-son team of physicians Gerard and Willem Vrolik built up an internationally renowned anatomical museum famous especially for Willem’s collection of fetal malformations. Physical preparations of fetal malformations play a central role in Willem’s monumental handbook on developmental embryology: comparing human embryos against one another and the embryos of other species, Willem plots out a sequence of embryological development in which a body’s form marks its place within the ever-unfolding natural order. In conversation with the literature on model organisms, this article explores how the “monstrous” gets standardized and, in doing so, contributes to the scientific production of a normative physiological process.

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Article Brad Bolman (2022) Introduction: What Right? Which Organisms? Why Jobs?. Journal of the History of Biology (pp. 3-13). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Turner, Gerard L'Estrange
Quinlan, Sean M.
Morel, Marie-France
Dahlbom, Taika Helola
Rooy, Laurens de
Bogaard, Han van den
Social History of Medicine
Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Histoire des Sciences Médicales
Museum History Journal
HOST: Journal of History of Science and Technology
Vossiuspers UvA - Amsterdam University Press
University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)
Cambridge University
Reaktion Books
Helion & Company
University of Illinois Press
Obstetrics and pregnancy
Disabilities; disability; accessibility
Human anatomy
Rueff, Jakob
Leonardo da Vinci
Worm, Ole
Vrolik, Willem
Vrolik, Gerard
Bojanus, Ludwig Heinrich
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
17th century
16th century
20th century
20th century, early
Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Great Britain
Paris (France)
Universiteit van Amsterdam
East India Company (English)

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