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Pathology and preparations at the Great Windmill Street School

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Whilst William Hunter’s vast collection of anatomical and pathological preparations has long been the subject of historical interest, how that collection was formed and used in the everyday work of the school has been understudied. The result is that historians have typically seen Hunter’s series of lectures as being consistent in format and content across his career, and have drawn conclusions on his anatomical lectures based on this. However, a comparison of his early and late career lecture series reveals a substantial expansion in the content of the lectures. I argue that this was the direct result of the continued collecting of preparations, with both the making of preparations and the finished objects themselves acting as flexible tools for teaching and research at the school. Furthermore, as the overall collection grew, so did the opportunity to study pathology. The retaining of diseased parts from dissections and post-mortem examinations over the course of Hunter’s career, alongside his assistants’ collecting, allowed a range of morbid appearances to be seen and studied by them, as well as their students. This manifested itself in two ways: lectures on disease became a distinct part of Hunter’s anatomical course, and Matthew Baillie’s Morbid Anatomy (1793) utilised the collection to draw conclusions on changes in anatomical structure brought about by disease. I argue that the content of both the lectures and work by Baillie, both distinct outputs of the school, was the result of the regular practice of the school: that of making preparations.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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