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Death as an institution: anatomical study, commodification and the cadaver trade at the nineteenth-century morgues of Paris and New York.
Ostensibly established to identify anonymous bodies found in the city, the nineteenth-century morgues of Paris and New York played a key role in the development of forensic medicine, criminology, medical photography and sociological study. But these scientific advances were only made possible by exploiting the bodies of the most vulnerable members of society, whilst reinforcing the social constructs that kept them marginalised.
Through a comparative, transatlantic study of the Paris morgue and the morgue at Bellevue hospital in New York (designed as a copy of the French institution), this research will illuminate the significant civic role played by these new institutions designed for the management of the dead, and how the unclaimed bodies made available to them were commodified, manipulated and deliberately exploited for scientific and social purposes.
By exploring these institutions and the ways in which these anonymous bodies were put to use, this research intends to add a new perspective to existing literature on the history of anatomy and our understanding of the development of forensic science, particularly concerning the medical exploitation of marginalised groups, the commodification of remains and the cadaver trade.
1st Supervisor: Anna Maerker
2nd Supervisor: Caitjan Gainty
I’ve taken a rather unusual route to my PhD – after studying History and French at the University of Manchester, I left academia behind and began a career as a freelance photographer, food stylist and writer. After a few years eating my way around London I moved to Paris and continued working for clients in both cities, broadening into private chef work and translation too. After a while the desire to return to history became too strong to resist, and I was accepted onto the MA in Urban History at ULIP, where I studied part-time for two years while continuing to work.
During my MA I focused on research subjects relating to nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century medicine and criminal punishment, and I wrote my dissertation on the Paris morgue and Pierre Spitzner’s anatomical collection. This research is now forming the basis of my PhD, which will compare the Paris morgue to the New York morgue, an institution which has never before been studied. Alongside my research I will continue to work as a freelancer, having found that tweezing cornflakes and photographing burritos offers welcome relief after long days analysing the nineteenth-century urban dead.
Regarding the history of STM, I’m particularly interested in the power dynamics of medical knowledge, and the ways it can be used to manipulate, enforce and exploit. My first introduction to this field of history was an undergraduate dissertation on the relationship between spiritism and psychology in late nineteenth-century France, specifically how photography was being used as ‘proof’ of hysteria as an illness, and of the ghosts that mysteriously appeared in spirit photographs. I’m also drawn to research on changing attitudes to death and the body, the relationship between medical research and policing, and the spatial design of prisons and hospitals.
‘Managing New York’s Unclaimed Dead, 1868-present‘’ to be given at the AMPS Conference ‘Cities in a Changing World: Questions of Culture, Climate and Desig’n in New York in June 2021
Grants, Awards, and Prizes:
Nathan, Quinn and Esmond Scholarship: Full Tuition Fee Waiver for the MA in Urban History and Culture at the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP).
Other professional affiliations and activities:
Currently working as a Photographer, Food Stylist, Content Writer and Translator: www.catbyers.com.