Community College Anatomy Physiology Education Research (CAPER) 2.0: Looking for Participants

This post is from the CAPER Team, including Chasity O’Malley, Murray Jensen, Kerry Hull, Ron Gerrits, Kyla Ross, Suzanne Hood, and Betsy Ott. 

A Few Questions and Answers

Community College educators are busy people, especially in the new normal that we are currently living in and making the best of with COVID-19.  One aspect that rings true just as much now as in the recent past is that there rarely is time or opportunity for meaningful professional development.  That’s where the Community College Anatomy Physiology Education Research (CAPER 2.0) project comes into play. The goal of the CAPER 2.0 project is to help educators become involved in a small community of dedicated educators who wish to explore different ways to run a classroom in more engaging ways.  If funded, and that’s a big “if,” participants will have the opportunity to explore evidence based instructional practices including clickers, small group learning, guided inquiry, and more.  We had a good response to our first blog announcing and describing this project, and below we are answering a few frequently asked questions that have arisen from those interested folks.  If you are interested in signing-up, fill out this form or contact Chasity O’Malley or Murray Jensen.  

  1. When does CAPER begin?
    • Tentative start is for Fall of 2021 if the grant is funded.  The project proposal is due in December, 2020, and we hope to receive word (funded or not funded) from NSF by June or July of 2021. 
    • We aim to have 12 participants in the first cohort (one cohort per year), depending on availability, schedules, and workloads of the interested faculty. Opportunities for those who are unavailable for this first round will have opportunities to join in the 2nd -4th rounds (years) of the projects.  There are a lot of opportunities to work with us, so hopefully one of the cohorts will fit into your schedule. 
  2. What would the time commitment be for the CAPER program?
    • When educators are involved in this program, they can still be teaching full time and do the work for this project.  They will be busy, but everyone in the first CAPER project has found the workload to be manageable.  
    • We are proposing that instructors are involved for two years in this project.
      1. The first year will involve the HAPS-I courses and research design for the project. 
      2. Year two will be implementation of the research project to collect data and to publish the results.
  3. What’s involved with the HAPS-I courses?
    • Typically, we meet online and then we hope to meet in person for a day or two at a HAPS Regional conference in the Fall.   The grant would cover tuition and expenses for the conference. 
    • Class is anticipated to meet 1 time per week, in the evening, for about 2 hours for 2-3 months. Participants will be expected to attend the lectures, do the pre-readings and assignments, and participate in discussions during class. 
    • Participants from CAPER 1.0 found the workload manageable for the course, but does indeed require time and effort to complete.
    • There will be two 1-credit classes that will both be completed in one semester.  The first class is titled Teaching Practices for Anatomy and Physiology and will cover basic learning theories, such as constructivism, and examine how those theories fit into different teaching strategies, such as cooperative group work, guided inquiry learning, and other Evidenced Based Instructional Methods (EBIPs).  The second class is titled Introduction to Educational Research Methods and will examine how education researchers collect and interpret data, and also learn how to design a classroom research project. The final project of the second class will be a research proposal, to examine the effectiveness of an EBIP of your choosing, that you will then implement the following semesters.
  4. How are research topics chosen? Are the projects individual or group projects?
    • Participants get to pick their own topic for their classroom research project.  Some instructors might do “clickers” and others might do “guided inquiry.”  A wide range of options exist.  We will provide help in the decision-making process, and with the research design, but we want instructors to pick their own topics.  What instructional practice do you wish to explore?
    • There will be two products completed by each participant. First, a poster that will be presented at an annual HAPS Conference.  Posters will be completed on an individual basis, but you will have help from mentors and education research experts.  Second will be a research paper documenting your results that will be submitted to The HAPS Educator, or other peer reviewed journal.  The papers might be individual, or might involve a small group of participants who have similar research projects.  Keep in mind that mentors will help with writing, research design, statistics, and other parts of the publication process.
  5. What does the grant provide for participants? 
    In addition to extensive support from the CAPER grant personnel, the grant will provide the following:
    • Tuition and supplies for the two, 1-credit, HAPS-I courses.
    • Stipends to cover food, registration, accommodation, and travel to attend three conferences over the 2 year period: a Fall HAPS regional conference in year 1, the SABER West conference in January of Year 1, and the HAPS National Conference in Year 2. Participants will have to pay these expenses up front and will receive the stipend after the conference.
    • An additional small stipend for completing the program.
  6. What is needed from me at this time?
    • Your interest is all we need at this time. As we get closer to submission, we will ask for a letter of support from you and a school administrator.  (Administrative support is vital for success in this project).
    • Finding out the name of the IRB contact at your institution would be very helpful at this time as well. We will have quite a bit of work to do with your school’s IRB administrative committee, but we will be providing considerable help with that process.
  7. Is this opportunity open to K-12 instructors? 
    At this time, we are focusing only on two-year community, or technical, college Anatomy and Physiology instructors.
  8. Is this opportunity open to adjuncts?
    Yes, adjunct instructors are welcome to become involved. This could be a wonderful opportunity for adjuncts looking to attain full time employment to be able to demonstrate their commitment to improving their teaching craft and the experience for the students. This would look GREAT on a CV for employment.  However, adjuncts must have administrative support from a college. 
  9. I still have questions that weren’t covered here. Who do I contact?
    • Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Chasity or Murray. Contact information: Chasity O’Malley (chasityomalley@gmail.com) or Murray Jensen (msjensen@umn.edu )
    • If you haven’t filled out the form to share your interest with us, please fill it out and put your questions in the box that asks for questions. 

As questions emerge about the project and new information become available, a live Q&A document can be found here.

Links:

CAPER 2.0 Interest form (Sign up here)

CAPER 2.0 Initial Blog Posting

CAPER 1.0 Description

HAPS 2020 Virtual Conference

The HAPS Annual Conference is one of the best parts of being a HAPS member. Every year we get to meet up, exchange ideas, learn from each other, and have a ton of fun. Even though we will not meet in person this year, HAPS is still hosting its annual conference online for all members! This is the first of a series of blogs that will fill you in on the virtual conference happenings.

Schedule of Events

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, May 19 to 21 – Update Speakers
Thursday, May 21 4:00 PM EDT – HAPS Exam Program Town Hall
Friday, May 22 8:00 to 8:00 PM EDT – Welcome Reception hosted by McGraw-Hill
Saturday and Sunday, May 23 and 24 – Exhibitor Demonstrations
Tuesday, May 26 12:00 to 1:00 PM EDT – General Membership Extravaganza
Tuesday, May 26 1:00 – 1:30 PM EDT – Regional Breakout Groups
Wednesday, May 27 4:00 to 5:00 PM EDT – After Party Town Hall


Follow the HAPS Social Channels!

Use the HAPS Hashtag: #HAPS2020


Facebook Group:

  • Respond to a daily question in the Facebook group about teaching and learning using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Ask a question about the daily workshops or any A&P questions using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Post a video explaining why you think HAPS membership is valuable using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Post a video explaining why you think HAPS conferences are valuable using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • “Extra points” for points or comments using videos and photos!
  • Tag HAPSofficial in your posts

Post a photo or video of yourself watching the sessions or your screen using the hashtag #HAPS2020


Twitter:

  • Live Twitter chats on update speakers at 8:00 PM EDT May 19th-21st
    #HAPS2020Chat
    – Follow the HAPS twitter account
    – Login around 8:00 PM EDT and search #HAPS2020Chat
    – We’ll be posting questions and discussing the recorded update speakers talks each day. Come post your thoughts!
  • Post a photo or video of yourself watching the sessions using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Post a video explaining why you think HAPS membership is valuable using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Post a video explaining why you think HAPS conference are valuable using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Search for #HAPS2020 and comment on other members’ posts
  • Tag @HumanAandPSoc

Instagram:

  • Post a photo or video of yourself watching the sessions or your screen using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Post a video explaining why you think HAPS membership is valuable using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Post a video explaining why you think HAPS conferences are valuable using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Search for #HAPS2020 and comment on other members’ posts
  • Tag @humananatomyphysiologysociety in your posts

LinkedIn Group:

  • Respond to a daily question in the LinkedIn group regarding higher education leadership using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Ask a question about the daily workshops or any A&P questions using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • “Extra points” for points or comments using videos or photos
  • Post a photo or video of yourself watching the sessions or your screen using the hashtag #HAPS2020

Facebook Page:

  • Respond to a daily question on the Facebook page about teaching and learning using the hashtag #HAPS2020
  • Comment on posts on the Facebook page
  • Tag HAPSofficial in your posts
  • Post a photo or video of yourself watching the sessions or your screen using the hashtag #HAPS 2020

Funding opportunities for the HAPS annual conference (part 2 of 2)

In addition to the Supported Awards that we covered in our previous post, there are four additional awards administered by the HAPS Awards & Scholarships Committee. These four awards fall into the category of HAPS Awards because they are funded by the HAPS organization using money donated by HAPS members. Each award targets a specific category of HAPS members to help them attend the HAPS Annual Conference in May 2020.

1 – The Robert B. Anthony Travel Award is for full-time faculty during their first five years of teaching.

2 – The Full-Time Faculty Travel Award is for full-time faculty who have taught for more than five years. 

3 – The Contingent Faculty Travel Award is for contingent faculty (see link for how HAPS defines “contingent” faculty).

 4 – The Student/Postdoc Travel Award has been expanded this year to include undergraduates as well as graduate students and postdocs.

All four awards pay the registration fee for the 2020 HAPS Annual Conference plus $400 to help with travel expenses to attend the conference

The final deadline to submit your application and one letter of recommendation is January 3, 2020.

More details about the awards and access to award applications can be found on the HAPS website:

Questions? Please contact Carol Veil, Chair of the HAPS Grants and Scholarships Committee.

 

Funding opportunities for the HAPS annual conference (part 1 of 2)

If you could use some financial assistance to travel to the 2020 HAPS Annual Conference in Ottawa, consider applying for an award administered by the HAPS Awards & Scholarships (A&S) Committee.  Seven total awards are offered this year.  This post details the Supported Awards which are funded by a vendor or an individual donor.

The ADInstruments Sam Drogo New Technology in the Classroom Award award encourages the innovative use of technology to engage undergraduates in human anatomy and physiology. The winner receives $500 to attend the HAPS Annual Conference.

The Gail Jenkins Teaching and Mentoring Award is for a HAPS member who demonstrates use of engaging learning activities to help students truly understand and retain Anatomy and Physiology with kinesthetic and active learning strategies and inexpensive everyday props. The award also recognizes those who mentor other instructors to incorporate active learning in their teaching to benefit more students. The winner will receive $1000 cash award provided by Wiley and will also have their registration waived for the HAPS Annual Conference in May 2020.

 The John Martin Second-Timer Award is a new award this year.  It is for HAPS members who have attended only one previous HAPS Annual Conference (does not matter which year, as long as it was an annual conference) and are in need of some financial assistance to attend this year’s annual conference as a Second Timer. The winner will receive $500 to use toward attending the HAPS Annual Conference.   Applicants must be full-time or contingent college/university faculty or full-time high school faculty, currently teaching anatomy & physiology with at least part of the teaching load being face-to-face, as opposed to totally online teaching.

The final deadline to submit your application and one letter of recommendation is January 3, 2020. 

More details about the awards and access to award applications can be found on the HAPS website:

Questions? Please contact Carol Veil, Chair of the HAPS Grants and Scholarships Committee.

How the Grinch Taught Dissection

I hated pep-rallies in high school and I have always struggled with having a sense of team spirit. In fact, at Christmas time I find that I tend to have more in common with the Grinch than Old Saint Nick, so the fact that I find myself excited enough to write a blog about something is not only out of the ordinary, it’s stranger than green eggs and ham!

As one can imagine, I have surprised myself over the last four years at how I have become such an advocate (dare I say cheerleader) for the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society with both university administration and my fellow anatomy colleagues. It has been exciting to interact with the diverse population of individuals who teach A&P. Our educational backgrounds vary just as much as our personalities and teaching styles. In contrast to other professional organizations that I participate in, I have found that HAPS creates a uniquely inclusive environment in which professionals from a range of institutions and at all stages of their career can share their ideas and learn from conference speakers, workshops, and online forums. Furthermore, like the Grinch, I find my heart growing three sizes when I think of how our leadership team is constantly looking for new ways to work with the different HAPS committees in order to find how we can help one another become better scientists and educators.

With the intention to assist with this initiative, the HAPS Cadaver Use Committee has recognized a problem faced by a significant population of HAPS members. We have found that many of our members have very little or sometimes no cadaver dissection experience. In response to the perceived need and interest amongst the HAPS membership, the Cadaver Use Committee is developing a human cadaver dissection mentorship program. Specifically, we are soliciting member interest and need for this program. Additionally, we are looking to identify individuals that can serve as mentors. The role of the mentor will be better defined as we continue to collect information from HAPS members through virtual town-hall meetings and a survey to determine interest by location, limiting factors, cost, and the type of mentorship relationship that will provide the most value added for participants. Long-term, we would like this dissection mentorship program to fulfill the pillars of a faculty’s academic career. Our goal is to develop a mentorship program that will not only enrich the quality of teaching, but also bolster faculty promotion, tenure, and service.

With all that being said, I would like to say I am grateful for HAPS and proud of this initiative. I am excited to share my lab and my dissection experience with my colleagues. I may not be ready to hold hands and sing “Welcome Christmas” with all the Who’s in Whoville, but I can’t wait to hear from others in my region and the greater HAPS community and learn what they think about our new program and how they might like to participate. Please pay special attention to any upcoming emails regarding the human dissection mentorship program.  We would love to hear from you at any of our upcoming town hall meetings or surveys!


Kelsey Stevens Image

Kelsey Stevens is the Anatomy Lab Manager and an Instructor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions. Her specialties include Human Anatomy, Physiology, and Embryology.  She has been a member of the HAPS Cadaver Use Committee since 2016.

 

Articulating a Joint Meeting

2019 HAPS-AACA Southern Regional Meeting Artwork

Two great professional societies — One great regional conference!

Much like the Kentucky Derby packs a lot of excitement in two short minutes of horse racing, we are going to be packing a ton of Anatomy and Physiology into one fabulous conference day and you can bet you won’t want to miss it!  The American Association for Clinical Anatomists (AACA) and the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) invite YOU to attend our first ever Joint AACA/HAPS Regional Conference at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY (home of the Kentucky Derby!) on Saturday, March 30, 2019.  Great speakers, workshops, posters, and even multiple cadaver lab experiences await you. The last day to register at the Early Bird registration rate and submit a workshop or poster proposal is March 1, 2019.

How did this joint venture get started?  In the fall of 2015, I moved from Houston, TX to Louisville, KY and I met Dr. David Porta in the Biology Department at Bellarmine University.  He was teaching Gross Anatomy and I was teaching Vertebrate Physiology and we both were teaching Human Anatomy & Physiology. As David showed me where lab supplies were and we small talked, we discovered we both served on the boards of professional societies, AACA for him and HAPS for me.  Because we obviously weren’t busy enough and we thought there would be some synergy between the interests of AACA and HAPS, we hatched an idea to co-host a regional meeting. We had round table discussions with a few more anatomists from Bellarmine and the University of Louisville and we outlined what we think will be a great conference for instructors of Anatomy and Physiology.  Here’s a glimpse of the platform presentations and cadaver workshop opportunities.

Dr. Jeffrey Petruska will be presenting research on neural connectivity recently discovered by using modern molecular techniques combined with old school classical neurophysiology and gross anatomy observations.  My co-host Dr. David Porta will be presenting his research on the biomechanical techniques used to analyze different types of bone fractures and how this data has been used as legal evidence in hit-and-run as well as malpractice cases.  David will offer coordinating workshops in the cadaver lab where participants will extract bone, mount it on the fracturing apparatus, and then analyze the fragments.

Hope to see you in Louisville!

Rachel Hopp

RHopp2017

Conference Co-Host Rachel Hopp, PhD, Department of Biology, University of Louisville, Southern Regional Director of HAPS

David Porta Head shot

Conference Co-Host and Update Speaker David Porta, PhD, Department of Biology, Bellarmine University, Past Program Secretary of AACA

Petruska_cr

Update Speaker Jeffrey Petruska, PhD, Department of Anatomical Sciences & Neurobiology, Member of the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center, University of Louisville School of Medicine

 

Digging deeper with HAPS

Last fall, the HAPS Board approved a new task force on Diversity and Inclusion Goals (DIG). The purpose of DIG is to develop best practices, resources, and professional development for inclusive education in anatomy and physiology (A&P). The endgame is transformation of ourselves, where we create the best learning environment for all the learners we serve.

Why should you “DIG” it?

The mission of HAPS is to promote excellence in the teaching of A&P. On a professional level, educators need to understand diversity, inclusivity, and equity. This allows us to competently talk to and teach our students as well as create a classroom environment conducive to learning for all. In addition, we must adapt our approach in and out of the classroom to the increasing diversity of identity groups in our student populations. These identities include gender identity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic class, religion, ability, preparation level, ancestry, and fluency in English, and any one of these identities can be barriers to learning for our students, and impact us as educators.

HAPS is poised to be a leader in generating materials to explore diversity content within anatomy and physiology courses as well as create inclusive classroom environments. Our classrooms are spaces where diversity conversations are deeply relevant, and there remains a critical need for exploring diversity within the context of science and connecting science to society. To be culturally competent within their field, students must be exposed to diverse viewpoints and alternative ways of thinking.  Engaging others who hold different ideas and experiences raises awareness of their own identities and opens new approaches to problem solving. As society changes, new questions arise in the classroom that are relevant to A&P, such as the application of big data to health records, how assisted reproductive technologies should be used, controversies over animal dissection, and many others. Additionally, HAPS members train future health providers and scientists, putting us in the unique position to shape healthcare and biomedical science.

Want to “DIG” into the work?

Here are some ways for you to get involved:

  • Consider presenting a workshop at the Annual Meeting! We would love to see how HAPS members create inclusive and diverse classrooms and curricula. What does an inclusive A&P class look like? How does a professor convey that they are committed to student safety and success regardless of the student’s identities? What types of content or activities provide students with experiences that help them flourish? What advice do you have on handling mistakes in the classroom gracefully? How do you accommodate students with disabilities in your lecture or labs? What role do textbook authors and vendors play in shaping inclusive curricula?
  • Take the upcoming Diversity and Inclusion Membership Survey! With a release date in May 2019, DIG hopes to gather membership data that will tell us who we are as an organization and identify needs in diversity issues.
  • Share your ideas! The HAPS blog, HAPS Educator, Discussion Boards, and Teaching Tips Site are all great places to contribute your ideas and engage with colleagues.

“DIG” deeper

Look for our information table, poster, and workshop at the 2019 Annual Meeting. We’d love to chat with you! Or feel free to contact me if you’d like to learn more.


kathy_burleson

Kathy Burleson is a Senior Lecturer at Hamline University, where she teaches in the Biology, Exercise Science, and Public Health programs. She is the lead of the HAPS Diversity and Inclusion Goals Task Force.

 

HAPS blog: Behind the scenes

We skipped introductions to bring you a fun pre-semester challenge last week, but there are some new faces running the HAPS Communication Committee and blog.

Up first, Communications Committee Chair, Melissa Clouse:

Clouse

Hello all!  I would like to beg a few minutes of your time to briefly introduce myself.  My name is Melissa Clouse and I am an Instructor of Practice and the Director of Pre-Health Programs at Doane University, located in Crete, Nebraska.  I have been a HAPS member for about two years, and am continually blown away by this amazing group of educators.  I jumped at the opportunity to get involved in the Communications Committee at my first HAPS conference (in Salt Lake City).  Following my introduction to the HAPS community I couldn’t believe that there were so many people interested in exactly the same things I thought were fascinating…..so I almost couldn’t resist finding a way to provide some time and energy to the organization.

Recently, I was asked to step into the ComCom Chair position.  Although I’m a bit daunted to attempt to follow the exceptional leadership of Wendy Riggs, I know firsthand how supportive our members are so I am confident that we can continue ComCom’s great work.  I thrilled that I will continue to work closely with Wendy as she steps into the Secretary role.  I’m looking forward to learning more about the inner workings of HAPS….it’s an organization that makes my teaching and professional life better in so many ways, and I especially look forward to working with respected fellow HAPSters.

Up next, blog master, Ann Raddant:

Headshot

Howdy, HAPSters! I’ll be soliciting posts and working with our fabulous crew of editors to keep the blog looking fresh all year. I joined HAPS in 2013 when I was still a Ph.D. student, and I have found my membership to be so valuable through every step of my career. My day job is lecturing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Go Panthers!) and my night and weekend job is my 1.5 year old son, Hudson. I am excited to be able to contribute to an organization that helps me better a better instructor in so many ways.

Do you want to see yourself and your ideas on the HAPS blog? IT’S SO EASY!!  We need posts that are 200-500 word, preferably with pictures (and captions), a short author bio and picture.  Then, just email your submission to HAPSblog@hapsconnect.org.  We will take care of the rest, and you will bask in the warmth that can only come by sharing your experiences/wisdom/tips/ideas with like-minded HAPSters!!

 

 

 

Bodies for Science and Education: The Startling History

Many of us in HAPS have been fortunate to have learned human anatomy either by dissecting human specimens or by working with already dissected bodies. Many of us now teach students using human cadavers as the primary specimens for study in the lab. Beyond that, the anatomical knowledge of the general population results from investigations performed on dissected humans in the past. How many of us have ever considered where the dissected bodies came from? Probably very few; many of us can take for granted the present level of anatomical knowledge. Where these long-gone anatomists obtained their specimens never enters our conscious thought.

Early Asian anatomical art
Early Asian anatomical art

There is a rich history of human dissection dating back to before the start of the Christian era. There are references to human dissection, cadaver investigation, or funerary practices in Egypt, Persia, Babylonia and India that extend back in time over four thousand years. Even then a pattern emerges indicating that those with the least and those guilty of crimes bore the burden of serving as specimens for dissection. There was even a brief period shortly before the Christian era during which human vivisection was practiced on criminals in Egypt.

Over the span of time, bodies have come from multiple sources including debtors, societal outcasts, the mentally ill and strangers, recent unclaimed dead, anatomical oddities and even victims murdered specifically to serve as dissection specimens. Bodies obtained by  “entrepreneur” grave robbers throughout the Renaissance and continuing well into the nineteenth century in Europe and America were the primary supply of bodies for dissection, with bodies stolen from the easily accessed burial sites used by families with few or no real financial assets, and rarely if ever from the much more secure cemeteries of the rich and privileged.

Death mask cast of William Burke and a pocket book made from his skin; Burke was executed in 1828 for murdering people and delivering their bodies to medical school in Edinburgh.
Death mask cast of William Burke and a pocket book made from his skin; Burke was executed in 1828 for murdering people and delivering their bodies to medical school in Edinburgh.

During the nineteenth century in Europe, donation of bodies by family members became legal as a way for the poor to eliminate funeral expenses.  In Tasmania, genocide of the aboriginal population in less than a century largely benefited bone collectors back in England. In America, a booming business in the bodies of African slaves and freeborn blacks signaled another low point in this narrative.

Finally, the successful heart transplant performed in 1967 by Dr. Christian Barnard in South Africa triggered an increased interest in organ transplantation and the importance of organ and body donations. The result was the passage of the first Uniform Anatomic Gift Act in 1968, creating a sustainable system based largely on altruism to provide for both the needs of the transplant community and those of anatomy and medical education.

Hopefully this narrative that chronicles the thoughtless and often diabolical events of the past will spur those of us involved in anatomy and medical education to consider and appreciate the unwilling sacrifices of so many in the past that made the current state of anatomic knowledge possible. As educators, we should play a role in acknowledging, even briefly, this history to our students and the debt of gratitude we owe to so many who have been so wronged in the past.


Bill Perrotti is a HAPS President Emeritus and a professor at Pennsylvania State University.

A Female Body of Knowledge: Cadavers and Caricatures

During research for past HAPS workshops, I was struck by a shift in attitudes toward and uses for dissection in Europe.  It was not always a practice banned by the church and practiced in secret as is often thought. There was a complex combination of factors that left medical men who conducted dissections in a constantly fluctuating position in the eyes of the public, as the use of the female body ranged from a righteous religious exploration to sexually charged education.

Vesalius’ dissection of a female (woodcut image from 1555)
Vesalius’ dissection of a female (woodcut image from 1555)

The context of female dissection in particular has morphed through the centuries – in the Middle Ages the bodies of religious women were dissected to provide evidence of their holiness, and into the Renaissance patrician mothers would be dissected to provide familial medical information.  Dissections were conducted to gain information about women who had value to their communities and families. During the 16th century, dissection became more associated with shame as the bodies of executed criminals were granted to medical men and made into public exhibitions.

As society came to view dissection as a punishment worse than execution itself, the public dissection of women became particularly horrifying. While fear of these punishments was intended to deter criminals, increased association of dissection with negative acts dovetailed with growing religious and social sentiments valuing the burial of a complete body.  Condemned female criminals were rare compared to their male counterparts, partially due to a social bias against executing women. Legal avenues of witnessing the dissection of a female body were scarce.

Anatomical Wax of a female from La Specola in Italy.
Anatomical Wax of a female from La Specola in Italy.

Social mores also prevented most living women from being physically examined in detail, and training new medical men was difficult with a lack of female bodies, living or dead. This led to great creativity in generating alternatives. The 18th century produced a flurry of wax anatomical models, which allowed detailed portrayals of anatomy that could have been helpful in learning the minutiae of the body. The teaching value of these was only as good as the artist involved, however, and these models tended to be posed in ways that did not contribute specifically to their educational worth.  

During the same time, midwifery manuals and anatomical atlases focusing on women were produced with illustrations of reproductive organs combining internal and external perspectives. One 19th century book included paper dolls with articulated joints that could be moved through a pop-up book-like model of the pelvic girdle just to make things a bit more interactive. As three dimensional models became more complex, gynecological models became particularly popular in the 19th century. They were supposed to allow the simulation of birth, and often came often with a matching fabric baby to manually pull through the birth canal.

And while some of the solutions developed to cope with the unavailability of female cadavers may seem odd today, they give us a wonderful window onto the social tug-of-war that occurred between decorum and the urge to know more about the female body!


Danielle Hanson teaches Human Anatomy and Physical Anthropology at several Indiana schools, and has a long held interest in the history of both fields. She has an MS in Anatomy Education, and is a Ph.D. Candidate in Physical Anthropology at Indiana University.