The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Race, Disease, Disability, and Medical Ideologies tied to the American Anatomical Collections


Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, African American Studies Program, University of South Carolina

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The United States has a controversial history of medical ideologies tied to disease and race. Nineteenth-century physicians, especially those in the South, were proponents of polygenism, which placed African Americans in a separate, and inferior, race to Euro-Americans. This resulted in differential medical diagnoses and disease ideologies tied to African American health which persisted into the 20th-century. Despite these beliefs, Euro-American doctors utilized the bodies of African Americans to teach medical students human anatomy and disease progression. This poster will explore the relationship between race, disease ideologies, disability, and dissection in 651 males and 256 females from the Terry, Hamann-Todd, and Cobb anatomical collections. Findings will discuss how these collections are a reflection of beliefs about race, disease, disability, and medical dissection subjects during this time period. This is especially true for the Terry and Hamann-Todd collections, both of which, despite their Midwestern origins, are skewed towards African American remains. As many of these individuals received medical treatment in municipal hospitals or died in mental institutions, this implies a continued preference for the use of Black bodies in medical experimentation and dissection in the late 19th and early 20th-century.

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