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Kyra Helberg

10 May 2021

Project Title

“He must mangle the living, if he has not operated on the dead”: the Evolving Role of Dissection in Surgical Education, 1741–1832.

Academic Supervisors


Project Description

This research aims to take a deeper look into the role dissection played in education and research in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century surgery. While there is scholarship in the cultural history of bodysnatching, the medical history of dissection in the era of 1741–1832 remains lesser explored. When there is scholarship on dissection in this era, it is confined largely to London and Edinburgh, as these were the largest centres of surgical education at that time. This prevents us from forming a comprehensive picture of the progressing state of surgical and medical education across the whole of Britain, particularly in places where access to medical education was less attainable. Although only five cities were named as accepted anatomy schools in the requirements for a diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons, we know from written and archaeological evidence that dissection was part of medical education in other cities, and we know that smaller schools faced unique barriers in surgical education.

Kyra Helberg

This research aims to build off previous scholarship to present a fuller picture of the role of dissection across the whole of Britain, comparing that role in the larger cities with the smaller anatomy schools and examining the discrepancies between them. It will, additionally, examine the direct impact of legal restrictions on this anatomical study, comparing the access to illegally-obtained corpses in places across Britain and the impact that limited access had on teaching methods and surgical proficiency. This project will also examine the impact of cultural stigma on the advances of surgical practice, study, and research. 


MSc Literature and Society, University of Edinburgh, 2020 

MA (Hons) English and Scottish Literature, University of Edinburgh, 2019