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Books, Journals, New Media
April 24, 2002

Anatomy, HistoryA Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Nineteenth-Century America

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorDavid H.MorseMS, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


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JAMA. 2002;287(16):2148-2149. doi:10.1001/jama.287.16.2148-JBK0424-3-1

The title refers to commerce in corpses: the mostly illegal shipping enterprise of New York City suppliers, using boxes or barrels that could be labeled "pickles," at a charge of about $20 each. With only slight metaphoric extension, however, "traffic" describes the book's broader subject—the screeching, often colliding mix of activities, meanings, and values that piled up around the learned disassembly of human bodies in the United States between the 1780s and 1880s. Historian Michael Sappol builds a set of narrative paths that offer vivid views of medical school competition, rituals of professional initiation, and the sociology of body-snatching, as well as the riots, laws, lectures, museums, primers, and novels associated with anatomy.

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