Anatomical mercury

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Abstract

The use of mercury as an injection mass in anatomical experiments and preparations was common throughout Europe in the long eighteenth century, and refined mercury-injected preparations as well as plates of anatomical mercury remain today. The use and meaning of mercury in related disciplines such as medicine and chemistry in the same period have been studied, but our knowledge of anatomical mercury is sparse and tends to focus on technicalities. This article argues that mercury had a distinct meaning in anatomy, which was initially influenced by alchemical and classical understandings of mercury. Moreover, it demonstrates that the choice of mercury as an anatomical injection mass was deliberate and informed by an intricate cultural understanding of its materiality, and that its use in anatomical preparations and its perception as an anatomical material evolved with the understanding of the circulatory and lymphatic systems. By using the material culture of anatomical mercury as a starting point, I seek to provide a new, object-driven interpretation of complex and strongly interrelated historiographical categories such as mechanism, vitalism, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, which are difficult to understand through a historiography that focuses exclusively on ideas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-548
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Volume70
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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