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Vintage Photos Reveal the 19th Century’s Fascination with Body Parts and the Skeleton

1900s | October 29, 2017

In the 19th Century, posing with and taking photographs of dead loved ones was commonplace, allowing people to have a keepsake of their departed family members. Today, this cultural phenomenon has all but disappeared. “During the early 20th Century, death was removed from everyday life and dead bodies were removed from personal photographs,” says Stanley B. Burns MD, an ophthalmologist, collector, historian and founder of The Burns Archive.

In a new photo book, Stiffs, Skulls & Skeletons: Medical Photography and Symbolism, The Burns Archive have brought together 450 images that reveal the 19th Century’s fascination with body parts and the skeleton. Here are some of the photos from the collection.

“A Student’s Dream” Illusion of Dissection Anxiety 1906.
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Studying Skull Anatomy Albany, NY 1857.
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Anatomy Class, 1910.
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“It’s All Over Now” Dissection Class University of Maryland School of Medicine, circa 1915.
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Dissection Room circa 1930.
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Deformed Skeleton Due to Rickets, 1879.
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Anatomical Model Maker, Dr. Azouz 1858.
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Cranio-cerebral Topographical Study of A Child’s Head, 1916.
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X-Ray of Deformity of Hand, Fused Metacarpal Bones, 1907.
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“Dear Mary, What do You Think of My Chum? Postcard mailed to Mary Miller, Mifflinburg, PA, 1908.
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H/T Stanley B. Burns, MD & The Burns Archive, via TIME LightBox

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