Canceled: "Anatomy Education, Penn Medicine, and the Creation of a National Racial Science Pedagogy before the Civil War," Christopher Willoughby (Penn State University)

Friday, April 17, 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm


In this presentation, I explore how racial discussion evolved in Penn's anatomy curriculum through an analysis of textbooks by three Penn anatomy professors: Caspar Wistar (published in 1811), William Horner (2nd edition published in 1830), and Joseph Leidy (published in 1861). Wistar's textbook reinforced the notion that in the late colonial and early national periods at Penn, rather than as a central part of anatomy instruction, race was most thoroughly lectured and written upon by physiologists like Benjamin Rush, who viewed it as their duty to cure blackness. However, in Horner's 1830 text, he devoted many pages to craniometry and anatomical racial difference, making an extended, sustained argument about the importance of racial difference to understanding human anatomy. Finally, by 1861, racial difference had become a standard part of anatomical instruction. Unlike Horner, Leidy made no major arguments justifying his inclusion of racial differences in his textbook, rather Leidy gave regular racial commentary in small places throughout the text. He treated racial differences as one of many features of medical anatomy instruction that needed no theoretical justification. Thus, analysis of these textbooks uncovers how discussion of race in anatomical instruction was expanded and standardized in the antebellum period at Penn. Additionally, due to Horner and Leidy's textbooks' wide adoption, this paper argues that they played a significant role in shaping a national racial anatomy curriculum.

Speaker Bio:

Christopher D. E. Willoughby (Ph.D., Tulane University, 2016) is a historian of medicine and slavery in the United States and Atlantic World. His research interrogates how slavery and racism have shaped some of the most influential institutions in American medicine, most notably medical schools, and he has published scholarly and popular articles in venues such as The Journal of Southern History and The Washington Post. Currently, he is a Fellow at The Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Humanities & Information, where he is completing a book on the history of racial science and slavery in U.S. medical schools which is under contract with University of North Carolina Press