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The term “sex” is generally used to connote the body’s physiological variations. That is, “sex” refers to the physical and functional differences between the reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics of male and female bodies. In contrast, the term “gender” alludes to the multiple meanings assigned to sex in a wider social context. “Gender” refers to the ways in which traits of femaleness and maleness are characterized and classified according to social, economic and cultural conventions. When the modern science of anatomy began to coalesce in the 16th century, there was little, if no, distinction between sex and gender. One would think that under the leveling influence of the anatomist’s knife, social divisions between men and women would melt away. But this was not the case. Gendered characterizations continued to inform the ways in which anatomists approached bodies of either sex. This was also true of the great tradition of anatomical illustrations that emerged in the 16th century. Representations of dissected cadavers were as much defined by Renaissance artistic, religious and cultural customs regarding gender as they were by medical discoveries.

The Anatomy of Gender explores this relationship between sex, gender and images of dissection in Renaissance and early modern European anatomical texts, ca. 1540-1800. Anatomical illustrations of this period reveal complex attitudes toward visualizing sexual difference. Although medical images were produced in diverse media, (from ivory to wax to bronze) the development of anatomical illustrations was indelibly associated with the spread of print technology in the 16th century. Printing became one of the catalysts for the scientific revolution, affecting all branches of natural philosophy including medicine. It allowed for the widespread, uniform presentation and circulation of ideas. As anatomy theaters and the arts of dissection flourished in universities throughout Europe, prints and printed atlases effectively and swiftly spread the new discoveries being made about the body. Anatomical texts and images quickly became both plentiful and accessible to a broad range of people, from the literate elite to barbers and surgeons. In an effort to appeal to this wide spectrum of readers, anatomists often based their illustrations on contemporary artistic and cultural sources. The resulting visual images confusingly mixed new anatomical observations with moralizing conceptions of sexual difference and erotically charged points of view. Analyzing various anatomical treatises and their images, the essays in this website address the ways in which the body, even after death, was submitted to the constraints of gender.

This website was erected by the Northwestern University Library and Academic Technologies to accompany the exhibition at the , Northwestern University, Evanston, January 3-March 12, 2006. Images in the website have been reproduced from printed books in the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University, Evanston; Galter Health Sciences Library, Special Collections, Northwestern University, Chicago; University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center.

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