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Medicine and New Media: Programme

Medical Imaging
The body’s material self-closure – its apparent wholeness and independence from other entities – presents one of medicine’s persistent epistemological challenges. How does the medical practitioner come to know the body? Since the early modern period this problem has been addressed by a succession of technologies, which attempt in various ways to anatomise the body, to cut into or otherwise enter the body in order to examine its components visually. Technological innovations developed since the Renaissance include dissection within the anatomical theatre, the anatomical atlas, photography, the radiograph, and the more recent techniques of visualisation using digital media. Each innovation seeks to correct the ‘deficiencies’ of the kind of vision it replaces, hoping to picture more accurately the hidden, invisible realms of the body. The invention of X-ray in 1896, for example, allowed for the first time vision beyond the surface, which had been intensely explored by nineteenth-century medical photography, but did so without the need for cutting into the body: it allowed people to ‘see’ the inside of oneself and others. Subsequent technologies similarly sought to overcome the deficiencies of those that came before.

The new techniques of visualisation adopted throughout the years did more than change our notion of ‘inside’ and’ outside.’ What has been hidden and most private – the brain, for example – is now public, an unexpected trade-off for the privilege of visually penetrating the deepest recesses of mind and body. Things that had been opaque, like skin, are now transparent, and that which had been hidden, medicine seems to promise, can now be known. This raises important questions, however, regarding the epistemological status of such visually perceived knowledge. The enormous increase in the use of visual images in medicine – where even physical activities which are not inherently visible, such as brain activity, are now turned into images – affect not only how we know what we know, but what we know. In other words, knowledge about the human body itself changes with this shift in the mediation of knowledge.

Each day of the Summer School addressed a different medium and time period, moving chronologically from the Renaissance to the present time. Mornings were spent in discussion with two 'experts', and afternoons were reserved for activities related to the theoretical issues of the day. On some days there was an evening event, which was also open to the public.

Monday, 7 July
Print and the Body in the Early Modern Period

The printing press, invented in the mid-15th-century, allowed for a much wider dissemination of knowledge about the natural world, including the human body, than had been previously possible. The market for these prints was not restricted to those who dealt professionally with the body, such as physicians, natural philosophers, and artists. They attracted a wide audience, a viewing public that did not belong to any identifiable professional group and whose members read only the vernacular (when they did read at all). Thus many anatomical works, such as pirate-copies of Vesalius’ Tabulae and proper anatomical atlases to the fugitive sheets with superimposed flaps, transmitted their information about the human body predominantly through images.

This session investigated various aspects of the relationship between sixteenth century anatomical knowledge and images within a professional and lay environment. In which way did pictures function in relation to the text? What is their didactic purpose? Were they meant to teach the audience something about ancient medicine, or simply intended to inform the illiterate, to provide information they could not otherwise obtain? Was the introduction of images into anatomical works driven by the desire to overthrow ancient authorities by rigorous first-hand observation? Is the experience of looking at an image of the human body in the 16th century different from the experience of reading about its functioning?

Morning Session: Sachiko Kusukawa (Cambridge University) and Andrea Carlino (Institute de l'histoire de medicine, Geneva)
Afternoon Session: William Schupbach (Wellcome Library London)
Evening Event: Keynote Lecture by Sander Gilman: 'Seeing the Insane: Representing Madness from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century'

Tuesday, 8 July
Photography, the Body and the 'Other' in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries
From its ‘invention’ in the early-19th century, the photographic image has contributed to a (re-)conceptualisation of the human body in the arts and medical sciences. Photography was hailed as a technology capable of revealing the ‘truth’ of the natural world, transforming the power of knowing into a rationalised, observed reality. Moreover, the medium was developed at a time when the life sciences were also undergoing changes, giving rise to new disciplines – particularly anthropology – and seeking new methods and technologies. The directness of the photographic image, its apparent reality, when married together with new (and old) scientific notions about the human body argued powerfully for the biological nature of ‘race,’ thereby providing justification and rationalisation for colonial domination and exploitation.

However, although the authority of the photographic image rests on its indexical relationship with the object photographed, it was in fact never simply ‘evidence.’ Each picture is an historical, cultural artefact, and the complexities of how and when a photograph is viewed – the contexts in which the reality of the image is produced – illuminates the complex nature of photography itself, particularly when called upon to produce scientific meaning. It is this diversity and historiocity of the photographic image that this session addressed.

Morning Session: Molly Rogers (Writer and Independent Scholar) and Mechthild Fend (UCL)
Afternoon Session: Photography Workshop

Wednesday, 9 July
Digital Anatomy and the Virtual Body
The most recent solution to the old problem of the human body’s integrity and opacity is three-dimensional digital imaging. A range of new methods that utilise digital technology are giving rise to new kinds of medical knowledge and research, and they are doing so at a startling rate. The CT scan of the 1970s, by making a depthless optical ‘cut’ through the body’s tissues, sought to overcome the problematic superimposition of depth found in radiography, while more recent technologies ‘transluminate’ the body in some way, open it to the incursion and projection of light or some other radiant spectra, so that its tissues become readable and interpretable as virtual images, traces on a page or screen. Its application in the clinic, the surgery, the hospital and the laboratory indicate the extent to which the computer screen has become the dominant way in which Western medicine frames its object, the human body.

This session dealt predominantly with the pedagogical dimension of the transformation of the human body into digital substance. We were introduced into the technical possibilities and problems of anatomical modelling used in anatomy teaching. What are the advantages / disadvantages with regard to other forms of visual technologies still used in anatomy teaching alongside hands-on dissection in the anatomical theatre, such as photography, x-ray and CT scan, to help the student overcome the opacity of the human body? Will dissection in cyberspace render other forms of anatomy teaching less viable?

Morning Session: Peter Abrahams (Warwick Medical School) and Pippa Chadfield (Primal Pictures Ltd.)
Afternoon Session: Primal Pictures Workshop
Evening Event: Film Screenings - 'The Cartoon Medical Show: Films from the Collection of the National Library of Medicine' and 'The Man With the X-Ray Eyes'

Thursday, 10 July
X-Ray and the Invisible Body in the Early-20th Century
The discovery of ‘a new kind of light’, the X-ray, in 1896 by Wilhelm Roentgen and its introduction as a means of medical diagnosis was greeted by the public with a mixture of enormous curiosity and deep-seated fear. More so than the photographic image, the X-ray appeared to be at once magical and truthful, objective and deceptive. The strangeness of the image – the novelty of seeing inside your body without having to undergo invasive procedures – was hugely influential in science, commerce, and art.

The spread of X-ray in medicine had the most dramatic affect on the apprehension of subjectivity. For the first time the living interior of the body could be pictured, made available as an external image, a projection of interiority. With astonishing speed, people got used to seeing their inside displayed as snapshots in black and white or in moving images on a screen. It has been claimed that this unprecedented familiarity with our own anatomy separates the modern view of external and internal from that of previous eras. The earlier, opaque world that was full of mystery on every level – anatomical, sexual and mental – began to dissolve when X-ray mania swept the West. This session dealt with the spread of the X-ray image in both the sciences and more broadly in fin-de-siecle Western culture. How did the X-ray image helped to shift social and moral boundaries? How did it affect the distinction between the medical and personal, the private and public, the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’?

Morning Session: Monika Dommann (University of Zurich) and Michael Sappol (National Library of Medicine, Bethesda)
Afternoon Session: Film Screening - Phillip Warnell's 'The Girl with X-Ray Eyes'

Friday, 11 July
Brain Pictures

In contemporary Western culture humans are often treated as reducible to their brains. Examples can be drawn not only from the arts, fiction writing and film, or from various scientific practices, such as neuroethics, neurobics or cerebral cryopreservation, but also from neurophilosophy and the neurosciences; from debates about brain life and brain death; from practices of intensive care, organ transplantation, and neurological enhancement and prosthetics. Various new neuro fields (neuroesthetics, neuroeconomics, neuroeducation, neurotheology, neuropsychoanalysis and others) have emerged whose common purpose is, with varying degrees of reductionism, to reform the human sciences on the basis of scientific knowledge about the brain. But our contemporary belief in brains also spurs commercial enterprises, such as ‘neuromarketing,’ which seeks to inform advertising campaigns on the basis of what scans may reveal about potential customer’s preferences and choice mechanisms.

Many of these debates and practices rely heavily on the representation of the human brain through fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imagery), which records blood flow in the brain using changes in magnetic properties due to blood oxygenation. This imaging technique has enjoyed an extraordinary increase in production and media attention since the 1990s. The widespread availability of fMRI allows the new neuro projects to focus on the study and visual identification of the neurobiological underpinnings of the processes studied and described by such diverse fields as aesthetics, psychoanalysis, education or social psychology. This session dealt with the many challenges that neuro-imaging presents to the understanding of ourselves as human beings. What does the visible materialization of invisible psychological qualities and experiences mean for the understanding of subjectivity and personhood? What is the relation of the digital image to the object of knowledge pursued in the laboratory? Have we become ‘cerebral subjects’? What do we actually ‘see’ when we look at a brain scan?

Morning Session: Fernando Vidal (Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, Berlin) and Gemma Calvert (Engineering, University of Warwick)

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Full Programme (PDF Document)