Collecting human remains in nineteenth-century Paris: the case of the Société Anatomique de Paris and the Musée Dupuytren

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 45 (4):1-25 (2023)
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This paper describes the scientific practices of the anatomists from the Société Anatomique de Paris (1803–1873) who were collecting anatomical and pathological specimens in Nineteenth-Century Paris and which led to the building of the anatomy and pathology Musée Dupuytren (1835–2016). The framework introduced by Robert Kohler to describe collecting sciences (2007) is useful as a tool to identify the set of diverse practices within pathological anatomy in nineteenth-century Paris. However, I will argue that anatomy and pathology collecting had specific features compared to most collecting sciences. Two main collecting practices could be distinguished: first, “finding” anatomical specimens and second, keeping these specimens. The first kind of practices were at least rhetorically and explicitly motivated by Auguste Comte’s positive philosophy. But “finding” an anatomy or pathology specimen could not be completely compared to finding an object or making a simple observation, as dissecting as well as some experimental practices were also involved. Heterogeneous practices thus coexisted within collecting in anatomy and pathology. Epistemological as well as pragmatic tensions arose. On top of Kohler’s framework, I introduce Sabina Leonelli’s concept of “data journey” to offer a narrative of the diversity of collecting practices involved in the Société Anatomique de Paris and the Musée Dupuytren. I use the concept to analyse how this diversity of practices impacted knowledge production.

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Juliette Ferry-Danini
Université de Namur


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