The Mütter Museum’s History of Dissection Lesson

by Sabirah Mahmud

A new lesson is being brought to The Mütter Museum. In this lesson, we delve at the Museum into the history of Human Dissection and discover pretty cool and gory details about this medical innovation.

Image Courtesy of The Mütter Museum

The lesson ventures into the beginning of human dissection. As dissections were thought to be very taboo due to cultural morals back then, most dissections and observations on anatomy were done on animals. Fun fact, Galen, Greek physician’s own research was based on the anatomy of animals, not humans; however, his research tried to go into the human anatomy. Imagine reading an article about human health to find out ALL of that information was based on animal anatomy. Crazy, right? Nonetheless, science eventually progressed and we started making human observations. Amongst those who started this practice was Andreas Vesalius. He wrote the De humani corporis fabrica libri septem which was one of the first medical journals based on actual human anatomy, not animal anatomy.

Who exactly becomes these specimens that people dissect? At the time, it was mostly those who lacked agency over their lives such as the poor, marginalized, prisoners, and enslaved people. These people were primarily reflected in the works of J. Marion Sims, a progressive gynecologic surgeon. Dr. Sims had performed his surgeries on enslaved women in the Americas. However, something we can ask ourselves is, was the fact he had forced these enslaved women be his subject for his surgeries really worth it for the cause?

Courtesy of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

In the future, the bodies that become specimens aren’t those who are marginalized or enslaved. Due to the strict laws that follow donating one’s body to science, most dissections of human bodies are now from willed donations. This is shown through one of the Mütter’s most famous exhibits, the body of Henry Eastlack. Henry had suffered from a rare condition and after he passed, he had donated his body to the will of those who wanted to learn more about his condition.

Enough about who becomes these specimens, where did we get them? There are some dark tales as well as some not-so-dark ones about where these bodies are from. Some of these bodies came from those who were “sentenced to science,” blatantly murdering people for this purpose and grave robbing. William S. Forbes, an American physician, was implicated in a scheme involving graverobbers, who took bodies and allegedly sold them to Forbes but according to experts at the Mütter, “there is no evidence that he or his confederates were killing people to sell their bodies to the medical schools.”

An example of the creepy and gory is the tale of William Burke and William Hare. The two had murdered 16 people in Scotland and sold their bodies to the medical schools because of the constant demand for bodies. As this isn’t the best option, the next one was grave robbing which also doesn’t bode well in general. This took place in many ways though. A man by the name of Michael Mastromarino had actually taken bodies from funeral homes and replaced their bones with PVC pipes. These were some of the ways at that time people got these cadavers.

This lesson finishes on an interesting, modern note. For this generation, we have reached and seen the fact these human specimens are now displayed for learning and instruction. This is also the purpose of The Mütter Museum as they hope to always educate the public about the human body. A special example of this learning instruction is shown at this peculiar art exhibit, Body Works Amsterdam, where they quite literally display real human and animal cadavers as art as a way of learning about the human body in a peculiar way. Though this may make most of you question this intent, we have actually gone far from seeing these dissections as taboo to now having them on display for educational purposes.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, I hope you sign up soon to get your own lesson on The Mütter Museum’s History of Human Dissection. If so, please share it with us and let us know if you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Sabirah Mahmud is a sophomore at the Academy At Palumbo as well as a Teen Ambassador for Philly STAMP representing the Mutter Museum, and the Penn Museum. She enjoys doing Congressional Debate and Declamation Oratory at her school as well as playing the Oboe and Clarinet in her spare time.

History of Medical Fake News at the Mütter Museum

by Sabirah Mahmud

Have you ever been to the Mütter Museum? If so, have you ever had a lesson from their wide range of interesting medical and scientific topics? If you answered no to any of these questions, then I have an offer for you that may compel to finally get a lesson and visit the Mütter Museum. They recently have introduced a new medical lesson called the Medical Fake News which exposes the history of fake medical cures and conditions that many people endorse and argue.

An ad promoting violet ray therapy for pain relief. Courtesy of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
An ad promoting violet ray therapy for pain relief. Courtesy of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Let’s start about the past of medical fake news. In the past, there was hearsay of new medical breakthroughs and cure-alls, but were they really all they lived up to? There were many speculations that violet rays would provide many health benefits like destroying all germs, cure hair loss, and help eczema; however, these medical fallacies didn’t just stop there. Additionally, Dr. McLaughlin’s Electric Belt had apparently shocked the female problems and complaints out of a woman and Angelo Mariani’s patent medicine, Vin Mariani, had “said” that it would increase productiveness and help to make someone happy. However, these were all proved ineffective. As the electric belt itself would shock the one who wore it constantly, it is very blatant and self-explanatory as to why it would be ineffective. The violet rays were proved later on to be ineffective and Vin Mariani had soon given those who used it mercury poisoning which instead of being a cure-all, gave someone a deathly disease.

Now closer to the present, we hear these crazy medical “breakthroughs” all the time. Whenever I’m on a website, I usually see an ad that says, Click here if you want to find the cure to cancer. If you’ve seen this like me, sometimes you’re compelled to read more and truly find out what is behind this link, but would you believe me that this is also an example of the medical fallacies that we see today. Something that we might have all have heard through these false advertisements is the “cure” for cancer through apricots, specifically through their b17 seeds. In reality, as some would connect this to something that as a collective we would all want, this is actually connected to cyanide poisoning and could be fatal to anyone who tries this method. It is important that though sometimes these medica fallacies may be humorous, they actually have serious consequences that we all must be aware of. As expected though, there are always conspirators who believe that the rejection of this method is just the government suppressing cancer cures for bigger companies and hiding the truth.

Courtesy of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
Courtesy of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

However, these medical fallacies don’t always take place in a serious manner. How many times have you told yourself that you are going to go on that 2019 diet? I’m sure I have. Nonetheless, these diets aren’t always as true as they may seem. In the past, there was a diet called Fletcherism created by Horace Fletcher. The reason I mention it is because this ‘diet’ had many crazy rules to it. Fletcherism included chewing your food 30-50 times and if you’ve ever tried this, you would know it would be nearly impossible to chew anything past 20 times. This isn’t the only crazy diet though, there is also the hay diet. This diet includes not eating AT ALL. The theory behind this is that food creates a disease, many people actually believed this.

Fallacies don’t just come through diets and crazy potions and devices, they also come in many other ways. There are the random stories that smelling farts, of all things, can apparently ‘cure’ cancer that is usually from misinterpreted and bogus studies. Sometimes these fallacies can even be shown in crazy anti-aging methods where the Sun had released an article saying that apparently drinking the blood of young people can slow the aging process. Similarly to most of these fallacies that are mentioned, they are always brought up through a suspicious branch of science like Phrenology, the science of studying the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities.

But how can we figure out that these news stories  are fake? Well, the Mütter Museum will provide you with many tips, though I can tell you a few.

Firstly, if you’re reading an article and there is no author, it’s already a red flag. If you go onto reading and it’s from a questionable site, you can already tell the situation isn’t so great. Finally, if you see that there are poor copy editing, grammatical errors, and they rely on conspiracy theories, I promise you that this is a medical fallacy. However, the story doesn’t end here. I encourage you all to visit the College of Physicians Mütter Museum and take this lesson on the History of Medical Fake News.

Sabirah Mahmud is a sophomore at the Academy At Palumbo as well as a Teen Ambassador for Philly STAMP representing the Mutter Museum, and the Penn Museum. She enjoys doing Congressional Debate and Declamation Oratory at her school as well as playing the Oboe and Clarinet in her spare time.

February 2019 Happenings at ICA

written by Amelia Dogan

The Institute of Contemporary Art in University City just opened up three new exhibits this February. The ICA is free for all (even for you non-STAMP friends and family!) and often has thought-provoking exhibits with modern art.

Tony Conrad in front of Yellow Movie 2/2/73(1973) and two Yellow Movie—35mm Format canvases (1973), in his retrospective exhibition, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, New York, December 1977. Photo: Kevin Noble. Yellow Movie 2/2/73. Courtesy The Estate of Tony Conrad and Greene Naftali, New York. Image courtesy Tony Conrad Archives Work© The Estate of Tony Conrad.

The first exhibit is a retrospective of Tony Conrad, a primarily video artist who was most active in the second half of the twentieth century and recently passed away. One of the pieces that made me think the most was “Yellow Room,” a video installation in a room with yellow stripes. Conrad also had structural sculptures like a series called “Invented Acoustical Tools.” These tools are combinations of unlikely tools and everyday objects that make sound. One interactive example is a swinging bench that a person can sit on and pluck the cello-like strings holding the bench up to create sounds.

Kevin Jerome Everson,IFO, 201716mm film projected, sound10 minutes

The next exhibit is “Mundane Futures,” the first chapter of Colored People Time (CPT). The series CPT is a trilogy of exhibits exploring blackness and the future throughout 2019. This first chapter looks at how the idea of colored people time bucks the tradition of punctuality being key to capitalism. Mundane Futures includes work from Afro-Futurist manifestos, Black Panther newspapers, and academic lectures. There are also video installations and modern art. Be on the lookout for a couple goodies though, including a novel from 1899 and a poster.

Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen, 2017. Installation view, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans. Photo: Alex Marks

The last exhibit is a bunch of work by Cecilia Vicuña, a Chilean artist. The first piece that caught my attention was a 3D collage that emphasized lines with different textures and rhythms. The other large instillation in the exhibit is comprised of yarn and sticks. Vicuña also draws from indigenous traditions like the quipu, an Inca way of keep track of numbers and harvests through knots. Vicuña, in addition to being an artist, is a poet and the wall has some of her poetry in Spanish and English.

Overall, the ICA has an exciting 2019 year ahead of it. The ICA’s season has started with a big bang, and I hope you check it out!

Amelia Dogan is a senior at Penn Charter and a member of the STAMP Teen Council.

Truth Behind the Trade at the Penn Museum

by Sabirah Mahmud


On February 26, the Penn Museum will be hosting its second Teen Science Cafe for high school students in Philadelphia. It will be on Globalization and the effects of this phenomenon. Additionally, this event will be lead by Dr. Douglas Smitt, Assistance Adjunct Professor at the University of Pennsylvania with the help of the Teen Ambassadors.

So why would someone like you be interested in an event like this? Well, let me tell you why.  Are you a fan of KPop or Hip Hop? If so, did you know Hip-hop is actually a byproduct of Globalization? Well, it is! During the event, we will be looking to find examples of Globalization in our very own clothes, in the music around us, and much more. I promise you by the end of this event, you will be aware of the impact Globalization has on our very own daily lives!

Globalization hasn’t just taken the form to impact our lives, but also countries as a whole. In the United States initially, turkey tails were just thrown away because of their fat and meatiness. However, Samoa and other Polynesian Islands soon took interests in them, and this soon became apart of their daily cultural meals as a result. This impacted their culture drastically as obesity rates soon went up and the majority of their people started to gain weight rapidly. However, we never connect the United States to this shift in their people. Nonetheless, with this said, we can actually now say that this shift in culture is actually a byproduct on Globalization not by it always being among their people.

We just don’t see this with recent stories of Samoan culture, but we can connect Globalization with foods in our daily lives such as chocolate, sugar, tea, and coffee. These were all taken from their initial countries due to the fact these products make people feel something that they don’t feel usually. This can be shown as chocolate, because of it’s great sweetness, can make someone happier than they already are, or when we have tea or coffee, it can usually give you a greater feeling of endurance or energy due to the fact it may include caffeine and sugar. But we always tend to think these products to be western but would you be surprised when I say these products are almost all from Latin America and even more specifically, Brazil. Consequently, due to the effects of Globalization, Americans had adopted this and brought into our country to reclaim it as our own.

Globalization can’t just be shown on goods and music, but it can be shown through even dress and hair. Have you ever heard of cultural appropriation? Well, this is globalization to a sense but in a pretty extreme way. When we think of dreads or corn-rows now, we tend to think of possibly rap culture or hip-hop culture, but secretly, this transformation is actually a result of globalization. We tend to group these things that groups have claimed, and associate it with them. However, dreads and corn-rows belong to the African American population. These are the social implications of globalization; when we think of a country or group to have a claim on something, but it’s actually from somewhere else.

Leading to the social implications, we can see this in things that we associate with things that have been around a bit longer. In your head, name the first country or people that you think of when I tell you tomatoes? Do you think of Italy? If so, the social implications from Globalization, actually do apply to you. Tomatoes actually didn’t even exist until trade was brought from Central America was brought back to Europe. This included many other goods as well as tomatoes being one of them. You must think I’m crazy for telling you this, but it is true! We can also see this when we ask ourselves, what do we think about when we think of potatoes? Other than our holy french fries, we probably think of the Irish or the Irish Potato Famine. If so, I would hope to surprise you but like tomatoes, potatoes didn’t even exist in Ireland until trade allowed it to travel there.

These examples are some of the many surprising examples we will talk about at the event on February 26 at the Penn Museum. So come and join and learn about the great effects of Globalization that you have never heard. Bring your friends and families; refreshments are offered!

Sabirah Mahmud is a sophomore at the Academy At Palumbo as well as a Teen Ambassador for Philly STAMP representing the Mutter Museum, and the Penn Museum. She enjoys doing Congressional Debate and Declamation Oratory at her school as well as playing the Oboe and Clarinet in her spare time.