This Week in History: 28th December – 3rd January

Hi all,

And welcome to the first in a new series of posts that we have decided to call “This Week in History…” that will be published every Monday in which we explore a significant historical event that occurred during that given week. This week, we’re looking at the 28th December – 3rd January, and what better event to start the series off than the birth of one of my all-time favourite historical figures, the ‘father of modern anatomy’, Andreas Vesalius, on 31st December, 1514.

Vesalius_Portrait_pg_xii_-_c
Drawing of Andreas Vesalius taken from his De Fabrica, 1543

Andreas Vesalius (a latinized version of Andries Van Wesel) was a scholar, physician and anatomist that revolutionised the teaching, practise, and theory of what would become modern day anatomy. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential physicians in the development of ‘modern’ medicine, and is widely renowned for his innovation and dedication to the practise of anatomy.

Intent on revising the teachings of antiquity, most notably the teachings of Ancient Greek medical theorist Galen (AD 129-216), Vesalius set about reclaiming the study of human anatomy from the heavily theoretical study of Early Modern Europe, and emphasised a need for practical knowledge in addition. Vesalius studied under Jacques Dubois and Jean Fernal at the University of Paris, but was forced to leave Paris due to heightening hostilities between France and the Holy Roman Empire. Vesalius completed his studies under Johann Winter von Andernach, and eventually found work at the University of Padua, where he would publish a number of medical texts and theses, including Tabulae anatomicae sex (1538) and a revised version of Galen’s Institutiones anatomicae (1539).

Vesalius_Fabrica_p190
An illustration of the famous ‘musclemen’, taken from Vesalius’ De fabrica, 1543

Throughout his career, Vesalius stressed the need for practical engagement with the human form, through dissection, surgery, and close examination of tissues. In 1543, Vesalius published his De humani corporis fabrica, a highly influential book that revolutionised the way that medical knowledge was conceptualised, taught, and understood in Early Modern Europe. Known for its famous ‘Musclemen’ illustrations, De fabrica brought about a significant change in the understanding of human anatomy, and arguably catalysed the development of the study of anatomy as we know it today. The use of a new form of perspective, an unusual method of presenting muscular and other anatomical structures, and the way in which medical knowledge was communicated has earned De fabrica a place in the “History of Medicine: Hall of Fame”, and a special place in Dan’s heart for being the first historical book he ever saw and was at a loss for words.

And so concludes the first post in our ‘This Week in History…’ series, which was a joy for me to write having been a fan of researching Mr. Vesalius for quite some time. Thanks to everyone who read this, we hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we did writing it,  and we shall see you next week for more interesting historical explorations of ‘This Week in History’!

That’s all for now,

Dan.

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