Anatomy dissections and student experience at Irish universities, c.1900s–1960s

Kelly, Laura (2011) Anatomy dissections and student experience at Irish universities, c.1900s–1960s. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 42 (4). pp. 467-474. ISSN 1369-8486 (

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Utilising the unique source of articles, poems, stories and cartoons from student magazines from all of the Irish universities, in addition to the memoirs of Irish doctors, and the accounts of correspondents, this paper will discuss the Irish student’s experience of anatomy in the early twentieth century. For many medical students, anatomy dissections were seen as a rite of passage, while one student at Queen’s College Belfast claimed that ‘the dissecting-room is to the student a club, a smoke room, common room research room—one in all.’ However, the dissecting rooms of Irish medical schools were often rife with bawdy conversation, sexual undertones and black humour. Recognising this, following the admission of women to Irish medical schools from the 1880s, university authorities constructed separate dissecting rooms for the women students, and part of this paper will investigate why this separation occurred. I will examine the Irish dissecting room as a centre of learning and integral part of student experience in the period. The paper will suggest that the black humour and pranks that were commonplace within the context of the dissecting room acted as a means for students to reconcile their fears and anxiety about dissecting.