The Dittrick Museum Presents: Lindsey Fitzharris and “Medicine’s Dark Secrets”

Dissection book cover Imagine, if you will, a low stone slab. Upon it, dimly lit and un-preserved, is a three-day-old corpse going slowing rancid in warm the summer night. This, young surgeon, is your textbook. If you are lucky. For many a medical student, the remains were less fresh, less available (and occasionally less human) than the one I have described. In the 16th century, Andreas Vesalius–the father of anatomy–had to steal half-rotten bodies from the gibbet after hanging. Not what you expect, perhaps, of the profession that has since risen to be one of the most well-respected and well-paid in medicine; long years were spent in the dark before surgeons (and surgery) entered the light. What happened in this shadowy period is the subject of myth, mystery, mayhem and history–and all of it is rendered in fascinating detail by a new documentary project: Medicine’s Dark Secrets, brought to you by the indefatigable Chirurgeon’s Apprentice: Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. You will remember Lindsey from an early interview with the Dose; she is a medical historian who completed her doctorate at Oxford University with a specialty in the history of seventeenth-century alchemical pharmacopeia.

Her interests are broad and boundary-crossing–and her work renders medical history and medical artifacts accessible to an equally broad audience. She was recently interviewed by Christian Josi of the Huffington Post about her project goals and her role as a “Deathxpert” (a happy company of scholars, if I may say so!) Dr. Fitzharris has supplied her followers with so much food for thought–from Victorian anti-masturbation devices to nose-less sufferers of syphilis (a love story) to the vagaries of searching dead bodies. Along the way, she illuminates the strange and sometimes terrifying world of the surgeon-in-training (and the patient-in-waiting!) I have been following the blog for a long while, and I am never disappointed… In fact, the only thing missing was a way to bring her wonderful story-telling to life on screen. Well, not anymore! Dr. Fitzharris is now working on a documentary film, Medicine’s Dark Secrets, and we at the Dittrick are pleased to present a preview–presenting by the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice herself!

Thursday, October 31st, 2013 at 6:00 pm
Lindsey Fitzharris presents Medicine’s Dark Secrets

FitzharrisThis Halloween we will host Lindsey Fitzharris, who will discuss her forthcoming documentary film, Medicine’s Dark Secrets.  Lindsey has a Ph.D in the History of Medicine from Oxford University, and has spent the past few years in London medical museums, especially St. Bart’s, researching the pathological specimen collections.  In the course of this research she became especially intrigued with the question, “whose remains became a specimen?”  This led to an exploration of the life and demise of the persons whose remains survive in these collections, and more specifically, what led them to becoming an object of study in a jar of preserving fluid?  Unraveling this sad and indisputably peculiar fate takes Fitzharris’s investigation on a curious, unusual path leading to a more full understanding of the medical past, warts and all. The event will be held in the Ford Auditorium (reception to follow in the Dittrick Museum) Allen Memorial Medical Library, 1000 Euclid Ave., Cleveland OH 44106

If you plan on joining us please RSVP by October 28th to
Jennifer Nieves <> or by calling 216-368-3648.

About the blogger

Brandy Schillace is a medical humanist, literary scholar and writer of Gothic fiction. She is the Managing Editor, Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, a guest curator for Dittrick Museum, and a SAGES fellow for Case Western Reserve University (she has also worked as an assistant professor of literature at Winona State). She runs the Fiction Reboot and Daily Dose blogs, leads interdisciplinary conferences abroad for IDnet, and spends a lot of her time in museums and medical libraries.

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Brandy Schillace

Historian and author Brandy Schillace, PhD, is Editor for Medhum Fiction | Daily Dose, Research Associate and Public Engagement at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, as well as Managing Editor of the medical anthropology journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry.

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