There has been a recent spate of publications that will interest the wide variety of professions that study and work with the human body, and a few that will be of major interest to those in the bioarchaeological and anthropological fields who study both the physical remains of the body and the cultural context that these bodies lived, or live, in. With the annual Christmas celebrations a matter of weeks away, I’d thought I’d highlight a few publications that could potentially be perfect presents for friends and family members who are interested in the human body, from anatomical inspection to the personal introspection of what my body, and yours, can inform us of ourselves and the world around us…
Adventures in Human Being: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum by Gavin Francis. London: Profile Books (in association with the Wellcome Collection).
Having previously read Francis’s book on being a doctor in Antarctica and knowing that he has accrued a wealth of knowledge and experience of treating the body from a medical viewpoint in a wide variety of countries, I was intrigued to see this new publication by him, which focuses on different sections of the body as a jumping off point for the essays in this collection. I’d recently read Tiffany Watt Smith’s The Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopedia from Anger to Wanderlust (which, coincidentally, is also published by Profile Books and the Wellcome Collection), which introduces over 150 different human emotions in an exciting combination of psychological, anthropological, historical and etymological mini essays on the human condition. It was a thoughtful book and made me wonder about how we approach the body in bioarchaeology, whether our lexical terminology isolates and intimidates, frustrates and alienates those who we seek to engage and educate. The Book of Human Emotions succinctly highlighted what we think is the universal, the standard charge sheet of emotions (anger, fear, joy, love, etc.) that can be found in cultures across the world, is actually not quite the case or clear-cut, and that they can be expressed and felt in different ways. Francis’s book, I think, will also offer something as equally as thought-provoking. Known not just for his medical expertise but also for the humanity of his writing, Francis’s exploration of the body, as a story we can each call our own, delves into the medical, philosophical and literature worlds to uncover the inner workings of the human body, in good health, in illness and in death.
Crucial Interventions: An Illustrated Treatise on the Principles and Practices of Nineteenth-Century Surgery by Richard Barnett. London: Thames & Hudson (in association with the Wellcome Collection).
I came across the above book purely by chance whilst out browsing bookstores in York recently and I have to say it is now on my festive wish list. The medical historian Richard Barnett introduces a publication detailing the knowledge and variety of surgical practices available to the 19th century surgeon, focused largely on the presentation of the technical drawings produced in the era as a precise method for communicating the advancements made in a variety of treatments. The publication introduces some of the earliest effective surgical techniques for dealing with devastating facial and limb injuries, either from disease processes, traumatic incidents or the outcomes of warfare, and documents the procedures used in re-configuring the body to alleviate the pain and the disfigurement suffered from such injuries and traumas. It may not be for the faint of heart, but I could see that some modern-day surgeons may be interested to learn of past techniques, the tools and resources that they had, and the importance of always improving and building upon the innovations of the past.
Bioarchaeology: An integrated Approach to Working with Human Remains by Debra L. Martin, Ryan P. Harrod & Ventura R. Pérez. New York: Springer.
For any undergraduate or postgraduate student of archaeology that has a burgeoning interest in biarchaeology as a profession, I’d heavily encourage them (and the department) to get a copy of Bioarchaeology: An Integrated Approach to Working with Human Remains by Martin, et al. The volume concisely introduces the discipline and outlines the background to it, the theories and methodologies that have informed the theoretical and practical application of bioarchaeology, the current state of play with regards to legal and ethical frameworks, and, finally, the impact and the importance of bioarchaeology as a whole. The volume also uses invigorating case studies to elucidate the methods of best practice and the impact of the points made throughout the volume. It is an excellent guide to the discipline and well worth purchasing as a reference book. Furthermore the volume is now out in paperback and it is very handy to have in your backpack, partly as a one stop reference for any theories or methodologies currently used in bioarchaeology but also as a pertinent remainder of the value of what we do as bioarchaeologists and why we do it.
Theory and Practice in the Bioarchaeology of Care by Lorna Tilley. New York: Springer (Hardback only at the moment).
The post before this one has already detailed the aim and scope of this publication but I feel it is worth highlighting here again. The bioarchaeology of care, and the associated online Index of Care application, aims to provide the bioarchaeologists with the tools for a case study framework for identifying the likelihood of care provision in the archaeological record by providing four stages of analysis in any individual skeleton exhibiting severe physical impairment, as a result of a disease process or acquired trauma. The methodology takes in the importance of palaeopathology (the identification and diagnosis, where possible, of pathological disease processes in skeletal remains which has a firm basis in modern clinical data) but also the archaeological, cultural, geographic and economic contexts, to examine whether receipt of care is evidenced. In the publication Tilley documents and investigates a number of prehistoric case studies, ranging from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Neolithic, and determines the likelihood of care and the type of care that was needed for the individuals under study to survive to their age at death. The theoretical background and implications, alongside the ethical grounding of the methodology and the concerns in terminology, are also documented at length. Perhaps most importantly, this is a methodology that is open to improvement and to the use within current and future research projects. It is also a method that can be used first hand when examining skeletal remains or from the literature itself (where available to a good enough standard).
The above publications are, to me, some of the most interesting that I have seen recently, but I am always on the look out for more. Please note that the average costs of the books above are within the £10.00-£20.00 range, but prices will vary significantly. The hardback academic publications can be quite expensive (+ £70), however once the volume is out in paperback the price tends to fall steeply. If you can recommend anything please let me know in the comments below.
And Finally a Stocking Filler…
The University of Durham is playing host to a one day conference entitled Little Lives, focusing on new perspectives on the bioarchaeology of children, both their life course and their health, for the very fair price of £10.00 on the 30th of January 2016. The Facebook group for the conference can be found here. Alternatively contact the conference organizers via the Durham University webpage here to secure a place (something I must do soon!).
- The Wellcome Trust, which helps operate the Wellcome Collection, is an independent global charity foundation dedicated to improving health by funding biomedical research and medical education. The charity also has a keen focus on the medical humanities and social sciences, and it recognizes the importance of running educational workshops, programs and outreach events. Find out more information on the charity here.
- Check out Alexandra Ion’s Bodies and Academia blog for her latest post entitled holiday gift ideas for anatomy lovers for more books focused on the human body. I also highly recommend reading Ion’s blog for insights into understanding the human body in archaeology and osteoarchaeology. Further to this check out Ion’s really interesting research into the Francisc I. Rainer human osteological collection in Romania, one of Europe’s largest skeletal collections, held at the Anthropology Institute of the Romanian Academy.