The history of anatomy extends from the earliest examinations of sacrificial victims to the sophisticated analyses of the body performed by modern scientists. The study of human anatomy can be traced back thousands of years, at least to the Egyptians, but the science of anatomy, as we know it today, did not develop until far later. The development of the study of anatomy gradually built upon concepts that were understood during the time of Galen and slowly became a part of the traditional medical curriculum. It has been characterized, over time, by a continually developing understanding of the functions of organs and structures in the body.
In the late 16th century, anatomists began exploring and pushing for contention that the study
The reward of cruelty (Plate IV) by William Hogarth 1751
In the late 16th century, anatomists began exploring and pushing for contention that the study of anatomy could contribute to advancing the boundaries of natural philosophy. However, the majority of students were more interested in the practicality of anatomy, and less so in the advancement of knowledge of the subject. Students were interested in the technique of dissection rather than the philosophy of anatomy, and this was reflected in their criticism of Professors such as Girolamo Fabrici.Anatomical theatres became a popular form for anatomical teaching in the early 16th century. The University of Padua was the first and most widely known theatre, founded in 1594. As a result, Italy became the center for human dissection. People came from all over to watch as professors taught lectures on the human physiology and anatomy, as anyone was welcome to witness the spectacle. Participants "were fascinated by corporeal display, by the body undergoing dissection". Most professors did not do the dissections themselves. Instead they sat in seats above the bodies while hired hands did the cutting. Students and observers would be placed around the table in a circular, stadium-like arena and listen as professors explained the various anatomical parts. As anatomy theaters gained popularity throughout the 16th century, protocols were adjusted to account for the disruptions of students. Students moved beyond simply being eager to participate, and began stealing and vandalizing cadavers. Students were thus instructed to sit quietly and were to be penalized for disrupting the dissection. Moreover, preparatory lectures were mandatory in order to introduce the "subsequent observation of anatomy". The demonstrations were structured into dissections and lectures. The dissections focused on the skill of autopsy/vivisection while the lectures would center on the philosophical questions of anatomy. This is exemplary of how anatomy was viewed not only as the study of structures but also the study of the "body as an extension of the soul". The 19th century eventually saw a move from anatomical theatres to classrooms, reducing "the number of people who could benefit from each cadaver".
Anatomical research in the past hundred years has taken advantage of technological developments and growing understanding of sciences such as evolutionary and evolutionary and molecular biology to create a thorough understanding of the body's organs and structures. Disciplines such as endocrinology have explained the purpose of glands that anatomists previously could not explain; medical devices such as MRI machines and CAT scanners have enabled researchers to study organs, living or dead, in unprecedented detail. Progress today in anatomy is centered in the development, evolution, and function of anatomical features, as the macroscopic aspects of human anatomy have largely been catalogued. Non-human anatomy is particularly active as researchers use techniques ranging from finite element analysis to molecular biology.
To save time, some medical schools such as Birmingham, England have adopted prosection, where a demonstrator dissects and explains to an audience, in place of dissection by students. This enables students to observe more than one body. Improvements in colour images and photography means that an anatomy text is no longer an
To save time, some medical schools such as Birmingham, England have adopted prosection, where a demonstrator dissects and explains to an audience, in place of dissection by students. This enables students to observe more than one body. Improvements in colour images and photography means that an anatomy text is no longer an aid to dissection but rather a central material to learn from. Plastic anatomical models are regularly used in anatomy teaching, offering a good substitute to the real thing. Use of living models for anatomy demonstration is once again becoming popular within teaching of anatomy. Surface landmarks that can be palpated on another individual provide practice for future clinical situations. It is possible to do this on oneself; in the Integrated Biology course at the University of Berkeley, students are encouraged to "introspect" on themselves and link what they are being taught to their own body.
Donations of bodies have declined with public confidence in the medical profession. In Britain, the Human Tissue Act 2004 has tightened up the availability of resources to anatomy departments. The outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) in the late 1980s and early 1990s further restricted the handling of brain tissue.
The controversy of Gunther von Hagens and public displays of dissections, preserved by plastination, may divide opinions on what is ethical or legal.