Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Among the dimly lit and crowded glass cases that cradle wet specimens in chemically-induced states of suspension and bald human skulls staring emptily outward, the visitor to the Mütter Museum steps into a world of morbid curiosity that changed the course of medicine in the United States in the nineteenth century. The Museum’s history, purpose, and function, though at times oppositional and divergent, unite in the momentary and physical space of the Museum’s main gallery where the present-day viewer meets odd and unusual human specimens long preserved, where the nineteenth-century notion of the monstrous is reimagined by the twenty-first century visitor, and where the antiquated museum becomes modern.
Dr. Thomas Mütter, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent nineteenth-century surgeons established the Museum in 1858 as a repository for the collection of his medical curiosities. Mütter donated his extensive collection to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia at the time of his death, and the Museum remains now a staunchly Victorian institution, emblematic of contemporary scientific innovation and natural curiosity. Mütter aimed to establish his collection in Philadelphia and, in doing so, secured for himself a prestigious legacy as one of the leading plastic surgeons of his time with one of the most extensive collections of medical "oddities" in the world. The Mütter Museum is now one of the leading museums in Philadelphia, following in the city’s tradition of grand scientific institutions, and one of the most visited medical oddity collections.
Shapiro, Jessica, "Monsters, Marvels, and Medicine: A “Disturbingly Informative” Exploration of the Mütter Museum and the Monstrous on Display" (2018). History Honors Theses. 1.