Drew Danielle crop

Making bodies, making kin: The history of medical illustrators in North America

Drew Danielle Belsky

Award: 2019 Doctoral Completion Award

Co-Sponsor: University of Toronto

Who is responsible for medical illustrations, and why do they look the way they do? Although the twentieth century saw the institutionalization of medical illustration as a profession, little work has been done to document the history of the field over the last century. Despite their important role in medical education, it is not uncommon for both medical practitioners and laypersons to express surprise that “Medical Illustrator” is a job at all. As a female-dominated field, the invisibility of medical illustrators as agents of knowledge creation contributes to the problematic perception of medical images as unfiltered representations of the scientific truth of bodies. Drawing on archival and ethnographic research in three extant North American graduate programs, my doctoral project focuses on the role of disciplinary histories, narratives, and kinship metaphors in the training and professionalization of medical illustrators. In the struggle for credibility, disciplinary narratives which emphasize the role of “great men” overlook women’s agency and strategies of establishing authority.