Of Social Landscapes and Political Images

Of Social Landscapes and Political Images. Visual Cultures of Anatomy in Vienna, Global Networks and Medico Anatomical Artefacts as Media of Exchange

Birgit Nemec

Birgit Nemec Antaomy.jpg

Julius Tandler's atlas for systematic anatomy. Leipzig 1919: C.W. Vogel.

Anatomists, social policymakers, and artists produced in early twentieth-century Vienna a variety of images of the human body, which had different functions, uses, and meanings in the changing scientific, political, and cultural contexts of European modernity. Birgit Nemec examined medico-anatomical imaging in the interwar period as a cultural practice. Around 1900 Vienna housed one of the leading medical schools, famous for it’s rich collections and the production of teaching aids. The First World War however, not only made anatomical visualisation a difficult and precarious endeavor within limited personal and material resources but turned it into a highly political endeavour, engaged in designing future humans and society against the background of key changes in the life sciences, vivid public health debates, aggressive politics, and eugenic discourses.

Looking more closely at interwar anatomical image production reveals medical, socio-, and biopolitical knowledge in transit. What (epistemic) values determine the specific construction of visual anatomies? What discourses and practices realize actor’s assumptions of corporeality, health, sickness, and society and what are the contexts that set the stage for the transformations of knowledge, political, social, and symbolic orders, related to image production?

On the basis of five key artefacts—an anatomical atlas, a public health chart, a wire brain model, an oil painting and an x-ray film—Birgit Nemec traced exchange processes between national and global visual cultures. Working from and with these artefacts reveals vivid stories about drawing social landscapes (Latour 2007), producing political images (Rancière 2006), and propagating knowledge about the body. By tracing out these interrelationships, the project allowed one to take a closer look at urban structures, local milieus and their international networks, thus elucidating, for example, how the first social- democratic anatomical atlas links to hygiene fairs, the global polis, and the new visuality of radiokinematography.

  • Nemec, B. (2015, in press). Anatomical modernity in Red Vienna. Julius Tandler’s textbook for systematic anatomy and the politics of visual milieus. Sudhoffs Archiv.
  • Nemec, B. (2015, in press). Julius Tandler. Politiker – Anatom – Eugeniker. In M. G. Ash & J. Ehmer (Eds.), Universität – Politik – Gesellschaft – Wirtschaft. Göttingen: Vienna University Press – V & R. 2:1.
  • Nemec, B. (2014). Die Anatomie des Neuen Menschen. In W. M. Schwarz & I. Zechner (Eds.), Die helle und die dunkle Seite der Moderne. Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag von Siegfried Mattl (pp. 136-144). Wien: Turia+Kant.