illustration of a cesarean section

"Kustners Operation," figure 38 in Cesarean Section (Franklin Spilman Newell 1921). Public Domain.

Project (2022-2025)

Follow the Thread: Entangled Human Tissues and Animal Fiber

Catgut is a natural fiber of great elasticity and tenacity prepared from the intestines of animals, usually cattle, goats, pigs, or sheep. Commonly used for stringed musical instruments, sport rackets, and clock strings, the material was later appropriated for use in medical practice from the nineteenth century onwards. Catgut revolutionized internal organ surgery, as the animal material dissolved in the human body after some time. Catgut was particularly suitable for obstetric surgery, as the womb is made up of thick muscle tissue, that few materials could sew.

Modern surgery, whose success is mainly based on a culture of asepsis (a microbe-free environment), had to develop technology to prepare (sterilize) a material that comes from animal bodies so that it could be inserted into human bodies without causing infection.

Drawing a permeable barrier between humans and animals, this research looks at how medical technology untied unsuitable animal characteristics—such as sebum, odors, colors, and microbes—from the suitable—such as organicity, flexibility, and easy absorption—so they could be used in obstetrics at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Past Events

Follow the Thread: Entangled Human Tissues and Animal Fiber