Bones: Pelvises, Skulls, and Measurement Remains at the National Museum

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:20 AM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Laura Cházaro, Cinvestav
Bones: pelvises, skulls and measurements remains at the National Museum

The Museum of Pathological Anatomy opened in 1853 as part of the National School of Medicine (Escuela Nacional de Medicina, hereafter ENM). At the museum, professors from the Chair of Obstetrics who practiced at Mexico’s charity hospitals collected female pelvic bones that had been diagnosed pathological. The pieces labelled ‘Mexican’ or ‘jammed’ pelvises, originally belonged to patients who had suffered labour complications due to obstructions. In 1895, the National Museum (now Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia) added these pieces to its anthropology collection along with skulls, skeletal remains, and other objects that represented Mexico’s indigenous races. How did a section of the Pathological Anatomy collection end up in the National Museum, a space reserved for ancient monoliths, which formed the basis of Mexico’s national history? How did these objects become intimately connected? What bridged the gap between a medicine museum and a history museum?

In this talk, I give an account of the anthropological and medical practices employed in the study of corporal variability which became naturalised as an expression of biological differences and racial hierarchies. These categories were moulded on corporeal differences—skin colour, height to weight ratio and bone morphology. I analyse those practices that reduced skeletons, heads, and pelvises to a series of numbers and indices. My interest in these pieces is understanding the connection between measuring techniques and instruments used in medical situations, and the experience of race (indigenous or mestizo).