The Cultural History Of The Human Body

Human anatomy, 2013.  We take on the symbolism, meaning, and latest science on body parts, head to toe.

The human body is a living museum of cultural history.  Adam’s rib.  Rapunzel’s hair.  Gogol’s nose.  In history, science, myth, anthropology, literature, art – nearly every element of our anatomy has its moment, or many moments.

Medical science tells us more about more about function and genetic wiring.  But the stories and sayings that surround our anatomy are as powerful in their way as any science.  Pound of flesh.  Heart in our mouth.  Lily-livered.  Long in the tooth.

This hour, On Point:  we dive in to a new cultural history of the human body.  Our anatomies.

– Tom Ashbrook


Hugh Aldersey-Williams, author of “Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body.” (@hughalderseyw)

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times: Adam’s Rib, van Gogh’s Ear, Einstein’s Brain — “For a species so pleased with its own brain, we are surprisingly ambivalent about the rest of our body. We tend to admire other people’s bodies, especially if they’re Olympians or shirtless Russian presidents, but most of us are constantly seeking to improve our own by starving or stuffing, injecting, waxing, straightening, piercing, lifting and squeezing. In 2010 in the United States alone, we spent $10 billion on cosmetic surgery, and that’s not including Brazilian Blowouts.”

The Guardian: 20 amazing facts about the human body — “Goosepimples are a remnant of our evolutionary predecessors. They occur when tiny muscles around the base of each hair tense, pulling the hair more erect. With a decent covering of fur, this would fluff up the coat, getting more air into it, making it a better insulator. But with a human’s thin body hair, it just makes our skin look strange.”

Discovery News: Why Can’t Humans Regenerate Body Parts? — “So if a zebra fish can grow a new tail, why can’t we regenerate a new arm or leg — or a kidney or heart — whenever we need a new one? ‘Nobody really knows the answer,’ says David M. Gardiner, a professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California-Irvine, who is a principal investigator in the UCI Limb Regeneration research program.”


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