Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation develops a conceptual history of human anatomy, both as a discipline and as an epistemological model. Building on recent scholarship in the history of science, I argue that the basic organization of anatomical inquiry inspired a number of literary productions during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This project counters important critical trends of the last five decades, which have focused on the ambiguous characterization of an anatomical genre without providing sufficient medical context. I argue that intellectual history reveals a persistent epistemological analogy between the body and textual arrangements of human knowledge. By examining this analogical structure, it is possible to theorize about the components and requirements of anatomical inquiry. Chapter One examines the religious and contexts of anatomy in ancient Greece and medieval Persia and Arabia. In looking at the cosmological doctrines of both societies, I attempt to answer questions about the absence of human dissection in ancient cultures. In the process I identify an alternative mode of inquiry, which I call cosmo-anatomy. Chapter Two discusses the influence of Andreas Vesalius’ famous De humani corporis fabrica on the organization of anatomical texts in seventeenth-century England. I contend that Vesalius’ innovative text sets the stage for both medical and literary anatomical arrangements, including such works as Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. Chapter Three discusses the poetic backlash against Copernican physics in John Donne’s Anatomy of the World. I contend that Donne adapts his ‘anatomy’ to reveal the fundamental influence of traditional cosmologies on the semiotics of metaphysical poetry. Chapter Four explores the narratological structure of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. I investigate the role of memory reconstruction in shaping Tristram’s autobiography, highlighting, in the process, the influence of Enlightenment theories of the brain on the digressive condition of Sterne’s narrative. Chapter Five considers the importance of the anatomical analogy on philosophical encyclopedias of the eighteenth century. I look as well at Leibniz’s plan for the universal library, arguing that the structure of anatomy influences Enlightenment attempts to organize vast amounts of information in a meaningful manner.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Kevin L. Cope