-by Wood Institute travel grantee Dr. Shane Miller*
Last summer, I had the pleasure of spending a week at the Mütter Museum and the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia perusing the archive of medical texts and the specimens of human and animal physical abnormalities. The goal of my stay was to examine how the role of the monstrous had changed across time within medical literature.
Our fascination with monsters goes as far back into western history and literature as one cares to look. Early thinkers such as Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen and Pliny, all discussed monsters and strove to fit and explain them within their theories and understanding of the world. Rather than simple products of ignorance or superstition, these texts were sophisticated efforts to try and make sense of first- and second-hand accounts of people and creatures that were strange, terrifying and at first glance, inexplicable.