Mors Mortis Museum is proud to feature Cat Irving who will contribute to the Acquisition, Curation and Conservation of the Dead section of the upcoming Routledge handbook: Museums, Heritage, and Death with her work titled: Conserving the Humanity of Human Remains
Irving became interested in death after a fascination with anatomical structure. “I would walk my dog and find dead animals – shrews, moles that had been caught and hung up on a barbed wire fence, birds caught by cats – and I would take them home and dissect them. Anatomy and death go hand in hand, and it’s impossible to consider one without the other.”
[Charles Anderson’s tibia] speaks to us very eloquently of human suffering as it is situated in medical history in a way – I feel – can’t be communicated simply by reading the story in a book.
Irving says one of her most meaningful moments while working was an exhibition on the heart. “We had an exhibition on the heart a few years ago, and one of the things we had on display then were the heart and lungs of someone who had been a prisoner of war in Nagasaki when the bomb dropped. He died from carcinoma after returning to Scotland. Being able to work so closely with someone who has experienced that horror is incredibly humbling.”
Irving says she often goes through paper records so she can connect the information they hold to the remains themselves. She says, “This is not only useful for researchers looking into our collection, but can also contribute to us creating a more human picture of the people here, and their lives.”
“I am surrounded by the dead,” Irving says. “I work daily handling human remains – whether that is bones, or tissue that has either been dried or fluid preserved. As we’re a surgical museum, this hasn’t all been taken post-mortem – there is a lot that has been removed surgically – for example, amputated feet, resected bowel, excised tumours. However, the age of these preparations means that few of the people are likely to still be alive.”
Irving says she enjoys the collections of the Palazzo Poggi in Bologna, and the anatomical waxes of Ercole Lelli, Giovanni Manzolini and Anna Morandi. She also loves the University of Leiden’s preserved anatomical collection and the way they have organized it through life stages. She says it “feels very human – and very different to the usual anatomical approach.” Lastly she mentions that she likes to show people Charles Anderson’s tibia at Sturgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh, United Kingdom. She says it “speaks to us very eloquently of human suffering as it is situated in medical history in a way – I feel – can’t be communicated simply by reading the story in a book.”
You can follow Cat Irving on Twitter: @AnatomicalCat and on Facebook: @catswanderingbones
By Jesse Morgan, a Communication and Photography Student at Coastal Carolina University, USA.