Elena Canadelli – The unexpected migration of Transparent Man

CISEPS – Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Economics, Psychology and Social Sciences

The unexpected migration of Transparent Man from Germany to the U.S. in 1930s and 40s

Dr. Elena Canadelli
Historian of Science, University of Milano Bicocca

Thursday, November 8, 2013, 2:30pm
Room U6/372 (3rd floor), Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

canadelli-transparent-mancanadelli-transparent-man CANADELLI-Fig2Abstract: The Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden, founded in 1912, was considered by its contemporaries as “a teaching institution for giving health instruction to the general public”. From 1930 on, the absolute symbol of the museum was the Transparent Man, made in plastic materials. Created in various editions, the Transparent Man, which was soon followed by the Transparent Woman, went on tour in Europe. Perhaps unexpectedly, it migrated in the U.S. during 1930s and ‘40s. In 1935 the popular American journal Popular Science Monthly significantly entitled its report on this exhibition Wonders of the Human Body reproduced in Museum by Machines and Electricity. By means of interactive displays, transparent models, lighting effects and mechanical apparatuses, “every important organ in the human machine is brought to light for visual instruction of the onlookers”. Although strongly compromised by eugenics, by hygienism, and by the ideology of National Socialism, the German Hygiene-Museum inaugurated a new way of displaying the human body, which was taken up and developed, albeit in different ways, by American temporary exhibitions about the human body.

The seminar is part of the CISEPS project The diffusion of cultural traits, whose goal is to trigger interdiciplinary debates, emphasizing common problems and peculiarities among economics, philosophy, anthropology, geography, history, biology and many more fields. Thinking in terms of cultural traits – i.e., characters depending in some way on social learning – doesn’t imply exhaustion of cultural processes; rather, it means thinking critically to scientific models and metaphors for studying culture.