Portrait of an Organ: A Cultural Analysis of Medical Images and Treatments of the Uterus


  • Darren N. Wagner Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institut für Geschichte der Medizin und Ethik in der Medizin, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  • Raymond Stephanson Professor Emeritus, Department of English, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • Roger A. Pierson University Distinguished Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada




Cultural history, Medical imaging, Modern medicine, Pregnancy, Reproductive medicine


Medical imaging of the uterus has a long, rich, and important history; yet, how the cultural past bears on current-day medical thinking and procedures is rarely considered. This paper examines the influential early modern idea of the autonomous womb, its resonance within modern medicine, and its traces in medical imaging and procedures. We argue that descriptions of the autonomous womb, as an isolatable, independent, and active body part, were ingrained into modern reproductive science during its formative period in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and have continued to resonate in modern medical imaging and practices. To demonstrate this phenomenon, we combined methodologies from cultural studies and visual studies to determine how the uterus is viewed and treated in medical science. Ultimately, this historical analysis contextualizes present-day uterine imaging and its associated medical practices such as hysterectomies, surrogacy, uterine transplantations, and extracorporeal gestation.


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How to Cite

Wagner, D. N., Stephanson, R., & Pierson, R. A. (2019). Portrait of an Organ: A Cultural Analysis of Medical Images and Treatments of the Uterus. International Journal of Body, Mind and Culture, 6(2), 59-70. https://doi.org/10.22122/ijbmc.v6i2.170



Theoretical Study(ies)