Robert Knox's Anatomy of Race

Susan Collinson dissects the life and ideas of the brilliant nineteenth-century anatomist who developed a biological theory of race, but whose career was clouded by controversy.

Robert Knox is known, if at all, as the anatomist at the centre of the Burke and Hare affair of 1828. During the 1820s he ran the most successful school of anatomy in Edinburgh. The shortage of 'subjects' for dissection and demonstration meant that there was at this time a brisk trade in 'resurrected' bodies between anatomists and grave robbers.

This commercial partnership dated back probably to the seventeenth century and preyed mainly upon the poor, for the rich could afford deeper holes and stouter coffins. Burke and Hare, however, pre-empted the arduous and risky business of disinterring corpses by murdering the destitute and the friendless, and then selling their bodies direct to the anatomy schools. Dr Knox was one of their customers.

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