A Short History of Human Dissection and the Autopsy

  • Stephen A. Geller


This chapter will review the history of the evolution of human dissection to the practice of the autopsy from approximately 5000 BCE until the early twenty-first century, highlighting the contributions of European investigators during medieval times, especially those at Padua, where Vesalius’s great work, De corporis humani fabrica libri septum, overthrew more than a millennium of misinformation about the human body and led to the studies of William Harvey, who elucidated the circulation of the blood, and Giovanni Battista Morgagni, who firmly established clinical-pathologic correlation as the best way to understand human disease. The work of Vesalius, Harvey, and Morgagni, in turn, led to the important pathology observations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which served as the foundation for the great clinical diagnostic and therapeutic advances of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Increasing ease and reliability of newer diagnostic approaches may lead to the eventual disappearance of the autopsy as a medical standard, although, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, there is continuing, and, perhaps, even increased, need for autopsy studies.


History Autopsy Human dissection Galen Vesalius Morgagni Rokitansky Virchow Padua Anatomists Morphology Cell theory Postmortem discovery 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen A. Geller
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Pathology and Laboratory MedicineWeill Cornell Medical CollegeNew YorkUSA

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