Conversations: It Runs Like Clockwork – Automatons, Artificial Hearts, and Machines of Medicine

March 3, 2016 / 7:00pm

Free with museum admission

In partnership with the Dittrick Museum of Medical History

It runs like clockwork. Minute, precise, exact gears and cogs and brass-plated hands whirring with astrological certainty; clockwork suggests order out of chaos, a sense that all is right and functioning as it should be. And yet, as much as automatons fascinate us, they haunt our imaginations, too. Jacques Vaucanson introduced a flute player that actually breathed into the instrument. William Smellie created an artificial womb that actually contracted. Auzoux built anatomical models with removable organs in high color. It’s not surprising that many of the inventors were also doctors, or that the devices ultimately helped to serve patients. But what does that blend of body and technology mean? In this presentation, we’ll talk about early attempts as mimicking the body not just in form, but in function. From the birth-machines and mechanical men of the 18th century to the artificial hearts and kidneys of the early 20th, what do machines tell us about being human? Or to put it another way, what does it mean to be a “machine?"


Brandy Schillace, PhD.Brandy Schillace, PhD, writes at the intersections of medicine, history, and literature. As a scholar and field researcher, she works to uncover unique and powerful stories, proving truth is stranger (and more fascinating!) than fiction. Brandy works as Research Associate and Public Engagement Fellow for the Dittrick Museum of Medical History (Case Western Reserve University) and Managing Editor of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, a cross-cultural medical anthropology journal.

Brandy is Co-PI of an NEH-funded digital humanities project, How Medicine Became Modern (Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum). Her current books include DEATH’S SUMMER COAT, exploring cultural approaches to death and dying (E&T UK, Pegasus US), and the co-edited collection UNNATURAL REPRODUCTIONS, on “monstrous” birth across time and genre (Cambria). Brandy’s current book explores the science and history behind “steampunk,” that clockwork world of gadgets and gizmos (and Victorian debonair). You can find her TEDx talk here.

Brandy also writers for Huffington Post, InsideHigherEd, H-net, and Centre for Medical Humanities. She directs and speaks for CONVERSATIONS, a series of then-and-now history of medicine talks and has been an invited speaker for the University at Buffalo, University College of Dublin, Manchester University, the New York Academy of Medicine, Little Atoms Radio and various podcasts. Across borders, beneath streets, buried in vaults and in the basement of libraries and museums, it’s the (untold) stories that matter, the human story at the center of medicine.