Semantics of Monstrosity in the Ninenteenth Century


  • Stephanie Nestawal Faculty of Health and Medicine Danube University Krems, Austria


Monstrosity , Medical Anthropology, Anthropometry , Missing Link


 The emphasis of the normal, the human aspect and feature in monstrosities is a leitmotif that becomes prevalent in the scientific debate on teratological phenomena in the nineteenth century. The discourse highlights the organisation of the civilising process with regard to creating an antithesis between human and animality. In this respect, anthropology establishes anthropometry as a measuring and classifying instrument, hence supporting concepts of norm and abnormity in the scientific discussion. The classification approach finally translates teratological occurrences into the “human system” with the monstrosity being transformed into a subject of knowledge. Scientific discourse poses and installs the latter as living attraction for medical and anthropological examination, thus stressing boundary permeability between man and animal. Evolutionary theory finally initiates the quest for the missing link between man and ape, with congenital disorders, such as microcephaly, becoming particularly supportive of the idea of a manifesting existence of a primitive pre-human form.