Jane E. Boyd and Matthew Fisher, “Out on a (Phantom) Limb: A Civil War Era Amputation Immersive Experience”

Amputation Methods

Amputation methods as illustrated in a
19th-century surgery manual from the
Historical Medical Library of the
College of Physicians.

How does war affect our bodies and minds? The creators of Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death, and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia, a long-term exhibit at The Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, wanted to provide the visitor with rare insight into the experience of losing a limb at this time in history. 

In addition to the display of anatomical specimens (including bones shattered by bullets), medical instruments, personal memorabilia from the war, and vivid eyewitness accounts and images, the exhibit invites the visitor to enter into a Victorian-era black-box illusion, with a 21st-century twist. 

The “Phantom Limb” experience allows visitors to configure their personal characteristics on a touch screen and then enter a curtained room in which they (and they alone) see their arm being shot, infected, and amputated, complete with phantom limb syndrome. Part parlor trick and part interactive technology, the illusion combines a conventional mirror with an embedded a video monitor displaying a historically accurate and anatomically correct limb.

On October 14, 2013, guest curator Jane E. Boyd and Matthew Fisher, president of Night Kitchen Interactive, gave a peek behind the scenes of this innovative exhibit.

About the Speakers

Art historian Jane E. Boyd, Ph.D., was one of the guest curators for Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits. She is an independent curator and freelance writer, editor, and translator in Philadelphia, specializing in the history and visual culture of science, technology, and medicine. Jane has worked on projects for all five of the Science on Tap sponsoring institutions.

Matthew Fisher is president and cofounder of Night Kitchen Interactive, where for over 15 years he has produced interpretative and educational experiences for arts, cultural heritage, and science organizations. Matthew is passionate about the transformative power of interactive storytelling and engagement, and he speaks on these topics at museum conferences and universities regularly. Before Night Kitchen, Matthew studied film at Vassar College and worked in radio and recording label management for several years. Visit www.whatscookin.com to see their fancy new website.

Presented by the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Science on Tap is a monthly science café in Philadelphia for anyone interested in getting together with other people to discuss a range of engaging science topics. It is held the second Monday of (most) every month.

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