Nick Hopwood, University of Cambridge

Prof. Nick Hopwood, University of Cambridge

Tuesday, 19 November 2019 at 15:00 in the Large Operon, EMBL Heidelberg

Nick Hopwood, University of Cambridge

Imaging human embryos: A history


Images of human embryos and foetuses are everywhere. We see them in newspapers, clinics, classrooms, laboratories, family albums and on the Internet. Though debates about reproduction and evolution have at times made these images controversial, we tend to take them for granted. Yet 250 years ago human development was still nowhere to be seen. The talk will explore how, since the end of the eighteenth century, developing embryos and foetuses have been collected and dissected, drawn, modelled and photographed, selected and arranged in series, published, displayed and viewed. It will trace how the resulting images became the dominant representations of pregnancy and sometimes also of the history of life on earth, and follow their more recent incarnations as biomedical symbols of hope and fear. And it will consider how images in various media constructed relations to other entities, to other species and to people involved in producing, using and viewing the pictures.


Nick Hopwood is Professor of History of Science and Medicine at the University of Cambridge. A former developmental biologist, he researches the visual cultures of past science, especially embryology, reproduction, anatomy and evolution. He is the author of Embryos in Wax: Models from the Ziegler Studio (2002) and Haeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud (2015), which won the Suzanne J. Levinson Prize of the History of Science Society. He co-curated the online exhibition Making Visible Embryos (2008) and co-edited Models: The Third Dimension of Science (2004) and Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day (2018).