Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
Unit of AssessmentPhilosophy
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: History and Philosophy of Specific Fields
Summary of the impact
Nick Hopwood's Embryos in Wax (2002) has impacted on museum
practice by enabling curators of many local and national collections to
catalogue the most important embryological models and display them
informatively in permanent and major temporary exhibitions. Especially the
online exhibition Making Visible Embryos (2008) and a 2006 article
in Isis have greatly stimulated discussion and use of historic
embryo images, providing evidence and interpretation to debates over
abortion, developmental biology, evolution and creationism. The research
has impacted on undergraduate and postgraduate teaching at other HEIs by
opening up new topics and enabling new kinds of collections-based project
Hopwood produced the research between 1998 and the present as University
Assistant Lecturer, Lecturer and since 2005 Senior Lecturer in the
Cambridge HPS Department. He uncovered how in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries anatomists and zoologists collaborated with artists to produce
serial representations of embryonic development that came to stand for the
course of a pregnancy and the history of life on earth and so to replace
competing views. Hopwood argued in `Producing development' (2000) that
these developmental series resulted from linked practices of collecting,
image-making, ordering, selecting and publication or display. This
contributed specifically and significantly to the interpretation of
embryological artefacts, especially wax models and printed images, and
more generally to historical studies of visual culture.
Embryos in Wax (2002) was the first and remains the definitive
guide to the output of the leading producer of academic wax models between
the 1850s and the 1930s. With Embryos in Wax and his contributions
to Models: The Third Dimension of Science (2004) Hopwood took a
lead in promoting a reevaluation of the history of 3-D models in the
sciences. He demonstrated how engaging with this previously neglected
medium could (i) uncover important aspects of past research as well as
teaching, (ii) highlight the politics of medium choice, and (iii) inform
reflection on the digital revolution.
Hopwood's other major focus has been on interpreting the making and uses
of printed pictures, both agreed technical standards and images that have
become standard through copying. The articles in Bulletin of the
History of Medicine (2000) and History of Science (2005)
revealed how normal plates, tables and stages were made authoritative
visual standards in embryology and developmental biology. The Isis
article offered the first archivally-based history of the most
controversial and some of the most successful pictures in the history of
science. Originally published in 1874, their author, the German Darwinist
Ernst Haeckel, was accused of fraud in major debates in the 1870s and
1908-10, but the figures were nevertheless reproduced in twentieth-century
high-school and college textbooks until 1997, when they sparked a third
controversy. In this recent debate, creationist advocates of so-called
`intelligent design' targeted authors and publishers through activism
around textbook adoption, science standards and legislation. Hopwood's
article showed definitively that Haeckel's questionable actions are not
well described as fraud, and that few competent contemporaries initially
saw the plates in this way, and opened up the case as a prime example of
the making of an icon of knowledge.
The online exhibition Making Visible Embryos synthesized all this
work, added new research and presented the result as the only substantial,
long-term survey of the history of human embryology in any medium. It
stresses the work of visualization and contains many expertly interpreted,
high-quality images, most of them displayed online for the first time.
Produced in collaboration with Tatjana Buklijas, a postdoc employed by the
University for the academic year 2004-5 as website researcher and
designer, the exhibition has been an influential experiment in presenting
research in history of science and medicine online.
References to the research
All URLs are available at http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/people/hopwood/
2008: Tatjana Buklijas and Nick Hopwood, Making Visible
c.125 images, c.36,000 words. Wellcome Trust funded.
Reviewed in e.g., Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Nursing
History Review, Nature, New Scientist, Sapere; and
on influential blogs. In `Public history and the public understanding of
medicine: The case of embryology', Hist. Workshop J. 70
(2010), 217-21, Ludmilla Jordanova called it `brilliant ... a major
contribution both to the public history of science and medicine and to the
public understanding of science and medicine as integral to contemporary
2006: Nick Hopwood, Pictures of evolution and charges of fraud:
Ernst Haeckel's embryological illustrations, Isis 97, 260-301. In
September 2010 this was CrossRef's seventh most-cited article in Isis.
2005: Nick Hopwood, Visual standards and disciplinary change:
Normal plates, tables and stages in embryology, History of Science
2004: Nick Hopwood and Soraya de Chadarevian, `Dimensions of
modelling', and Hopwood, `Plastic publishing in embryology', in Soraya de
Chadarevian and Nick Hopwood (eds), Models: The Third Dimension of
Science (Stanford, 2004) 1-15 and 170-206.
2002: Nick Hopwood, Embryos in Wax: Models from the Ziegler
Studio, with a Reprint of `Embryological Wax Models' by Friedrich
Ziegler (Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of
Cambridge; Institute of the History of Medicine, University of Bern). xi,
216 pp. Reprinted in 2013. Publication was funded by (among others)
Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology, Company of Biologists,
Universiteitsmuseum Utrecht, National Museum of Health and Medicine,
Washington, D.C. Reviews: http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/embryos/reviews.html.
2000: Nick Hopwood, Producing development: The anatomy of human
embryos and the norms of Wilhelm His, Bulletin of the History of
Medicine 74, 29-79.
All outputs can be supplied by the University of Cambridge on request.
Details of the impact
Museum practice: Embryos in Wax has stimulated many
medical, anatomical, zoological, and embryological museums and institutes
internationally to catalogue and effectively display permanent collections
of Ziegler models that previously languished unlabelled in store
cupboards. By providing an accessible illustrated history, photographs of
almost all models, tabulated information and extensive documentation, it
has enabled curators to label and contextualize once-nondescript objects.
As a result many institutes engage with their own histories by exhibiting
the oldest objects routinely to have survived on their premises. The
initial impact was between 2002 and 2008, but has continued strongly as
new institutions make use. Recent examples include Oxford University
Museum of Natural History (2008), Birmingham Medical School (2011), the
Alfred Denny Museum, Sheffield (2011) and a major new database of German
university collections (2010-12) . At Oxford, Hopwood's work
was `absolutely crucial' to stimulating and justifying the expense of a
project to catalogue, conserve and properly house about 90 models that
were `forgotten' and now have `scientific specimen status' . At
Birmingham and Sheffield, Embryos in Wax also enabled the models
to be displayed in a wider context to students and the general public. At
the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Washington, D.C., one of the
world's premier collections with some 50,000 visitors a year, Embryos
in Wax and Making Visible Embryos have regularly provided
curators, interns and their clients with information to aid identification
and contextualization. Making Visible Embryos directly informed
the choice of several images and their interpretation in the new permanent
display (2012) . The research further shaped such major
temporary exhibitions as `Exquisite Bodies' at Wellcome Collection, London
(July-October 2009), for which Hopwood acted as a consultant .
Embryos in Wax was read by the lead curator, directed the choice of
exhibits, informed the loan of Ziegler models and was made available in a
reading area, bibliography and bookshop to the 52,667 visitors .
Embryos in Wax is also used in auction catalogues .
Public engagement and debate: Making Visible Embryos has
stimulated discussion and use of historic embryo images. Google analytics
counted approximately 36,000 (29,000 unique) visitors between October 2008
and October 2012, 13,500 from USA and 6,500 from Britain, with interest
sustained through 2011 and 2012 . Specific impacts include: a
review at jezebel.com, the major postfeminist critique site (1.5M visits
per month in 2010) that generated several pages of comments on uses of
embryo images in abortion debates ; bloggers, other writers and
academics copying selected images and adding their own comments or
histories; schoolchildren using the site for projects; and use by
embryologists, sonographers and others to provide a historical perspective
on their work. Hopwood's Isis article intervened authoritatively
in the international controversy in evolutionary developmental biology,
and especially in the United States between creationists and evolutionists
over Haeckel's embryos, to improve the quality of evidence and argument.
E.g., it has been cited since 2008 on the website of the leading
anticreationist organization, the National Center for Science Education,
as a `comprehensive' investigation that rebuts claims of fraud .
Teaching: The research has enriched undergraduate and postgraduate
teaching at other HEIs by opening up new topics and approaches in HPSM and
neighbouring fields. Since 2009, for example, the `Visualising Science'
module of the University of Kent Science communication MSc has included a
session on embryo images, using Making Visible Embryos as the main
resource and Embryos in Wax and other work by Hopwood as key
readings . Innovatively, Embryos in Wax and Models
have not only brought the history of 3-D models as a topic into the
higher-education curriculum—chapters from Models feature on many
reading lists internationally (e.g., a history of medicine survey,
University of Toronto)—they have also inspired collections-based
pedagogical projects. At the HPS Centre at Leeds, for example, Embryos
in Wax has since 2007 `been central to our ways of thinking about
our collection', which in 2012 was built up into a Museum of the History
of Science, Technology and Medicine . Thanks to Embryos in
Wax, Ziegler models—previously all but unknown to
non-specialists—have become `the flagship objects' in this teaching
collection, and the book `has typically been the first port of call for
students conducting collections research and has greatly informed their
thinking' . Through student projects the book `involved
students in new kinds of learning about conservation, display [and]
research'. Hopwood's research inspired a regular third-year philosophy of
biology seminar at Leeds, in which undergraduates have been shown Ziegler
models and asked to `consider [their] relations to evidence, theory,
medical education and practice ... [and] the craft and business of
model-making.' It is `unusual for [such a] course to incorporate the
material heritage of science'; at Leeds, `it had never happened before ...
it happened ... thanks to [Hopwood's] work' [13, 14].
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Universitätssammlungen in Deutschland (http://www.universitaetssammlungen.de/),
a major new database of German university collections produced by the
Helmholtz-Zentrum, Humboldt University, Berlin, with DFG funding, includes
within its sub-project on material models (2010-12) 26 series by the
Zieglers, for which the entries cite Embryos in Wax,
 Emails from Person 1 (Collections Manager, Oxford University Museum
of Natural History), 14 and 15 Jan. 2013.
 Email from Person 2 (Collection Manager, National Museum of Health
and Medicine, Washington, D.C.), 11 Dec. 2012.
 Emails from Person 3 (Senior Curator, The Wellcome Trust), 17 and 20
 For use in an auction catalogue, 17 June 2013: http://www.dorotheum.com/en/auction-detail/auction-10062-antique-scientific-instruments-and-globes/lot-1517519-ffriedrich-ziegler-18601936-and-aurel-v-szily-18801945-two-rare-wax-model-series-three-and-five-models.html?no_cache=1&offset=1&cHash=a0605f69056a885b5607b4c3730dbc20
 Google analytics data for Making Visible Embryos are
available on request.
 Impact through Making Visible Embryos, e.g., http://jezebel.com/5223102/an-abridged-history-of-the-imagery-of-the-human-embryo.
 For use of the Isis article in discussion over Haeckel's
embryos, see e.g., `Accuracy in embryo illustrations', 30 Sept. 2008,
National Center for Science Education,
 For the Kent teaching: http://resourcelists.kent.ac.uk/lists/C76A8C04-6904-F0E5-1387-F83A82678CDA.html.
2011: `As a starting point ... see N. Hopwood, Embryos in Wax: Models from the Ziegler Studio (2002) and
the online exhibition Making Visible Embryos at Cambridge University.'
 Email from Person 4 (Director, Museum of the History of Science,
Technology and Medicine, University of Leeds), 7 Dec. 2012.
 Email from Person 5 (Professor of History and Philosophy of Science,
University of Leeds), 6 Dec. 2012.
 For student engagement, see the blog at http://hpsmuseumleeds.wordpress.com/
and search, e.g., on `Ziegler'.