Teaching tools from the Cambridge Zoology and Comparative Anatomy Department

The Whipple Museum's gigantic frog model and anatomical posters were produced for teaching Cambridge students. They show how particular aspects of frogs' bodies would be presented to students by breaking them down into legible, graphic components. Models and posters offered views of frog bodies impossible to achieve through dissection, and are notable more for their abstraction rather than their naturalism.

Mr Froggy
Image 1 Our large frog model, 'Mr Froggy', tranferred from the Zoology Museum (Wh.6599). Image © the Whipple Museum.
Gardiner Notebook
Gardiner Notebook
Image 2 and 3 From Gardiner, J.S. 1911. Notebook for the elements of the comparative anatomy of vertebrates, Cambridge University Library.

The Cambridge Department of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy possessed many teaching tools that now reside in the Whipple Museum's collection. Unlike the Ziegler models - renowned for their exquisite craftsmanship and precision - these objects are graphic, simple, and huge. Their construction is guided more by values of clarity and legibility than subtlety and accuracy. We can easily imagine these zoological diagrams displayed before a lecture theatre full of students furiously scribbling notes or snoring softly as their lecturer points out relations between form and function in the frog's cranial nerve.

The monumental wax and plaster model (Wh.6599) of the frog's skeletal and muscular systems evokes similar teaching contexts. The frog's size and coloration emphasise the rhetorical values of simplicity and clarity, though at the expense of naturalism. Not only are the muscles unrealistically colored, but they are revealed in ways impossible to achieve with a real frog. The species, gender, and age of this specimen are unknown. Students were given small booklets containing the names of each numbered muscle or bone - even those reference booklets specify nothing about what sort of frog we see. It is a perfectly general frog body designed to visualise one specific aspect of its physiology, in this case its musculature. The model was likely produced either bespoke or in-house by the Cambridge Zoology and Comparative Anatomy department in the early 20th century, though no markings identify a maker or date.

Students in Cambridge were asked to produce their own drawings of anatomical forms. The sketches on the right (Images 2 and 3) are one student's exemplary drawings in a special notebook distributed to Cambridge students in the 1910s. The author, Professor John Stanley Gardiner, emphasized that students' drawings from life should be "of a semi-diagrammatic nature." If the student completes every page, he wrote, the "Notebook may be made into a Textbook of the Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates more valuable to its owner than any printed book, both for examination purposes and for subsequent reference."

Henry Schmidt

Henry Schmidt, 'Teaching tools from the Cambridge Zoology and Comparative Anatomy Department', Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple/explore/frogs/frogsintheclassroom/zoologyandcomparativeanatomy/]

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