Helena Franzén

helena_franzenFranzén is a doctoral student at the Department of History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University. She has training in archaeology and she holds her previous degrees in that field. Her fields of interest include the history of medicine, medical anthropology and the material culture of medicine and science. She has a special interest in the practices, infrastructures and knowledge production of embryology and anatomy in the nineteenth century. In this project, Franzén will focus on the procedures of collecting specimens and the possible stakeholders involved in that process, specifically looking at the intersections between these spheres.



Bodies in transformation: Obstetrical and embryological collections at Uppsala University

These collections and their contents of preserved pelves, fetuses and embryos, along with models, casts, and instruments have a long history as scientific objects at the Medical faculty, starting in the mid-eighteenth-century. Over time, items were added and destroyed, and their placement shifted depending on notions about their purpose. By the late-twentieth-century the collections had been re-imagined as historical objects and instead situated as a problematic heritage. In my dissertation I explore how and why the collections were assembled, used, and how their meaning changed over time by contextualising them within societal trends.

By examining the processes of knowledge production; mainly collecting, use of instruments, collection-management, preparing specimens, and specimen-imaging, I investigate the links between the collections and broader themes such as ideas about race, pathology/normality, and development. I aim to analyse and nuance how these collections were shaped by, and shaping, understandings of reproduction and its consequences in the nineteenth- and early twentith-century Swedish medical community.

Publications and presentations:

• "‘The precious material’: Obtaining human fetal bodies for an embryological collection at Uppsala University, ca 1890–1930", Scandinavian Journal of History online 2021. Full text

• "From patient to specimen and back again: Radical surgeries and pelvic pathologies in the Museum Obstetricum”, Lychnos 2020, 33–57. Full text

• “Preparing, casting, and drawing: Visualising female pelves in nineteenth-century medical science“, presentation at the seminar serie Images of Science, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, 27 February 2019.

• “Från kropp till preparat: Mänskliga foster som vetenskapliga objekt i tidiga 1900-talets Uppsala“, presentation at the seminar serie Aspects of Death, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University, 22 March 2017.

The materiality of teratology”, paper presentation, History of medicine today and tomorrow, Karolinska institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, October 2, 2017.

• “From embryonic bodies to scientific objects”, paper presentation, Nordic Science and Technology Studies Conference, Göteborg, Sweden, 31 May–2 June, 2017.

• “Kroppar i transformation: Mänskliga embryon/foster i museisamlingar och deras sociala världar”, paper presentation at the workshop Medical Humanities at Uppsala University, Uppsala University, April 14, 2016.


• The coming of age of the public fetus: Exploring pregnant and fetal bodies in visual culture, an international workshop at Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, May 15-17, 2019, co-organized with Elisabet Björklund and Solveig Jülich. Read more

Valuations of life: Birth defects, prenatal diagnosis, and disability. An international workshop at Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, September 25–26, 2018, co-organized with Annika Berg and Maria Björkman. Read more

Extraordinary bodies in early modern nature and culture. An international workshop at Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, October 26-27, 2017, co-organized with Maja Bondestam. Read more

Email: helena.franzen@idehist.uu.se