Artificial Parts, Practical Lives

Modern Histories of Prosthetics

359 pages

81 illustrations

April, 2002

ISBN: 9780814761984



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Katherine Ott is a curator of Science, Medicine, and Society at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, which houses the largest collection of medical artifacts in the U.S.

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David Serlin is Associate Professor of Communication and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

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Stephen Mihmis a doctoral candidate in history at New York University.

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From the wooden teeth of George Washington to the Bly prosthesis, popular in the 1860s and boasting easy uniform motions of the limb, to today's lifelike approximations, prosthetic devices reveal the extent to which the evolution and design of technologies of the body are intertwined with both the practical and subjective needs of human beings.

The peculiar history of prosthetic devices sheds light on the relationship between technological change and the civilizing process of modernity, and analyzes the concrete materials of prosthetics which carry with them ideologies of body, ideals, body politics, and culture.

Simultaneously critiquing, historicizing, and theorizing prosthetics, Artificial Parts, Practical Lives lays out a balanced and complex picture of its subject, neither vilifying nor celebrating the merger of flesh and machine.


  • "These essays are valuable first forays into the history of prosthetics."

    Technology and Culture