John Cleland and his anatomical collection in context

Drawing of Cleland in a student notebook, ca. 1908-9, by O. H. Mavor (James Bridie). MS Gen 1757/3. By permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections and with kind permission of James MavorThrough his life and work as a researcher, a lecturer, and a clinician, John Cleland (1835-1925), Professor of Anatomy at the University of Glasgow from 1877 to 1909, collected a diverse range of anatomical, pathological, and zoological specimens. They form a remarkable collection of more than 500 skilfully arranged and preserved objects, described in Cleland’s own words in the 1901/1910 collection catalogue. Ranging from the ordinary herring to the extraordinary bird with extra legs, it stands as a witness to the wide range of topics which were of interest to Cleland, both as a distinguished researcher and as a generally and genuinely curious individual.

Cleland was an accomplished researcher and dedicated teacher, much beloved by colleagues and students alike. His writings demonstrate his dedication to the teaching and advancement of scientific knowledge, but they also reflect his more philosophical side. There are philosophical essays and even a collection of poems entitled Scala Naturae (“the great chain of being”, a historical concept which tries to explain nature and its orders and hierarchies)Cleland was commemorated by a contemporary in an obituary [1] as “the last representative of the transcendental and philosophical anatomists of the nineteenth century”.   

‌Through a virtual exhibition and a series of talks, this project will explore Cleland’s collection in its broader historical context.

Dried heart of a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina), stored in a museum jar from Cleland’s collection (Cat. no. 120733), held by The Hunterian (Anatomy Museum)What was the role of this collection in Cleland’s own life and research?
What place did it hold in the context of medical education at the University of Glasgow during Cleland’s time?  
How did it relate to the wider context of late 19th and early 20th century science and medicine?

‌In investigating the specimens through Cleland’s own words and using archival material to view Cleland through the eyes of his contemporaries and students, I will provide a snapshot of the life and work of this important but relatively little-known Scottish anatomist.

Visit the Flicker page  displaying highlights of the archival material related to the life, work, and anatomical preparations of the anatomist John Cleland.

Ianto Jocks, PhD researcher in Classics

Ianto is producing an English translation and commentary of the Compositiones medicamentorum of Scribonius Largus, a 1st century CE Latin medical recipe collection.

[1] “A. K.” (1925) ‘Obituary – Professor John Cleland, F. R.S.’, Nature 115: 431-2.

Images: Drawing of Cleland in a student notebook, ca. 1908-9, by O. H. Mavor. MS Gen 1757/3. University of Glasgow Special Collections and with kind permission of James Mavor.
Dried heart of a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina), from Cleland’s collection, The Hunterian (Anatomy Museum), Cat. no. 120733.