Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Dr Gemma Angel

Dr Gemma Angel was an IAS Junior Research Fellow from 2015-16.

Research Theme: Health and Humanities

Looking, Feeling, Knowing: The politics of seeing in medical collections of human remains after the Human Tissue Act

Over the past 30 years, historical collections of human remains held in anatomy and pathology departments of UK medical institutions have become a source of renewed concern for scholars interested in the health sciences and humanities and the visual and material culture of medicine. Whilst the shift in medical education from gross pathological anatomy to the study of histology has called into question the value and use of these collections in medical research and teaching, they have simultaneously taken on new ethical and political significance.

Working in collaboration with UCL Pathology Museum, this project explores the complex political entanglements of looking, affective response and medical knowledge within the medical museum. Taking the 2004 Human Tissue Act (HTA) as an historical catalyst for change and drawing upon theoretical approaches from anthropology and science and technology studies, the project investigates shifting discursive, spatial and material practices surrounding human remains, tracing how the political and ethical status of these materials emerges not from properties inherent within the objects, but from the socio-political fields in which they are enacted and made to 'matter'.


Gemma Angel is an interdisciplinary scholar specialising in the history and anthropology of the European tattoo, and medical museum collections of human remains. She completed her doctoral thesis at University College London in collaboration with the Science Museum in 2013, on a collection of 300 preserved human tattooed skins of nineteenth-century European origin. Prior to joining the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, she received a Wellcome Trust ISSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to study anatomical collections at the University of Leeds Humanities Research Institute (2015), and worked as a researcher for the Science Museum on the Pararchive open digital archive project (2014). Her research interests encompass the medical humanities, anthropology, STS, museums and visual culture, as well as the methodological intersection of ethnography and historiography.