Anatomy lesson with cadaver

Spot the differences

Twee foto's naast elkaar van een anatomie practicum diergeneeskunde. Een uit 1878 en een uit 2015.
An anatomy class at the faculty of Veterinary Medicine.


Lecturer Albertus Verhaar – on the right, dressed in black – gives a group of veterinary students a practical lesson in anatomy with the aid of a horse carcass. 137 years later, lecturer Marijke Hoogendoorn teaches a similar anatomy practical using a bovine carcass. Although time may appear to have stood still, nothing could be further from the truth! Students in 1878 learned about anatomy by attending lectures and examining a horse carcass. Nowadays, students learn how to dissect (a large part of) the cadaver themselves by means of e-learning, specimens and tutorials. In an effort to reduce the use of laboratory animals, bovine carcasses like the one in the photo on the right were also replaced by stillborn calves and specimens two years ago.

Groepsportret tijdens een anatomie practicum in de Veeartsenijschool, circa 1878. De studenten roken pijp en dragen bolhoedjes. Ze poseren voor een karkas.
Group portrait taken during an anatomy class at the Veeartsenijschool Veterinary School around 1878. | Image: Utrecht University Museum, inv. no. UMD-10225

Bowler hats and blonde ponytails 

A striking difference between the students of 1878 and 2015. Bowler hats were popular among veterinary students in those days. They wore them to make it clear they no longer considered themselves part of the lower classes, as they were once perceived when the government still mainly recruited farmers' sons to study veterinary medicine in the city. These early recruits were also referred to as 'cattle roughnecks'. Find out all about student life during this era by reading 'Tussen beesten en feesten' (published by D.S.K. Utrecht 2002).


The photo from 1878 is hardly the epitome of diversity. It bears a striking resemblance to the 2015 photo, but in reverse! Fortunately, this situation is gradually changing: Utrecht University is actively working to encourage every form of diversity among its student population.

Drie studenten en een docent staan voor een runderkarkas. De docent wijst naar het karkas.
Marijke Hoogendoorn, winner of the 2014-2015 Young Lecturer Award, teaches anatomy to a group of veterinary students at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in 2015. | Image: Kees Rutten.

Smoking during a practical

This would be unthinkable today. Smoking with commonly accepted in the 19th century, and actually helped mask the smell of the carcass during lessons.

Dirty hands?

Microorganisms may start to develop on a carcass after several days, especially after the digestive organs have been opened up. The carcass may have been preserved with alcohol in 1878 to reduce the number of germs. These days, we no longer use fixatives and ensure safety by wearing disposable gloves.

This is an article from Vetscience issue 12 (in Dutch).

Vetscience International
200 years Veterinary Medicine | Spot the differences