Simulating Hearts

Rethinking Digitzation in Cardiovascular Medical Simulators, 1968-2015 by Katharine Vann

This article is part of  the publication ‘Sooner, or Later’. [1]

Design by Leen Charafeddine.

My essay questioned whether new technologies had changed the ways that medical students learn the anatomy of the heart from the 1960s to the present day. Over the years many theorists have argued that technological innovations have the capacity to fundamentally alter how we teach and learn knowledge. Looking at animatronic mannequins, 3D printing, software packages and digitized bodies, I argued that these technologies have changed nothing about how students learn anatomy. Anatomy is not an abstract concept that can be supplanted into students’ minds, but involves habitual practice and learning through the body. Even high-tech learning tools are mediated through physical interactions. Questioning how innovative innovations actually are, demonstrates that every technology has an historic precedent.

Collaborating with Leen Charafeddine, a Visual Communication student at the RCA, we decided that we wanted readers to learn the anatomy of the heart through engaging with their bodies. Leen created a pop-up diagram of a heart, with dotted lines for readers to cut along. We wanted to create a diagram that was not just visual, but tactile, and that would cement knowledge about cardiovascular structures through physical activity. It is a mistake to think that surgeons and medical students learn about the heart only through reading anatomical textbooks. The historical record demonstrates that textual and diagrammatic-based learning, have always been accompanied by physical practices like dissection. We wanted to reanimate the archetypal medical diagram of a heart and introduce readers to the surgeon’s knife, or the pair of scissors that should be used to dissect our illustration.

 Sooner, or later is a collection of visual essays by History of Design MA students at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal College of Art. The submissions reflect and refract the research undertaken for an historiographical essay in spring 2016. This project was developed in order to push the boundaries of the essay format through collaboration with other schools at the RCA. The essay brief invited students to write a critical historio­graphy of design change in a category of objects or a design process. The brief tested the ability to: identify patterns of historical change; evaluate different explanations for change; and analyse the social, cultural, gendered, ideological and technological reasons for design change. Sooner, or later is an unbound, risograph-printed publication in burgundy and fluorescent pink. Contributors were given 0.25 square metres, or two sides of A3, with which to cultivate and interrogate their historio­graphical research. Most of the visual essays are the result of collabo­rations with other students at the Royal College of Art.

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