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Image of the week: brass corset, 19th century

The corset is infamous as an instrument of fashion and oppression. But the metal versions, like the one shown in the image above, are thought to have been used as orthopedic devices. Valerie Steele writes in The Corset: A Cultural History:

Ambroise Paré (c. 1510-90), a French army surgeon who became famous for reforming and modernizing the practice of surgery, described these metal corsets in his work, stating that they were used "to amend the crookednesse of the Bodie." "In order to correct and to hide such a defect, they will be made to wear iron corsets, which shall be full of holes so that they will not be so heavy, and they will be well fitted and padded so as not to hurt at all, and will be changed often if the patient ... [is] still growing."... Although Paré was a critic of fashionable corsetry, which he thought carried the risk of deformity by incorrect or excessive binding, he was an advocate of orthopedic corsets. Metal corsets were still sometimes recommended in the eighteenth century to correct crooked spines, although canvas stays were more commonly used (for example, by Alexander Pope); and, indeed, orthopedic corsetry continues to be used by doctors today as part of the treatment for scoliosis.

This image is No. 4 of 8 in a series showing the evolution of medical instruments over time. The images are presented in collaboration with the London-based Wellcome Trust, whose library features visual collections with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science.

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