Building the Anatomy of Gender

Male and female anatomical illustrations from centuries-old European texts can be accessed in detailed, high-resolution format via a new Web site developed by Northwestern University Information Technology (NUIT) in partnership with Northwestern University Library.

Entitled “The Anatomy of Gender,” the Web site ( is an online counterpart to a current Block Museum of Art exhibit curated by Lyle Massey, NU assistant professor of art history. The exhibit addresses the portrayal of sex differences in European anatomical illustrations from the 16th through 18th centuries. While the Block exhibit brings together diverse media such as prints, printed books, and sculpture, the placement of such items in a secure display setting limits the amount of contact visitors can have with each object.

To help expand access to this unique resource, Professor Massey employed Northwestern University Library’s Digital Media Services and Northwestern University Advanced Media Production Studio (NUAMPS), a division of NUIT Academic Technologies, to create a digital component for the exhibit. “The Anatomy of Gender” Web site will remain active after the Block exhibit closes on March 12.

“The Anatomy of Gender” online offers high-resolution, navigable images from seven books of prints; information on the books, their authors and the images; and essays that explore the significance of the images in shaping or sustaining cultural characterization of male and female biology. A built-in zooming image viewer allows each illustration to be explored in exacting detail.

“Visitors can interact with the anatomical images as though they were in the presence of the original,” said Claire Stewart, head of Digital Media Services. “A one-inch-square corner can be expanded to fill a computer screen.”

Russell Maylone, curator of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, which loaned some of the items in the exhibit, helped prepare high-resolution digital images for the site.