Double Identity: Anomaly and the Imagination

Emily  Miranker's picture
November 1, 2016
New York, United States
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Early Modern History and Period Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, European History / Studies, Fine Arts

Double Identity: Anomaly and the Imagination


Date:                     Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Time:                     6:30 PM –8:00 PM

Location:               The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029


$35 Friends of the Rare Book Room, $50 general public. To register for this event:


Wine and dinner will be provided during the talk.

In the medieval and early modern periods, fantastical descriptions and images of conjoined twins, one-eyed giant cyclops, and dog-headed cannibals appear in manuscripts and books. These monsters are found on church capitols and in eye-witness historical accounts.  Later, in medical collections, their biological counterparts are preserved as effigies in wax and as skeletons of conjoined twins, giants and dwarfs—evidence that anomalous beings were born not only at the edges of civilization but also at home.

Are these are fantastic as they seem?

A bird twenty feet high with eyes “as red as fire” who “rose up roaring from its bed.”  (Madagascar 1641) 

“Ants as big as dogs” that dig for gold. (Herodotus) 

“Men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders” (Othello)

In 1575, Thevet writes of a fish like a snail, big as a barrel, with horns like a deer.  In the ‘The Book-Fish” John Firth writes that beasts on land have parallels in the sea: the Dog-fish, the Hog-fish, the Sword-fish (or Soldier-Fish!)

In certain seventeenth and eighteenth century Dutch collections, a two-headed kitten in spirits is placed next to a double carrot, conjoined apples, or a baby with two heads.  Similar anomalies are found across the kingdoms of life. This talk will cover ideas about hybrid beings, the illusion of the monstrous and the fluidity of natural forms. 

Friends of the Rare Book Room are invited to come at 6:00pm to look at selected books with the speaker in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room prior to the talk. This event is part of our series for Friends. To join the Friends please click here.


About the Speaker

Rosamond Purcell is a photographer known for her work in natural history collections and for the recreation of the seventeenth century Danish museum of Ole Worm. Her books include Egg & Nest, Bookworm, and Dice: Deception, Fate and Rotten Luck with Ricky Jay.  She is the author of "Owls Head: On the Nature of Lost Things, a biography of a junkyard"


For more information about this and other upcoming history of medicine events in the New York area, see the calendar page of our blog, “Books, Health, and History”:

Contact Info: 

Emily Miranker, MA
Team Administrator/Project Coordinator

212.822.7301 office

The New York Academy of Medicine

1216 Fifth Avenue | New York, NY 10029

Contact Email: