Discover more about the “machines of medicine” at Conversations series event March 3

Mechanical hand imageThe Dittrick Medical History Center & Museum will continue its Conversations series next month with a talk titled “It Runs like Clockwork—Automatons, Artificial Hearts and Machines of Medicine.”

Held Thursday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the talk will address early attempts at mimicking the body not just in form, but also in function.

From the birth-machines and mechanical men of the 18th century to the artificial hearts and kidneys of the early 20th, what do machines tell us about being human? Or to put it another way, what does it mean to be “a machine?”

Minute, precise, exact—gears and cogs and brass-plated hands whirring with astrological certainty; clockwork suggests order out of chaos, a sense that all is right and functioning as it should be. And yet, as much as automatons fascinate us, they haunt our imaginations, too.

Jacques Vaucanson introduced a flute player that actually breathed into the instrument; William Smellie created an artificial womb that actually contracted, Auzoux built anatomical models with removable organs in high color. It’s not surprising that many of the inventors were also doctors—or that the devices ultimately helped to serve patients. But what does that blend of body and technology mean?

The lecture is free with admission to the museum, which costs $9.50.

Registration for this event is available online or by emailing