The works of the late Professor Camper (1794)

The works of the late Professor Camper (1794)




Petrus Camper


Petrus Camper was a Dutch physician, midwife, anthropologist, paleontologist, and naturalist.

Since his birth in 1722 as the third child of a rich and learned preacher, Camper was intrigued by the sciences. This fascination eventually led him to the University of Leiden, a notable university at the time. leading to a dual degree in medicine and philosophy in 1746. After his parents passed away, Camper embarked on a scientific journey through England, France, Switzerland and Germany.

He was appointed as a professor of philosophy in 1749 in the University of Franeker, Holland, and then appointed as a professor of medicine a few days later. Five years later he became the chair of theoretical medicine, anatomy, surgery and botany at the University of Groningen, Holland.

Camper contributed to the field of anatomy of both humans and animals. His understanding of comparative anatomy strengthened his understanding of human anatomy. His work provided the framework for a forthcoming theory known as the "unity of organic composition", which stated the uniformity in most organism’s structure excluding accessory structures. His description of inguinal hernias innovated surgical repair of the region. Camper's research included an understanding of the abdominal anatomy, specifically Camper's fascia, which is crucial in wound healing.

Of his most important contributions, presented five years posthumously in The Works of The Late Professor Camper (1794) based on Camper's French lecture notes compiled by his son, A.G. Camper.

One of his innovations was the facial angle determined by the line of intersection from the nasion to prosthion, and is now used as a measure for prognathism. He drew illustrations of many skulls including Roman, European, Kalmuck, Angolan and Orangutan statues, respectively. It was determined that the Roman statues had an angle of 85-100 degrees, Europeans had around 80 degrees, the Kalmuck and Angolans were near 70 degrees, and finally the orangutan was at 58 degrees. However, controversy plagued this theory because it was theorized during a time of contemporary debates on creation and the origin of race. Unfortunately, some used his theory to support racial prejudices by stating that Africans were not equal to white Europeans, but equal to orangutans.

Later, in her publication "Race and Aesthetics in the Anthropology of Petrus Camper", a modern scholar by the name of Miriam Clause Meijer highlighted the fact that Camper actually wanted to promote equality of Europeans and Africans through demonstrating the similarity in facial angles of the two races. Despite all of the controversies surrounding his work, Camper is rightfully recognized as a renowned figure in the modern anatomical sciences.

Based on research done by Zacharia Fouad, class of 2021 as part of their assignment in Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry, 2017-2018. Edited by Andrew I Spielman.

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