The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

The Roots of Pathological Anatomy

The cranium in a child when affected with hydrocephalus of a long standing

Anatomical diagram of the cranium of a two year old child who suffered from hydrocephalus from The Morbid Anatomy by Matthew Baillie.

In the late eighteenth century, pathological anatomy, or the study of the effects of disease on the structures of the body, began to take root as a reputable and clinically relevant field of medicine. This began with the rise of morbid anatomy, which is the study of a cadaver to determine cause of death and to understand diseases and lesions of the organs. Giovanni Battista Morgagni was one of the first anatomists to pursue morbid anatomy and pathological anatomy as separate disciplines from healthy or normal anatomy. In 1761, Morgagni, a well-established anatomist and professor at Padua, published Of the Seats and Causes of Disease Investigated by Anatomy. While un-illustrated, the text is based on over 600 dissections and emphasizes dissection as an opportunity to delve into morbid anatomy. Morgagni believed that diseases affected organs in particular patterns and that understanding these unhealthy organs would help in diagnosing and curing disease. Because of this text, Morgagni is often called "the Father of Pathologic Anatomy."

Matthew Baillie, nephew of the Hunter brothers, published The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body in 1793. It is the first systematic study of pathology in English. The images are based largely on samples from the Hunterian Museum. Baillie's work presents classifications for different lesions and pathologies of the organs. It includes the first accurate description of cirrhosis of the liver, emphysema, and birth disorders. The works of Morgagni, Baillie, the Hunter brothers, and others were major precursors to the success of pathological anatomy in the nineteenth century.