Exploring images of fatness – University of Copenhagen

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12 December 2014

Exploring images of fatness

The Carlsberg Foundation has granted 1.6 million DKK for a postdoctoral project by Anne Katrine Kleberg Hansen, at the Saxo Institute, entitled ‘Picturing Fatness c. 1850-1998. A history of how visual depictions have shaped medical knowledge’. As part of the project Anne Katrine Kleberg Hansen will spend a year at the University of Oxford.

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the Danish physician Ejnar Jarløv (1888–1961) worked on establishing a typography of fatness using clinical photography.

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the Danish physician Ejnar Jarløv (1888–1961) worked on establishing a typography of fatness using clinical photography.

Visual depictions of an epidemic
In 1998 WHO declared obesity an epidemic. During the time leading up to this, the bodily phenomenon ‘fatness’ was increasingly made an object of knowledge production within medicine. This project investigates different ways in which fatness as a phenomenon has been illustrated by and produced through, the use of images or other visual depictions.

Medical knowledge production
The project departs from the basic notion that visual representations contribute to inform and form medical knowledge rather than just reflect the state of knowledge at a given time in history. As such, differing types of medical visuals – for example, charts or photography – are not just different ways of illustrating the same problem or phenomenon, rather they can point to the various ways in which fatness historically has been conceptualised and practiced within medical research.

Shaped by images
The project’s overall research question will be:

  • How has medical knowledge about fatness and the different associated health concerns been shaped by visual depictions or images within Western medicine from the mid-19th century until 1998?

Anne Katrine Kleberg Hansen adheres to the designation ‘fatness’ to allow for distinction between the varying disease-designations that have been attached to fatness, with different implications throughout time – obesity being one of them.

Read more about the Carlsberg Foundation.

Anne Katrine Kleberg Hansen is part of Copenhagen Centre for Health Research in the Humanities (CoRe) and BioHistory Group at the Saxo Institute. You can read more about Copenhagen Centre for Health Research in the Humanities (CoRe) at Saxo Institute at humhealth.ku.dk.