The Body

Sue Zemka, “1822, 1845, 1869, 1893, and 1917: Artificial Hands”

Sue Zemka, “1822, 1845, 1869, 1893, and 1917: Artificial Hands”

The manufacture of artificial limbs was a Victorian growth industry, requiring an assortment of qualifications: mechanical skills, sympathy for the disabled, commercial ambition, a willingness to exaggerate in advertising, and faith in technological progress. This essay explores nineteenth-century designs for artificial hands, focusing on the stories they relay about the relationships between the people who needed artificial hands and the people who made them. These relationships concertize and personalize the complex factors at play in the history of Victorian hand prostheses: philosophies of embodiment, the hand’s role in these philosophies, the experiences of people without a hand or hands, and the impact of technology on all three.