Chapter 1: The Study of Human Anatomy
Chapter one places the study of anatomy within the context of biological sciences.
This text emphasizes a functional perspective that addresses the fundamental question of
why structures are shaped and arranged as they are in the human body. A functional
perspective affords a profound understanding of the human body that goes beyond
naming and description of structures.
Our current understanding of anatomy did not spring from thin air, but is the
product of centuries of effort by many individuals. Greek and Roman scientists laid the
foundation for the scientific study of the human body and their observations were the
mainstay of anatomical and medical understanding in Europe until the Renaissance.
Islamic scientists advanced in knowledge in the Medieval era, while science in general
languished in Europe. The modern discipline of anatomy traces it roots to Vesalius, a
century anatomist who ushered in a new era. He combined medical illustration with
cadaver demonstrations and lectures, transforming pedagogy—a legacy that remains with
us today. The tradition of beautifully illustrated anatomy texts, for example, began with
De Humani Corporis Fabrica
There are many approaches to the study of anatomy including gross anatomy,
microscopic anatomy, and comparative anatomy. The word “anatomy” means to cut,
and, for many centuries, the only way to visualize what lay beneath the skin was to
perform cadaver dissections. Today, cadaver dissection still plays an important role in
the training of health care professionals, but over the past 100 years or so, new
techniques have offered exciting insights into human structure, and have expanded the
avenues for study of anatomy in living individuals.
Current subdisciplines of anatomy correspond to the expansion of techniques used
to study the body. Gross anatomy refers to the study of structures visible to the naked
eye, and includes dissection, surface anatomy, and radiologic anatomy. Microscopic
anatomy (histology) is the study of tissues and the cells that are found in each tissue type.
Histology is important for its role in assessing disease processes.
Systemic and regional anatomy are two different pedagogical approaches to the
study of anatomy. Most introductory courses focus on a systemic approach, where one
body system at a time is explored. That is the approach of this text. Advanced anatomy
courses in medical schools, for example, focus on regional anatomy, where one area of
the body is examined with respect to the relationship of the muscles, bones, blood