Medicine's Dark Secrets

Stories from the birth of Modern Surgery: The Doctors, Their Victims and The Collections...


The advancement of modern surgery came with a price. Victims of the anatomists were often anonymous bits of flesh, yielding under surgeons’ knives. With “Medicine’s Dark Secrets”, they will be anonymous no more.

We have access to restricted medical and forensic collections, filled with jars of body parts that have been sliced, diced and catalogued for scientific research. But, what about the people who make up these collections? Who are these specimens?

We think it is important to tell the stories of these people who died, as well as the surgeons who cut open their bodies, so that these collections do not remain concealed, misinterpreted and misunderstood.

In this feature length documentary, we’ll follow a body from the moment of death, to its delivery onto the surgeon’s table, continue through the process of anatomization and what happened after; concluding with a selection of body parts in medical collections that no member of the public has seen – until now. 

In “Medicine’s Dark Secrets”, we’ll explore the reasons why this body - and others like it - were anatomized and put on display. With help from our interviewees, we’ll investigate what happened to different body parts, how they became taboo and why they were later hidden in museum archives.

From criminals to corpses and from ‘sack ‘em up men’ to skin books, we examine the stories of the people who died – knowingly or not – in an effort to advance medical science in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

We are aiming to make Medicine’s Dark Secrets a stunning, cinematic journey into the past. We hope that you’ll go on that journey with us. You will meet some amazing people, hear some fascinating stories and see some extraordinary objects and specimens along the way and we’ll come out the other side having learned about this pivotal time in medical history.

Your feedback is important to us. We’d like to hear from you. What stories would you like to see on Medicine’s Dark SecretsThe Casebooks of The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice are open to us, so have a look and let us know what fascinates and repels you. 


Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris is an award-winning medical historian, freelance writer, public speaker and historic media consultant. She has written for The Guardian, New Scientist, The Lancet and History Today; and is a member of The Order of the Good Death, a community of artists, writers and scholars who are trying to communicate about death in new and innovative ways. Her blog, The Chirurgeon’s Apprenticeis listed in Scientific American’s top ten.

Dr. Fitzharris is the author and creator of The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice; and “Medicine’s Dark Secrets” is based on a series of articles from this popular medical history website. Currently, The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice has 11,000+ followers worldwide and has received over 350,000 hits since its launch in 2011.

Lindsey has appeared on BBC4 with Michael Moseley in “Guts: The Strange & Mysterious World of the Human Stomach”. She has also advised on historical issues for National Geographic and appeared with Tony Robinson on “Gods & Monsters” for Channel 4 UK


History isn’t just the domain of Historians and Academics. It’s yours. The Past belongs to YOU.

We want to put the ‘human’ back into human anatomy and bring the past back to life through the stories of the people who died.

Your help will enable us to give each victim a voice and put each specimen in historic context. Your donations will help us to gain access to locations and collections, many of which have never been seen by the general public.


-        Access to locations, including restricted museums and collections.

-        Crew

-        Sound Mixing & Editing.

-        Equipment Rental.

The Scottish production company Big baby Productions Ltd. will be bringing Medicine’s Dark Secrets” to life.


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