Online Exhibition

Models and Methods

The art of teaching: models and methods

The Melbourne Medical School was established in 1862, and from the beginning the study of anatomy and the accompanying practice of dissection were integral to the five-year medical course. Sourcing cadavers to meet the dissection needs of students was an ongoing challenge that grew with the increasing number of medical students. To help support the teaching of anatomy, as well as other courses within the medical school, academics lobbied the University Council for funding to purchase teaching ‘apparatus’ including books, diagrams and exquisite anatomical models, many by the most famous makers of the day.

In dentistry, academics faced a similar need for quality teaching material. The Australian College of Dentistry became an affiliated college within the University in 1904 at a time when the blackboard was the pervasive and sometimes ‘only available’ teaching aid. As the principal focus of dentistry was the confined areas of the mouth, finding ways to demonstrate theories and techniques of treatment to large groups of students presented its own set of challenges. Staff at the Australian College of Dentistry responded by creating models of dentition, pathological conditions and treatment techniques, in some instances five times natural size.

Commemorating the 150th year of the Melbourne Medical School, The art of teaching: models and methods brings together historic teaching material from early medical and dental education from the collections of the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology, the Henry Forman Atkinson Dental Museum and the Medical History Museum. With a focus on teaching models, the exhibition also includes photographs, student notebooks, archival material, prints, drawings and early volumes from the Special Collections, Baillieu Library. Whilst much of the material is no longer used as originally intended, replaced by increasingly sophisticated technologies, the items remain of intrinsic curiosity—as evidence of the ever-evolving history of education and medical representation.

  • Early students - Early teaching facilities

    The Melbourne Medical School was founded in 1862, opening its doors to the first Australian medical students on 3 March when William Carey Rees, Patrick Moloney and Alexander Mackie attended the first class, a chemistry lecture, given by John Macadam in his own laboratory. By 1897 the Australian College of Dentistry had commenced operations and opened its doors to students undertaking a four year course of study. Initiated without government support and funded by private means, the College soon built a close relationship with the University of Melbourne and by 1904 the University was providing students of the new Faculty of Dental Surgery, teaching in the basic subjects of anatomy, histology, and natural philosophy. 

  • Exquisite Volumes
  • Professor Harry Brookes Allen – The economy of teaching

    In 1883, Harry Brookes Allen wrote to the University Council to draw their attention to the paucity of material or ‘apparatus’ available to support the teaching of anatomy in the medical school. Securing funding for teaching aids was an ongoing battle for lecturers across many disciplines in the early decades of the University. When funds were finally made available, Professor Harry Brookes Allen was quick to dispatch orders to Maison Tramond and Jean Talrich of Paris, amongst other model makers and suppliers of the day. Some of the original items purchased by Professor Allen are on display in this exhibition.

  • Student notebooks

    When courses at the University in medicine and later dentistry commenced in 1862 and 1904 respectively, the blackboard was in some cases the only teaching aid available. Consistent with any pedagogical situation, the Professor or academic would place himself at the front of the class with the student cohort occupying the rows of seats in the theatre. Coloured diagrams in pastel chalk would be drawn on the boards and annotated with descriptions and notes for the students to copy diligently into their lecture notebooks. Some lecturers distributed ‘Lecture notes’ and as a result an emphasis on ‘knowing the notes’ became commonplace. A further factor influencing the preparation of good notes was the expensive nature of many of the available texts from which notes were drawn.

  • Wax models – Maison Tramond

    The practice of anatomical wax modelling was pioneered in Italy in the 17th century by the likes of Gaetano Zumbo and in the 18th century by Ercole Lelli. These early exponents of wax modelling created examples characterised by extraordinary verisimilitude and curiously evocative qualities that went beyond the faithful and detailed representations of the body. Unlike the cadaver, wax models of the material body were permanent and available for repeated inspection: a quality of particular value to the student wishing to refine their knowledge of human anatomy. During the late 19th century, Professor of Descriptive and Surgical Anatomy and Pathology, Harry Brookes Allen acquired numerous anatomical wax models for the Melbourne Medical School. Amongst these were exquisite examples from the famous French company Maison Tramond in Paris.

  • Maison Tramond – Of wax and bone

    Established by the mid-19th century, Maison Tramond was originally located at 9 Rue de l’ Ecole de Medecine in Paris, ideally situated adjacent to an anatomical amphitheatre at the Paris Faculty of Medicine where students would dissect cadavers. Such positioning proved useful for the creation of the wax models, as once the cadavers had been dissected, the bones were transferred to the Tramond workshop where they were cleaned and overlaid with layers of wax, painstakingly crafted into anatomical teaching specimens.

    Image: France Model of a torso showing thoracic contents with ribs retracted c1890 wax, cloth, wood Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology 516-500189 

  • Anatomie Clastique du Dr Auzoux – Papier-mâché

    Louis Thomas Jerôme Auzoux (1797–1880), French anatomist and physician, noted as a student that human cadavers used for dissection decomposed rapidly due to the absence of refrigeration or appropriate fixatives. Although wax anatomical models were available at the time, these were expensive to produce and fragile to handle. Inspired by the methods used to make papier-mâché dolls, Auzoux developed a technique that incorporated calcium carbonate and powdered cork, and applied this to the production of papier-mâché anatomical teaching models. The company Maison Auzoux was subsequently created and went on to produce numerous biological and botanical models, alongside the fascinating examples crafted for the teaching of human anatomy.

  • Herman Lawrence – Dermatological moulages

    The use of radium as a treatment was first administered in Australia by Melbourne dermatologist Herman Lawrence (1863–1936) in 1903. Keen to document and exhibit the conditions he observed in his patients, and to show the success of radium treatment, Lawrence created a series of before and after moulages for a range of dermatological conditions including radiation burn, psoriasis and eczema. Lovingly and carefully made, Lawrence’s moulages document the improvements to patients following treatment.

    Whereas the Tramond and Auzoux models exposed the internal organs and workings of the body, Lawrence’s moulages formed a set of dermatological models that focused on the surface details of affected areas of the body; a hand, an arm, the side or front of the face. As if to draw attention to the particular area of the body under investigation, and the visible symptoms of the condition, the models were usually surrounded by a white cotton cloth, reminiscent perhaps of the surgeon’s sheet. It is thought the models came to the museum some time at the beginning of the 20th century, where they no doubt would have been of great interest to students and academics as examples of the most contemporary advances in treatment available.

  • Bacteria models

    This model of large petri dishes containing medium and models of organisms commonly found in the mouth was used in the early 1900s to demonstrate to dental students the ‘Chemco-parasite theory’ of dental decay. The models allude to the new interest in bacteriology evolving in the first decades of the 1900s which was taken up by the Australian College of Dentistry as it strove to keep pace with the latest advances in dentistry. In the late 1800s microscopic examination of carious teeth had revealed the presence of acids. It was a logical assumption that the acids would dissolve the minerals of the teeth thus causing cavities and enamel breakdown.

  • The progress of tooth decay

    The creation and use of three dimensional models in teaching to make apparent what could not be seen clearly, or not at all by the naked eye, became common practice, especially in dentistry, due to the small scale of the human tooth. This case of gypsum models of cross sections of human, first lower molars, shows the progress of dental decay from the initial attack in the enamel fissure to the involvement of the pulp, including the nerves and blood supply. Models of this type would have been very useful in showing students what they would encounter on clinically examining a tooth and later opening up a cavity.

  • Comparative anatomy – Marsupial dentition

    Dr E. Brooke Nicholls was a lecturer in comparative anatomy at the Dental School of the University of Melbourne in the 1930s. He was particularly interested in the theory that the molar teeth of some Australian marsupials exemplified the influence of diet upon cusp formation. Finding it difficult to demonstrate his ideas to large groups of students using just the natural skulls as specimens, Dr Nicholls sought the assistance of colleague Harold Down who responded by creating large sized, colour coded models of the upper and lower left third molar of several Australian marsupials.

  • Dental evolutionary theory – Cope Osborne

    In the early decades of the 1900s there was great interest in evolutionary theory. This was largely sparked by the publication and subsequent interest in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection,1859. A popular evolutionary theory in dentistry was the Cope-Osborne theory of cusp evolution. Known also as the tritubercular theory, it was first put forth by the American paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope in 1875 and modified by Henry Fairfield Osborne in 1888. The theory proposed that the simple conical teeth of reptiles evolved to form molars consisting of a series of in-line cusps. The models here illustrate part of the Cope Osborne evolutionary process in teeth which went from triconid to tritubercular & then to tribosphenic teeth.

  • Understanding the brain

    Understanding the brain

  • Pathology – Processes of disease

    Understanding the human body involves far more than a detailed knowledge of gross anatomy, with medical and dental students also needing to grasp the concepts pertaining to the mechanisms of disease. Professor Harry Brookes Allen worked as a pathologist at the Melbourne Hospital, specimens collected by the hospital were eventually acquired by the University where they became important aids in the teaching of pathology to decades of students. 

  • Operative technique & tooth morphology

    In his thesis The teaching of Operative Dental Technique and Tooth Morphology by Visual Methods, (1938), Harold Down, Senior Lecturer in Conservative Dental Surgery and later Professor of Conservative Dental Surgery, lamented the limited options available to teachers for demonstrating, claiming that he commenced teaching in a period when the main aids were blackboard and chalk. Most likely influenced by the approach pioneered in America by research worker Dr G V Black (Greene Vardiman Black 1836–1915), who created large scale plaster models to show the new restorative materials and new approaches to cavity design, Harold Down set about designing and making teaching aids for his students. In an article for the Australian Journal of Dentistry in 1934, Down explained in detail his approach to teaching conservative dental surgery and tooth morphology. “The terminology and form of each tooth is explained by means of large pastel sketches and of large Plaster of Paris models (5 x normal size). Each student is loaned a set of these models and uses them as specimens for molding and drawing”


  • Dental anatomy

    Dental students were taught anatomy alongside medical students, however the focus was on the detailed study of the head and neck; knowledge of the brain was also required. The most influential texts on dentistry available at the time were by Sir John Tomes, the leading light in the British Odontological Society, and John Hunter, the distinguished scientist and surgeon. The study of anatomy was divided into practical ‘dissection’ classes which took place on the registered premises available at the University, and anatomy lectures. The ‘other anatomy’ as it was referred to was taught in the Medicine and Surgery lectures which initially took place at the Australian College of Dentistry and were given by local specialists. In later years senior staff at the nearby hospital were responsible for delivering anatomy lectures until finally the role was transferred to the professor of the appropriate University Hospital Department.

  • Enhancing the art of teaching – lantern slides, specimens, books and other approaches

    Early medical and dental students relied heavily on detailed anatomy texts that often included large coloured illustrations of dissected cadavers. Names including Ellis and Gray were synonymous with the study of anatomy. George Viner Ellis (1812–1900), Professor of Anatomy at University College, and artist George Henry Ford (1809–1876), published their famous Demonstrations of Anatomy: being a Guide to the Knowledge of the Human Body by Dissections in 1840, which quickly became the standard text-book in English and American dissecting-rooms. Ellis and Ford chose to reproduce their atlas plates using chromolithography. Given that this printing technique was still in a developmental stage, only four to seven books were printed each year. Henry Gray (1827–1861) was a Lecturer in Anatomy at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London in the 1850s, he set about producing an inexpensive and accessible anatomy textbook for students studying medicine. Gray and a colleague spent 18 months dissecting unclaimed bodies to compile material for his book. Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical was published in 1858, and Gray died just three years later from smallpox. Subsequently renamed Gray’s Anatomy, this textbook continues to be hugely successful and the 40th edition was published in 2008. Among other objects used for lectures, such as lantern slides, microscopes and histology slides, was a bell that belonged to the University of Melbourne Medical School. It was used to call students to lectures. Doors were then locked when the lecture started and students were allocated seats in which they sat throughout the course.

  • Dental pathology models

    This collection of coloured wax and gypsum models of human jaws demonstrate changes to the dentition and soft tissues of the gums and cheeks. Many of the conditions presented here are rare, at the time they were made it would have been considered essential that accurate models and records be kept as examples of conditions as they presented. In the late 1800s and early 1900s multi-coloured waxes were the most effective media available for rendering naturalistically, models of human tissue. Dental students were encouraged to be on the alert for any changes in the tissues of the mouth of a patient that might lead to conditions such as these. The models were obtained by the Australian College of Dentistry in the early 1900s and used in the teaching of Dental Surgery by both visiting dentists and general surgeons. Accurate models of this type allowed students to see a wider range of conditions than would not normally be possible in a local practice. These models were on permanent display in the dental museum except when used for teaching.

  • Major Russell – Special appliances

    During the First World War (1914-1918) Melbourne dentist Major Kenneth Russell (1885–1945) was transferred by the Australian Army from France to Queens Hospital Sidcup in Kent, a hospital specialising in the treatment of jaw and facial injuries. At Sidcup, Major Russell treated soldiers suffering the horrific affects of gunshot and shrapnel wounds to the face, his main responsibility being the creation of splints and special appliances for facial operations to help restore the lost tissue and function of the mouth and jaw. During his time at Queens Hospital, Major Russell created models of the appliances he developed and donated them to three Universities in Australia, including the University of Melbourne. Dental staff and students were thereby given the opportunity to see firsthand the latest in Oral Surgery treatment techniques. War artist Daryl Lindsay recorded in watercolor the progress of treatment of many of the soldiers at Sidcup.

  • Franz Steger and Wilhelm His – Plaster models
  • The Art of Teaching
  • Liver Models

    Liver Models