The MBL Embryology Course 1939 - Observations and Drawings

In the published record, developing and testing hypotheses that interpret beyond what one can see directly often play the most important roles.  Researchers do not publish their introductory drawings of what they are seeing. Yet those drawings tell us a great deal about what observers think they are seeing as well as what they actually observe. The 1939 Embryology class incorporated learning to draw as part of learning to observe and interpret. 

In the July 8th issue of the Collecting Net, one student reported about the squid embryos they were studying that “Mine looks more like a surrealist drawing of humanity under a bowl of sky with a cloud floating on top!” while another responded “Oh, no, it looks much more like a fat lady with a fur collar and one of those crazy things women put on their heads these days.”

John Philip Trinkaus, one of the vibrant and diligent students of 1939, left us with many intricate drawings from the course that show what he learned from his introduction to fundamental embryological techniques and organisms. We can also look at the slides that Edwin Grant Conklin prepared of the cell lineage of the slipper snail Crepidula, because he made a collection for the students in 1939 and they remain in remarkably good shape. Learning to capture one’s observations in drawings remained important in embryology until gradually photographs and video techniques have replaced drawing for many purposes.