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date: 19 September 2021

Abstract and Keywords

“Monstrous births,” anomalous newborn bodies, or stillbirths, have produced public and scientific reactions of fear and excited voyeuristic interest from the early modern period to the present in Europe and North America. During this time, the category of “monstrous births” expanded even if the term itself was replaced over time with “defectives,” “congenital malformations,” “birth defects,” and “disabilities.” Particular attention is given here to medicine, mothers of “monstrous births,” twentieth-century moments that brought birth defects to international attention (German measles and thalidomide), and gender. In addition, attention is given to the perspective of contemporary people whose sixteenth- and seventeenth-century predecessors (conjoined twins) were considered “monstrous births” and whose bodies are still preserved in museums.

Keywords: birth defects, defective, mothers’, German measles, thalidomide, conjoined twins, Europe, North America

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