(SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE) Visitors passing through the public atrium of University College London’s Student Centre will now be greeted by a man in a glass case.
19th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham appears as if frozen in time, his wax head, walking stick and period clothing lending the display an air of authenticity. But the most curious aspect of the model is what lies beneath the suit and stuffing: namely, the Englishman’s actual skeleton.
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When Bentham died in 1832, he left behind a will with a highly unusual request regarding his remains. As the founder of modern utilitarianism, the philosopher believed it was ethical to do the most good for the most people. He donated his body to science, but requested that once researchers had dissected his remains, they mummify his head and preserve his body, dressed in his own clothes and padded out with hay, for display. In this way, he would become an image of himself: an auto-icon.