Category Archives: History of Medicine

Meet Roger Peña, Trent History of Medicine Intern

Post contributed by Roger Peña, Trent History of Medicine Intern for 2021-2022, and Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections.

Roger Peña, wearing a dark blue shirt, stands in front of an exhibit display case. A green sign hanging behind him reads "Good Vibrations: A Look at the Golden Age of Electroshock Therapy."
Roger Peña, Trent History of Medicine Intern, stands by the exhibit “Good Vibrations” that he curated.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Roger, and I grew up in the Boston area. I attended Syracuse University as an undergraduate and earned a Master’s degree in education at Lesley University in Massachusetts. I moved down to North Carolina in 2013 and have served as an educator in private and public schools. I’m currently in my last year at UNC Greensboro’s MLIS program with a specialization in special collections and archives.

My wife and I have two children—ages 3 and 2 months—and we live in Durham. I love all things history and our house is filled with books and magazines related to several historic topics. I really love to cook and try new recipes. We are HUGE Boston sports fans so you will usually find us watching one of my sports teams on TV.

What interests you in working in a library setting, specifically in the History of Medicine Collections?

I’m 35 and a career changer. I had always thought about going back to school to earn an MLIS but never thought I had the time. The COVID-19 pandemic, school closures, and having some extra time to think about career goals rekindled my interest in earning my degree. I’ve always wanted to work in special collections and archives and hope to continue this work after graduation.

As a teenager, I “lived” at libraries and museums in my hometown of Boston. I love studying all things history and being able to handle old artifacts and primary sources—holding history in my hand! I’m that person at museums and historic sites asking questions, trying to touch everything and reading as many labels as possible. Being a history teacher, sharing stories of the past, and having students research and explore topics that interest them has always been important to me.

I love reading, instruction and all things history so I jumped at the chance to work at the Rubenstein Library. The history of medicine is always present when studying other historic topics and the History of Medicine (HoM) collection encompasses that. Even after months as the HoM intern, I’m still blown away by how vast and diverse the History of Medicine collection is and how much it has to offer. I’ve been able to hold manuscripts, artifacts, and books that are centuries old. There’s a special feeling when you pick up these resources; and you can’t help but feel a connection to the past and the individuals who used or created these materials.

The Josiah C. Trent HoM Internship has allowed me to explore the research aspect of special collections; and  I’ve also been able to create and plan exhibits, helped with reference services and  instructional support, and collaborated with other collections at the Rubenstein Library! It’s been a fantastic learning experience.

Can you share a memorable experience from your internship?

It’s really hard to choose just one memorable experience. I’ve enjoyed getting to know other Rubenstein Library staff and meeting researchers from across the world. Walking into the stacks makes me feel right at home and I always have to take a step back and appreciate how special the collection is. Being able to immerse yourself with the material and learning the ins and outs of academic libraries has been especially rewarding.

Participating and helping to coordinate Anatomy Day and researching and curating physical and online exhibits, like Good Vibrations, have been just a few of my favorite moments. Helping with instructional support is always fun as I was able to combine my past experience as an educator and help students interact with primary sources. It’s always fun to see a student’s reaction when something has caught their interest.

Hand colored illustration from Shunrinken kasho in the Japanese medical manuscript notebooks collection. The illustration shows a doctor in gray clothing tending to a wound in a patient's neck.
Hand colored illustration from Shunrinken kasho in the Japanese medical manuscript notebooks collection.

Do you have a favorite item you would like to share?

Again, hard to choose just one. The anatomical flap books and the Four Seasons are quite a sight to see and exemplify how people have always had a curiosity to touch and personally interact with materials. I really loved the East Asian medical books featured at Anatomy Day: Shunrinken kasho (Shunrinken school family book) from the Japanese medical manuscripts notebooks and Shinkan Geka Seisō 新刊外科正宗. The illustrations in these books are phenomenal.

The amputation set from the mid-19th century has probably been the item I spent the most time with. It’s one of those artifacts that you can’t help but want to learn more about. Being a student of American history and an aficionado of learning about the Civil War, the amputation set from the mid 19th century called my name. I first came across the saw when I was assisting Dr. Jeff Baker and Brooke Guthrie with a History of Surgery class and Dr. Baker asked me if I could handle student questions related to Civil War medicine – which I was more than happy to do!

I was fortunate enough to have a blog post published on The Devil’s Tale and Duke Daily where I was able to investigate the history of the saw and its origins. Holding the amputation saw in your hand,  you can easily imagine a world where physicians grappled with decisions regarding the need for an amputation and  the thousands of soldiers whose lives were forever changed by the war and surgical procedure. It was an eye-opening experience and allowed me to explore the unique but very complicated role that North Carolina played in the Civil War.

 

Good Vibrations!

Post contributed by Roger Peña, MLIS Student at UNC Greensboro and Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern

19th century printed illustration reading "The Electric Era." In the center is a man standing, holding an electric belt above his head with lightning bolts behind him. “We give a written guarantee that our appliance will cure the diseases mentioned…”

 “Indoresed[sic] by the government!”

 “Every man and woman troubled with weak and languid feelings, nervous, rheumatic, or organic disorders should wear the… electropathic belt”

 “Diseases that are now treated successfully by vibration… (colic, gallstones, impotency, insomnia, paralysis, spinal curvature)” See Image for full list.

 “Vibration and Electricity are the most natural remedies known.”

The statements above were just a sample of the testimonials and claims found in advertisements, sales brochures, and user manuals for electrotherapy devices on display in Good VibrationsElectrotherapy, or the “use of electric currents passed through the body to stimulate nerves and muscles” gained notoriety from the mid 1800s and into the 1920s. Consumers and patients were eager to explore the endless possibilities of electricity to cure their medical ailments and improve their vitality. Eager to reach new customers and with little-to-no government oversight, producers of medical batteries, electric suspension belts, and electric rejuvenators claimed that their devices could cure nearly all diseases – many with a money-back guarantee if it didn’t work!

Ad for "White Cross Electric Vibrator" listing "Diseases That Are Now Treated Successfully By Vibration." There is a long list of disease and conditions including asthma, dandruff, deafness, falling hair, gout, lameness, ovarian neuralgia, stomach troubles, and weak eyes. Though widely regarded as a modern innovation, the use of electricity in medicine dates back to ancient Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. Centuries ago, these civilizations attempted to harness electricity from eels and catfish to cure ailments such as gout and baldness. We all remember the story of Benjamin Franklin flying a kite. Turns out: this may have been an experiment with medical purposes. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein has its protagonist experiment with electricity to bring life back from the dead.

Black and white photograph. In the foreground is a man seated with his shirt unbuttoned. Behind him is another man in a suit holding what looks like a small metal rod to the other man's head. The rod is attached to a device on a table next to them. The invention of the battery in the early nineteenth century revolutionized the capabilities of electricity, and its uses for medical purposes were widely studied. From the 1850s to the early twentieth century, once-unimaginable discoveries in battery power and electricity transformed the world. Many people began to believe they could harness this new power for medical, health, and beauty purposes.

Cities around the world became home to university departments, medical societies, and practices devoted to electrotherapy. At the same time, mass consumerism and mass production allowed average citizens to purchase cheap electrical therapy devices from sales catalogs, local electricians, and medical supply companies and salesmen. Portrayed as an alternative to pills and medicine, electrotherapy devices (through low current shock waves or vibrations applied to different areas of the body) claimed to treat a wide range of conditions, such as arthritis, sciatica, gout, impotency, glaucoma, and “nervousness.”

Although such devices were often dismissed as quackery by many in the medical profession, their low cost and widespread marketing attracted a large audience eager to consume all things electric.

The items on display in Good Vibrations explore the history of electrotherapy from the mid-19th century and into the Roaring 1920s. Several of the items on display, including the Davis-Patent Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases, the Overbeck Electric Rejuvenator, and the Violet Ray Machine, serve as early examples of electrotherapeutic devices. All items on display come from the History of Medicine Collections and the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Good Vibrations will be on display in The Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room from April 26, 2022 until October 15, 2022 .Box containing an "Overbeck Rejuventaor." The box is black with a leather texture and a clasp. Inside are electrodes and wires connected to handles.

Panel Discussion: J. B. Rhine: ESP at Duke

Date: Thursday, April 14, 2022
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold (rachel.ingold@duke.edu or 919-684-8549)

The Rubenstein Library houses the Parapsychology Laboratory Records, a collection of 700 boxes of materials that reveal a comprehensive picture of the Laboratory during its existence at Duke. The collection includes personal papers of J. B. Rhine, J. G. Pratt, Louisa E. Rhine, and others, as well as professional correspondence, research records, legal and financial papers, clippings, and photographs.

Join us on Thursday, April 14, at 5 p.m. for a panel discussion on J. B. Rhine: ESP at Duke. Panelists will discuss J. B. Rhine’s pioneering research on telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis.

Panelists include:

  • Barbara Ensrud, Moderator
  • Sally Rhine Feather, Ph.D.,  Clinical Psychologist, co-editor of J. B. Rhine : Letters, 1923-1939 : ESP and the Foundations of Parapsychology
  • John G. Kruth, Executive Director of the Rhine Research Center
  • James Carpenter, Ph.D., Psychotherapist
  • Tom Robisheaux, Ph.D., Professor of History, Duke University

Our event coincides with an exhibit, “Early Studies in Parapsychology at Duke,” on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room of the Rubenstein Library.

Applications Open for 2022-2023 Research Travel Grants

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2022-2023 research travel grants. If you are a researcher, artist, or activist who would like to use sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers for your work, this means you!

Research travel grants of up to $1500 are offered by the following Centers and research areas:

  • Archive of Documentary Arts
  • Harry H. Harkins T’73 Travel Grants for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History
  • History of Medicine Collections
  • Human Rights Archive
  • John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture
  • John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
  • Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (Mary Lily Research Grants)
  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers

We encourage applications from students at any level of education; faculty members; visual and performing artists; writers; filmmakers; public historians; and independent researchers. (Must reside beyond a 100-mile radius of Durham, N.C., and may not be current Duke students or employees.) These grants are offered as reimbursement based on receipt documentation after completion of the research visit(s). The deadline for applications will be Saturday, April 30, 2022, at 6:00 pm EST. Grants will be awarded for travel during June 2022-June 2023.

An information session will be held Wednesday, March 23rd at 2PM EST.  This program will review application requirements, offer tips for creating a successful application, and include an opportunity for attendees to ask questions.  Register for the session here. Further questions may be directed to AskRL@duke.edu.

Image citation: Cover detail from African American soldier’s Vietnam War photograph album https://idn.duke.edu/ark:/87924/r4319wn3g

To Be or Not to Be (Vaccinated)?

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator for the History of Medicine Collections.

The history of vaccine hesitancy is nothing new. Pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers from the eighteenth through twenty-first centuries feature opposing views of vaccination. Some profess personal liberty and abhor government intervention (i.e. instituting compulsory vaccination); or claim that potential side effects from vaccines are too risky. Others stress that public health and the well-being of communities against preventable, lethal diseases, should prevail through large-scale, or even mandatory, vaccinations.

Does this sound a bit familiar?

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library has material, ranging in format and date, that document the long history of vaccine hesitancy. In October 2019, an exhibit Vaccination: 300 Years of Debate was installed in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room. When campus closed in March 2020, so did our exhibit spaces. This exhibit became inaccessible at a time when it was becoming most relevant.

Image annoucing that exhibit was closed in response to coronavirus.
Image from Vaccination: 300 Years of Debate, person in bed from Engravings by Clemens Kohl

We are now happy to share the online exhibit for Vaccination: 300 Years of Debate. Take a break from current news to view materials that give context to this ongoing, historical debate.

 

 

 

 

 

John Ridlon and Early Orthopedics in America

Post contributed by Lisa Pruitt, Ph.D., Professor of History and Director, Graduate Program in Public History at Middle Tennessee State University, and a recent recipient of our History of Medicine Travel Grant.

Ridlon stands in a back corner of his office, near some sort of metal apparatus. Also in the room are various pieces of wooden furniture.
Image of John Ridlon in office, 1911. Box 15

What is your research project?

My project looks at the evolution over time of the concept of the “crippled child.” Of course, physically impaired children have always been present and in all societies.  But in the mid-19th century US (a little earlier in Europe), reformers began to see physically disabled children of the impoverished and working classes as a social problem requiring both social and medical intervention. The word “crippled” began to show up in the names of charitable organizations and institutions in the 1860s; their numbers proliferated from the late 19th century to the mid-20th.  In the early years, a “crippled child” was usually understood to be a child with a physical impairment, but “normal” intelligence, whose condition physicians and surgeons believed could be improved to the point of allowing the child to achieve economic self-sufficiency in adulthood.  More severely impaired children were called “incurables” and were typically excluded from medical or surgical treatment and rehabilitation. The most common conditions that caused physical impairment in children were tuberculosis of the bones and joints, rickets (amongst the poorest classes), and congenital defects such as clubbed feet or congenital dislocation of the hip (now referred to as developmental dysplasia of the hip).  Impairments resulting from polio began to increase after the turn of the twentieth century.  With improvements in sanitation and the development of antibiotics and the polio vaccine, infectious disease became less significant as a cause of physical disability in children by the mid-20th century.  At the same time, the emphasis on treating only those children who could be made self-sufficient began to fade.  Charity organizations, like the Association for the Aid of Crippled Children in New York, were surpassed in importance by advocacy organizations such as the National Society for Crippled Children (now Easter Seals).  By the 1950s, the medical and advocacy communities began to focus on conditions that earlier would have been considered “incurable” – notably, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and spina bifida.

What did you use from Duke’s History of Medicine Collections?

Image of John Ridlon in office, 1911. Box 15

I used the John Ridlon Papers (1846-1936). Ridlon was a prominent orthopedic surgeon who spent his early career in New York in the 1890s and then practiced in Chicago in the early 20th century.  I was drawn to his collection in hopes of learning more about the day-to-day work of orthopedic surgeons at that time and especially the impact of x-ray technology on their practice with children.  I am also interested in the Home for Destitute Crippled Children in Chicago, with which Ridlon was heavily involved; I hoped I would find some information about that institution as well.

What surprised you or was unexpected?

I found more than I expected about a controversy in 1902-03 involving the highly publicized visit to the United States of Austrian orthopedic surgeon Adolf Lorenz.  Lorenz claimed a very high success rate for his “bloodless” cure for congenital dislocation of the hip.  In the fall of 1902, J. Ogden Armour (of the Armour meatpacking fortune) brought Lorenz to Chicago to treat his 5-year-old daughter, Lolita, who was born with bilateral dislocation of the hips.  Until I accessed the collection, I did not realize that Lolita Armour had been Ridlon’s patient up until that time.  Lorenz’s visit was hyped by the Hearst media empire and provoked a wildly enthusiastic response from the general public.  American orthopedic surgeons, including Ridlon, were hostile in their responses to Lorenz.

I also did not expect to find such a rich vein of material about the early years of the American Orthopedic Association.  Ridlon was a prominent member and corresponded extensively with other leaders of the profession.  Early concerns and conflicts surface a lot in that correspondence.  I did not have time to delve into this correspondence, but I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the professionalization of orthopedics.

One thing I learned about Ridlon’s practice that surprised me was its national scope. I wasn’t even looking for this information, but in the small amount of correspondence that I sifted through, I found that he had long-term patients in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, and (less surprisingly) Ohio.  They traveled to see him, but I was surprised to find that he also traveled to them.  Talk about house calls!

Anything else you’d like to share?

The Ridlon Papers are a rich resource. The correspondence is extensive. I was lucky that a separate folder on the Lorenz controversy had been created by Ridlon at some point, but I suspect that relevant correspondence is also scattered throughout the collection.  Allow lots of time!

I found many interesting things in my research, but I’ll share one document that stood out to me.  In this copy of one of his out-going letters from 1899, Ridlon comments on how an x-ray changed his diagnosis.  The letter is 3 pages; he makes a humorous comment on the x-ray near the beginning.

The letter reads, "My Dear Dr. Sheldon: I have been down into Ohio since Mrs. Snell left for hom, and this with some extra work I have not found the time to write to you. After having made such an elaborate diagnosis, which was so satisfactory to both the patient and myself, it was quite disconcerting to have this X-ray picture so completely overthrow it."
Letter to Dr. Sheldon, December 14, 1899. Letterbook 1896-1903, Box 12.

 

 

If These Saws Could Talk

Post contributed by Roger Pena, MLIS Student at UNC Greensboro and Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern

“There may come to me fresh blooming flowers, but I’ll love the faded bud best.

For it slept one night in the moonlight, on the sod upon his breast.”

– Winifred Cobb, widow of Benjamin. F. Cobb

I am a little over a month into my internship at the History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. In my short time working in the collection, I’ve been able to handle incunabula (books printed prior to 1501), surgical tools dating back to the 16th century, and a wide range of artifacts preserving the history of medicine, health issues, biomedical science, and disease in a global context.

image showing open amputation set
Amputation set, early to mid-19th century.

A library science degree with a focus in special collections is a career change from my decade of experience working in K-12 education. Being a history teacher for most of my career I had always been interested in battlefield medicine, especially throughout American history and the Civil War(1861-1865).

For most people with an interest in Civil War history, the treatment of wounded and injured soldiers is of particular interest. A search of the History of Medicine artifacts collection will lead you to several surgical and amputation saws donated to the Rubenstein Library.  As I mentioned previously, one of the surgical saws dates back to the 16th century and could require two people to operate while the collection also houses an amputation saw from the late 1890s.

image of tourniquet included in amputation set that show the name of the manufacturer, S. Maw & Son.
Detail on tourniquet showing the name S. Maw & Son, a medical supply company.

Another surgical saw is titled: “Amputation set, early to mid-19th century”.  The set is made up of at least 8 different pieces including a large surgical saw, a tourniquet with leather paddings to make the procedure more “comfortable” and four large knives that more resemble a modern set of kitchen knives than ones used to amputate a soldier’s limb. The set comes in a wooden box with a brass plate and an engraving with initials: B.F.C. Its contents were purchased through S. Maw and Son – a medical supply company operating out of London and featured prominently on the saw and knife handles. The wooden set was donated through the Alphonsus Cobb Collection, son of Benjamin Franklin Cobb.

image of B.F. Cobb
B. F. Cobb

The youngest son of Benjamin F. and Winifred Cobb, Alphonsus moved to the city of Durham around the turn of the 20th century. Throughout his time in Durham, Alphonsus would serve as a hotel manager and local businessman in real estate and insurance until his death in 1935. A look through collection control files revealed a folder with a detailed history of the Cobb family, historical columns written in local newspapers, and a poem written by Winifred, Benjamin’s widow, on the day of his burial. Not much survives of his record in the Confederate Army nor is there much information about Alphonsus, except for information about his business history in Durham.

Dr. Josiah C. Trent, whose original collection of medical books, manuscripts and artifacts helped to establish the History of Medicine Collections, hoped to create a collection that celebrated and studied the history of surgery. No doubt an artifact such as an amputation saw from the Civil War era would be a good fit for the collection.

The battlefields of the American Civil War saw nearly 60,000 amputations, roughly 75% of all surgeries performed in the conflict. Used as a method to prevent disease and infections such as gangrene, survival could depend on factors such as the location of the wound and when treatment was administered.  Though rudimentary by today’s standards, amputations during the Civil War were “sophisticated” procedures conducted with patients under anesthesia (chloroform or ether) and  “one of the quickest, most effective ways for surgeons to treat as many patients as possible.” Still, the harsh conditions of performing surgeries in the battlefield hospitals led to the reputation of surgeons and doctors acting more like “butchers” and soldiers fearing the short and long-term ramifications of an amputation.

Detail of amputation saw and descriptive card included in amputation kit.

Our saw’s owner, Benjamin F. Cobb was born into a slave owning family (1830 Census)  in Wayne County, NC in January, 1826 and completed his medical training at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1847. The 1850s would see Dr. B.F. Cobb in a general medical practice with a focus on obstetrics in Duplin Co., NC. In April of 1862, a year into the Civil War, Dr. Cobb was commissioned as a surgeon in the Provisional Confederate Army and would serve across the state of North Carolina until the end of the Civil War. Dr. Cobb was stationed as a Confederate Surgeon in Goldsboro, Fort Anderson, Smithville, Penders Hospital, and Fort Caswell until his capture in March 1865 and eventual loyalty oath in May of 1865. One can only wonder whether the “Amputation set” in the History of Medicine Collections was present as Dr. Cobb attended to wounded soldiers.

surgical knife from amputation set held against a peron's arm for scale
Detail of surgical knife from amputation set. Human arm for scale.

Today, the amputation set owned by Benjamin F. Cobb and donated by Alphonsus to Duke University serves as a hands-on teaching tool for students at Duke University in learning the ways that surgery has evolved over the last few centuries.  When opening the finished and well designed wooden box holding the amputation saw and accompanying instruments, it’s easy to step back in history and imagine a world where physicians grappled with decisions regarding the need for an amputation and  the thousands of soldiers whose lives were forever changed by the war and surgical procedure.

Detail of amputation saw. Human arm for scale.

A Melancholy Skeleton

Post contributed by Roseen Giles, PhD, Assistant Professor of Music and Curator, Duke University Musical Instrument Collections

A white ivory carving against a black velvet background. The carving shows a skeleton leaning against a pedestal with a clock. Symbols of worldly power and wealth--like a crown, a knight's helmet, and flags--are piled at his feet.
Memento Mori, approximately 1650, Rubenstein Library

There is a melancholy skeleton who lives in Duke University’s History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library. In truly every sense, he is a marvel. Meticulously carved from a single piece of ivory, this piece is crafted with astounding virtuosity by an artist who must have known as much about the science of anatomy as they did of the human condition. The composition dates from the middle of the seventeenth century but the name of the artist and the circumstances of its creation are unknown. It is perhaps fitting that the subject of this skeletal wonder is the greatest mystery of all: death. The remarkable details of the carving suggest that it is a vanitas or memento mori, a genre of artworks that remind us through a series of recognizable symbols of the certainty of death and the fleetingness of life. The skeleton itself represents a human life spent; despite our differences and all the things that mark us as unique individuals we will all one day die, leaving behind ossified remains that are, to the untrained eye, indistinguishable one of from the other.

At the skeleton’s feet are some of the most common symbols of the vanitas genre: traces of earthly pursuits such as warfare, monarchy and, perhaps most importantly, objects which point to the passing of time. This level of detail will be familiar to those acquainted with Hans Holbein the Younger’s masterpiece The Ambassadors (1533), a painting which contains quintessential examples of vanitas, among them a lute with a single broken string. Music and sound can in this case stand in as a metaphor for human life, one that is equally transient and decaying as soon as it is brought into existence. Tucked behind our skeleton’s crossed legs we can see a sickle or scythe, the symbol for the tyranny of time and of its god Saturn. The pedestal upon which he rests his arm contains the mechanical parts of a timepiece, innovative new inventions in the early modern period. The skeleton cradles his own head as he leans upon the ticking pedestal in a striking gesture that suggests both a contemplative and melancholy temperament. Perhaps most astonishing is the detail of the sash that surrounds but does not fully touch his back—as if it had been taken up with a momentary gust of wind that froze it in its movement.

Black-and-white illustration of a skeleton leaning on a shovel. Its skull is tilted back and its mouth is open. There is a mountainous landscape behind it.
Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (1543), p. 163

The stick upon which the skeleton rests his right hand does not seem particularly remarkable, but a comparison to two drawings from Andreas Vesalius’s (1514–64) revolutionary anatomical treatise De humani corporis fabrica [On the Fabric of the Human Body] (Basel, 1543) reveals that there may be more to this detail than meets the eye. In one of these illustrations—possibly attributable to a pupil of Titian, Joannes Stephanus of Calcar (c. 1488–1576)— a skeleton turns his head up towards the heavens (Figure 2). The positioning of his neck and torso suggests a depth of feeling: his head is turned slightly to one side as he looks up and he rests his weight on a staff very much like the one in the ivory vanitas. In Vesalius we can see that the skeleton is leaning not on a walking stick but on a shovel, which he will use to dig his own grave. In yet another of the images from the Fabrica we can see the same skeleton looking not upwards but down with one hand supporting his own head and the other resting on a skull—not his own, apparently— which is placed upon a pedestal very similar to the timepiece in our carving. The anatomical accuracy in both the drawings of the Fabrica and of our ivory skeleton is remarkable enough, but their gestural embodiment of human thought and emotion make these works truly astonishing historical witnesses. Their subjects point to the contradictions of lived existence: the unstable dichotomy between the physical and mental, between anatomy and emotion, between scientific and artistic knowledge.

Black-and-white illustration of a skeleton leaning on a tomb. It rests its skull on its left hand and places its right hand on another skull.
Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (1543), p. 164

The unknown artist who made the vanitas skeleton in Duke’s History of Medicine Collections understood the rhetorical power of the ephemeral made material, when the truths of existence are brought into dialogue with the irrationality of consciousness. The very material they chose is telling of this. Ivory is rare and costly but lends itself well to the intricate detail of the piece’s low relief; it is not human bone but stands in for it in a vivid and arresting way. There are many things that such a piece can teach us about the history of medicine and, more specifically, seventeenth-century understandings of human anatomy and the physicality of emotions. But in reminding us that we will certainly die it can also tell us something about how to live. It represents, in short, a kind of contemplative interaction between the living and the dead, an interaction which suggests that the health of the human body is inextricably linked with our thoughts and emotions. In this way our melancholy skeleton can, even by representing death and transience, help us to understand and to improve the health and well-being of the living.

Library Internship Open House – April 7

Date: April 7, 2021
Time: 3:00 pm ET
Location: Zoom
Register Here

Interested in archival and library work? Come learn about the internships being offered at the Rubenstein Library in Fall of 2021!

On April 7th at 3:00pm Rubenstein Library staff will be hosting an information session and open house where you can learn about the Rubenstein Library, meet the intern supervisors, get details on the internship projects, and ask questions.

The following internships available at the Rubenstein Library in the coming academic year:

  • Consumer Reports Processing Intern: The Consumer Reports Processing Intern will primarily arrange and describe archival materials held in the Consumer Reports Archives collections, part of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing in the Rubenstein Library. The intern may also participate in outreach, programming, and instruction activities, depending on opportunities and the intern’s abilities and interests.
  • Josiah Charles Trent Internship: Working closely with the History of Medicine Collections, this position will provide support for public services and collection development activities of the History of Medicine.
  • Human Rights Archive, Marshall T. Meyer Intern: Working with RL Technical Services and Research Services staff, you will primarily provide support for research services, technical services, and collection development activities of the Human Rights Archive.
  • John Hope Franklin Research Center Internship: The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture seeks a reliable candidate to fill the position of Franklin Research Center intern. Working closely with the center’s director, you will provide support for public services and collection development activities. This internship provides an opportunity to work closely with the center’s collections which include rare books, personal papers and manuscripts, oral histories, audiovisual, and ephemeral materials that document the African and African Diaspora experience from the 16th century to present day.

Developing a Historical Biography and The Vital Importance of Black History Archives

On February 23, 2021 author Blake Hill-Saya and sponsor C. Eileen Watts-Welch discuss “Aaron McDuffie Moore, An African American Physician, Educator, and Founder of Durham’s Black Wall Street” (2020). Hill-Saya is a classical musician and creative writer. Watts-Welch was former Associate Dean of External Affairs in the School of Nursing at Duke University. The conversation was moderated by John B. Gartrell, director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center at Duke University.

Aaron McDuffie Moore was one of the nation’s most influential African American leaders in the early 20th century and a co-founder of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and Lincoln Hospital in Durham, NC. Hill-Saya and Watts-Welch are both descendants of Moore and this project had deep personal connections. They share how their research in the NC Mutual archive (jointly held by Duke and North Carolina Central University) and the collections at Shaw University’s archives aided in illuminating his life and legacy.

This event was co-sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture and the History of Medicine Collections in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University.