Tag Archives: history of medicine

Upcoming Talk: Scientists, Midwives, & Healers in the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Time: 4:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library Room 153
Contact: Laura Micham, laura.m@duke.edu
RVSP (optional) via Facebook

Maria Sibylla Merian. De europische insecten. Tot Amsterdam: by J.F. Bernard, [1730].
Maria Sibylla Merian. De europische insecten. Tot
Amsterdam: by J.F. Bernard, [1730].
Join the staff of the Bingham Center as Duke History Professor Thomas Robisheaux gives a lecture on the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, highlighting his use of works by naturalist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian. The lecture is free and open to the public; light refreshments will be served.

In celebration of:

Heralding the Way to a New World: Exploring Women in Science and Medicine through the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

On display in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery from January 20th to April 1st, 2016

From the first entomologist to capture the stages of metamorphosis of the butterfly (1705) to the author who published the first comprehensive volume on contraception (1923), the women in this exhibit were pioneers in science and medicine. Whether self-trained or classically educated, they not only made groundbreaking contributions to their fields, but also helped open the way for future generations to follow in their footsteps. Despite their accomplishments, most of these women remain overlooked or under-recognized.

This exhibition highlights the stories of seven revolutionary women in science and medicine and celebrates the arrival of the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, from which these materials were selected.

Frederik Ruysch’s Anatomical Art

Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections.

Anatomical specimens emerged as an art form near the end of the seventeenth century. Although they may seem morbid today, at the time of creation, they were viewed as striking a balance between the scientific and the artistic. They served to educate people on human anatomy as well as to remind them of the fleeting nature of life.

Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.
Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.

One of the more notable creators of anatomical art is Frederik Ruysch, a Dutch botanist and anatomist who lived from 1638 to 1731—an impressive 93 years in a time when many died young. A capable researcher, Ruysch was the first to describe bronchial blood vessels, the vascular plexus of the heart, and the valves of the lymphatics. However, his real interest lay in anatomical preparations, and he has been described by a recent biographer as “probably the most skilled and knowledgeable preparator in the history of anatomy” (Gould, p. 20). Ruysch served as the chief instructor to midwives and the “legal doctor” to the court of Amsterdam. Through these positions, he had easy (and legal) access to the bodies of stillborns and dead babies.

The preparations were initially created to use in his classes, but they eventually gained an interest from the public. To showcase his vast collection (he created more than 2,000 from 1665 to 1717 alone), he opened his own cabinet of curiosities to the public, which for many marked the first time they were able to see human internal organs. The collection was also noteworthy because of the lengths to which Ruysch went in an effort to make the specimens appear more natural. For example, embalmed children were clothed or held bouquets of preserved flowers. In 1717, Peter the Great, who was an admirer of Ruysch, purchased the entire cabinet of curiosities for 30,000 guilders. The collection was then shipped to St. Petersburg, and along with the cabinet of curiosities formed by Albertus Seba, they became the core of the Kunstkammer—the Academy of Sciences of Russia’s first public museum.

Although a number of Ruysch’s wet preparations still exist today (a fact which he would find unsurprising), none of his dry specimens have been located. He used fetal skeletons and other body parts to create multi-specimen scenes. These scenes served as the centerpieces for each of the literal cabinets within the rooms of his museum. As Gould points out, these tableaux were focused on allegorical themes such as death and the transience of life. The small skeletons are decorated with symbols of death and short life: mayflies rest in hands, skulls weep into handkerchiefs made of mesentery, and snakes made of intestine wine their way through bones. Today, these still-life scenes exist for us only through second-hand descriptions and, fortunately, through a number of engravings.

Fortunately for those interested in seeing these illustrations up close, the History of Medicine Collections has two volumes from the multi-volume Opera omnia anatomico-medico-chirurgica. On October 29, from 2-4 pm, they will be on display as part of Screamfest in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room.

Recommended Reading:

Upcoming Trent Lecture on Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis

Date: Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Location: Room 217, Perkins Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu or (919) 684-8549

Dr. Ignaz SemmelweisPlease join us on Wednesday, February 25, at 3 p.m. for our next Trent History of Medicine lecture. Constance Putnam, Ph.D, will present “A Revisionist View of the Semmelweis Story.”

Dr. Putnam has spent several years reviewing the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, a nineteenth-century Hungarian physician and leading proponent of antisepsis. Problematizing a story that many historians think they know is a complex and special challenge, though there is evidence that Semmelweis was more than the ‘hand-washing guy.’ He had a very full, though brief, career as part of a vital and impressive medical community—a part of the tale that is generally ignored.

Dr. Putnam is a medical history researcher and writer from Concord, Massachusetts. Dr. Putnam was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Fellowship to visit Budapest in 2005-2006. Since then, she has returned many times, learning Hungarian in order to make use of several archives.

This event is sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections.

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

Glass eyeballs and amputating saws and enema syringes, oh my!

As Curator for the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Library, I often feel I have one of the best jobs in our library.  I have the opportunity to work with wonderful people, but also remarkable rare books, manuscripts, and a wonderful collection of material objects.

amputating saw

Amputating saw

Over the years, a number of generous donors have given a variety of instruments and artifacts to the History of Medicine Collections. These items are often used in classroom instruction and teaching, and enrich and enliven exhibits and displays. The depth and breadth of this collection represents advances made in science and medicine, and reflect the importance of our historical understanding of material culture.

glass eyeballs

Glass eyeballs

Artifacts range in date from the 17th century to today, with many aspects of medicine highlighted in the collection: surgery, gynecology, pediatrics, and more. That “more” category includes items like our prosthetic glass eyeballs, the irises of which are all blue. These hand-blown glass items were intended to serve as prosthetic eyes. In a box reminiscent of a Whitman’s sampler, these eyes were made in a variety of sizes with differing tints of yellow and white. This box would have been used and carried by a traveling salesman of sorts – a person who visited doctors’ offices and sold them to patients in need.

A remarkable collection guide is now available to document the range of historical medical artifacts we have in our holdings.

enema syringe

Enema syringe

I’m often asked by students and researchers what my favorite item is. It really changes on a weekly basis. Currently, I’m intrigued by our range of microscopes. They are quite beautiful, span several centuries, and some include ivory specimen slides – with specimens!

microscope

Box mount microscope

 scope2

Screw barrel microscope

Some of my other favorites? Female pills and dental keys. Why were these female pills created and what are they? When I ask students, they often answer that it’s really just Midol.

female pills

Female pills

The dental keys really illustrate how medical technology has evolved in tooth extraction. The illustration below shows how a dental key would be used. This image is from the monumental work by J. M. Bourgery, Atlas of human anatomy and surgery, that includes a translation of his work and colored facsimiles. Of note, we also have the nine volume original work of Bourgery.

dental chart

key

Dental key

A tremendous amount of thanks go out to so many people: our donors who have generously given such wonderful materials; previous staff of the History of Medicine Collections who researched these items, provided descriptions, and took photos that we can now share; and current staff from the Rubenstein Library’s technical services department and DUL digital projects – all who have made this guide possible.

What will your favorite item be?

Post by Rachel Ingold, Curator for the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Library.