The Journey of Dr. Robert Bongout and his Lady, to Bath

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

Anyone who has read a Jane Austen novel or seen an adaptation knows about taking the waters at Bath for medicinal benefit and societal gain. But Dr. Robert Bongout would not be considered decorous company for the genteel gentlemen and ladies in her works.

Robert Bragg’s 1778 The Journey of Dr. Robert Bongout and his Lady, to Bath. Performed in the Year 177- is a satirical poem about perhaps the most gleefully gluttonous character to ever grace the page (read it online in full). As Phillipa Bishop writes in an article for Bath History, “Dr Bongout’s exploits in the demolition of food, with all their crude natural consequences, are described with the same sort of gusto as the gluttonous orgy depicted by Thomas Rowlandson in his archetypal scene of green, ‘The Gourmet’s Dinner’”1

Comforts of Bath: Gouty Gourmands at Dinner (Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827). Image via Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1669855

Comforts of Bath: Gouty Gourmands at Dinner (Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827). Image via Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1669855

Bragg (not credited in print) describes the characters thus:

Over the course of their trip, Dr. Bongout spends copious funds on enormous amounts of food behind his wife, Lady Bongout’s, back. At the same time, she attempts to convince him to save money and eat less, but to no avail.

An example of his gluttony: After agreeing to a light supper at his wife’s bidding, he makes the following request to a cook once she is out of sight:

“Friend cook, quoth he, (first half a crown

Pop’d in his hand) are there in town

Such things as ducklings to be got?

The price I value not a jot.”

“Sir, quoth the cook, I have not less

Than ten fine ducklings fit to dress;”

“Then, quoth the Doctor, if you please,

Stew half a dozen down with pease;

And when enough, where I shall lie,

Be sure you send them instantly” (33-34)

He tucks in after his wife has gone to bed; half asleep, she stumbles upon him eating the stewed ducklings, thinks him a ghost, and faints (so true to life).

At first, it seems that Lady Bongout’s maladies—the real reason for the trip to Bath—are psychological effects of her many years of dealing with her husband. But soon after the Bongouts reach their destination, they take physical form. Her illness offers a satirical look into the services of physician and apothecary, who are “well-pleas’d to hear she was not dead; / Such welcome tidings cou’d but please, / (For what, alas! were one day’s fees).”

Her maladies lead to blindness, which does nothing to slow her charming husband: “Then while she’s blind, I wou’d know why / I may not live in jollity” (78). Despite her lack of vision, she still suffers the knowledge of his ever-increasing girth: “For tho’ she could not with her eyes / Distinguish his enormous size; / Yet she cou’d feel to what a bulk / His worship had increas’d his hulk” (80).

Dr. Bongout himself goes through a medical crisis after eating “for dinner half a stone in weight” (93). Be warned, gentle readers: these verses are not for the faint of heart.

Even this incident does nothing to slow Dr. Bongout’s appetite. At the end of the poem, news of his imminent departure from Bath brings tears to the eyes of the local pastry chef and causes him profound worry about the future of his business:

“To lose of customers the chief

Was matter of the greatest grief:

Quoth he, “And must you then depart?

The very thought will break my heart!

But if you must—I cannot stay—

My shop will fail—I’ll run away.” (136-137)

The Journey of Dr. Robert Bongout and his Lady is part of a larger tradition of satirical writings related to gout (though Bragg only refers to Dr. Bongout’s condition through the character’s name). Perhaps because gout was a disease of the wealthy, its merits “have been extolled over the centuries by physicians and laypersons. In the past, gout was regarded as a badge of nobility, a talisman against other afflictions and an aphrodisiac, and these beliefs were preserved in 16th-to 18th-century literature.”2 In addition, writers often approached the painful disease with humor. “Gout was…a diverting disease,” one that inspired new uses of language and playfully coined words.3

Bragg’s playful look at gluttony does not end with a moral, only the expectation that Dr. Bongout’s enormous gut will continue its expansion. Nor does it seem that his gluttony will have tragic consequences, only humorous ones. Clearly, he’s called Dr. Good Gout for a reason.

References
1. Bishop P. The Sentence of Momus: Satirical verse and prints in eighteenth-century Bath. Bath Hist. 1994;5:51–80. Available at: https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/Media/CHC Images/Vol 05 – 03. Bishop – The Sentence of Momus – Satirical Verse and Prints in Eighteenth-Century Bath.pdf.

2. Scholtens M. The glorification of gout in 16th- to 18th-century literature. Can Med Assoc J. 2008;179(8):804–805. doi:10.1503/cmaj.080312.

3. Porter R, Rousseau GS. Gout: The Patrician Malady. New Haven: Yale University Press; 2000.

Find Us on Instagram

Can’t get enough of images from our collection? Want a behind-the-scenes look at the library and its events? You’re in luck: we are now on Instagram.

So far, we have used Instagram to share an image from our conservation lab, photos from the Food Book Fair, and items from our collection. There’s much more to come—we may even have a hashtag challenge or two in the pipeline.

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Curious about our collections and happenings at the Center? Our Twitter stream is the place to be. You’ll learn about our lectures and other events, and work up an appetite. As you may know, Food is our programming theme for the year, and we’re sharing many culinary delights from our collection.

Not on Twitter or Instagram? Fear not: we are also on Facebook. Plus, you can always make an appointment to visit us in person by calling 212-822-7315 or e-mailing library@nyam.org.

Brazil, Richly Illustrated

By Anne Garner, Curator, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

The Dutch West India Company occupied northeastern Brazil for 30 years, from 1624 to 1654. The first 10 years of occupation financially strained the Company, despite considerable profits made from sugar, Brazil-wood, and occasional loot swiped from Iberian ships.

In 1636, Johann Maurits arrived to govern, tasked with stabilizing the settlement. Under his leadership (which lasted until 1644), the colony thrived.

Among the 46 artists and scholars Maurits hired as his research staff to promote scientific studies in Brazil were physician Willem Piso and astronomer Georg Markgraf, who arrived in 1638. The Historia naturalis Brasiliae, their collaborative illustrated folio volume, in twelve books, was published in 1648. Rich in description of native life, the book contains 446 remarkable woodcuts illustrating local flora and fauna. It comprises the most important early documentation of zoology, botany, and medicine in Brazil. The woodcuts are based on an original collection of paintings and sketches, now lost; many of these original depictions were likely done by Markgraf himself.

The lushly illustrated and very beautiful frontispiece features a European traveler, presumably Dutch, reclining before two natives in a verdant green wood, teeming with wildlife. Even in black and white, the exuberant foliage coupled with the beautiful natives may remind the modern viewer of the Caribbean paintings of Paul Gaugin.

Title page of Historia naturalis Brasiliae, 1648. Click to enlarge.

Piso wrote the first four books, which deal mainly with diseases native to Brazil and their remedies. The physician, assigned as Maurits’ personal doctor, turns his clinical eye to the ways of the native populations, from whom he makes several important discoveries. He offers a vivid account of a patient in the throes of tetanus, and suggests that the root cause of the ailment may be a minor wound, of the kind that craftspeople incur while working.

Georg Markgraf wrote the remaining eight books, subtitled Historia rerum naturalium Brasiliae and mostly devoted to natural history. The books’ topics range from medical uses of plants; to fish, birds, insects, quadrupeds and reptiles; and to full descriptions of geographic regions and their inhabitants. Images from two of these books, dealing with quadrupeds and with insects, are pictured here.

Markgraf describes the appearance, habits, and environment of each animal depicted. Some of the four-legged creatures pictured have names we still use today: the armadillo, on page 231, would be recognizable as such to a child, as would a short-legged jaguar, on page 235. In other cases, it’s more difficult to link the textual description with the images—the placement of the woodcuts doesn’t always correspond with the text. Is, for example, the shaggy llama on page 244 the Peruvian sheep referenced in the text? Markgraf points out that the creature pictured has a two-toed foot on his back legs, just as a llama does.

Click on an image to enlarge and view the gallery.

Of note in the insects section is the smiling spider on the bottom of 243, his belly almost entirely silver in color, and his mottled brown and black legs described in the text as weaving an exceedingly elegant web.

Spider on page 248 of Historia naturalis Brasiliae, 1648. Click to enlarge.

Spider on page 248 of Historia naturalis Brasiliae, 1648. Click to enlarge.

 

What’s Happening at the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health?

CHM-2015_Calendar_of_Events-_cover

Cover image from an undated menu of a hotel cafe outside Lisbon. Click to view brochure.

We are thrilled to share our brochure of 2015 programming with you.

A few of these events are right around the corner. We will present two panels on Sunday at the Food Book Fair: Food and Empire and Cookbooks and History. For more information and for tickets, visit foodbookfair.com.

On April 14 at 6 pm, come to our annual Friends Lecture and hear Nick Wilding, PhD, present “On the Circulation of the Book: The Early Reception of Harvey’s De Motu Cordis.” The lecture is free and open to the public; a reception for Friends of the Rare Book Room will follow.

Download the brochure to find out more about our year-long series “Eating Through Time: Food, Health, and History,” our History of Medicine Lecture Series, and our collaboration with Atlas Obscura, “After Hours: Inside the Rare Book Collection of The New York Academy of Medicine.”

We look forward to welcoming you at our events!

Treating Mad Men: Harry Levinson’s Men, Management, and Mental Health

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Image courtesy of AMC.

April 5 saw the return of Mad Men for the conclusion of its television run. The show, of course, evokes the work world of 50 years ago: its style and flair, as well as its misogyny and racism, its messiness and dysfunction. To address that dysfunction, psychologist Harry Levinson would apply a strong dose of medicine.

In an era of paternalist corporate life and long-term employment, managers increasingly saw the workplace as a nexus for in human health, with corporate consequences. Industrial psychologists began championing the idea of organizational health. The result of good management, organizational health led directly to individual health, both physical and mental; healthy workers built successful companies.

Title page of Men, Management, and Mental Health, 1962.

Title page of Men, Management, and Mental Health, 1962. Click to enlarge.

One of the first of these psychologists was Harry Levinson (1922–2012). His Men, Management, and Mental Health (1962)1 portrayed the workplace as anything but a neutral space. A native of New York and trained at Emporia State University (B.S., 1943; M.S., 1947) and the University of Kansas (Ph.D., 1952), he became associated with the Menninger Foundation of Topeka. There, with a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, he founded the Division of Industrial Mental Health.2 For Men, Management, and Mental Health, he conducted almost 1,000 interviews and made site visits to more than 40 work locations at a Kansas power company over the course of 2 years. Levinson and his team delved deeply into the workings of the company, considering specific examples of tension and conflict, using case studies to flesh out his theories, and, as he put it, “specifying more fully our conception of mental health.”3

In his work, Levinson brought to bear the full panoply of psychoanalytic theory. He saw in the workplace the playing out of dependency needs and transference mechanisms; he traced the clash of rivalries, and viewed conflicts as arising out of deep psychological wells. Yet all this was comprehensible in terms of the psychoanalytical view of human nature. Chief among Levinson’s insights was that workers wanted, or even needed a psychological contract in addition to a labor contract, not based on specific rewards for services, but rather on such intangibles as security, job growth, mutual respect, and fairness. He called the bundle of these concerns “reciprocation” and held they were crucial for organizational success—and for the mental health and physical safety of employees.4

Chart on page 159 of Men, Management, and Mental Health, , showing the key concepts of the psychological contract and reciprocation.

Chart on page 159 of Men, Management, and Mental Health, showing the key concepts of the psychological contract and reciprocation. Click to enlarge.

True to his psychoanalytical training, he saw executives and managers as having crucial roles, which he put into medical terms. When working well, the executive was “diagnostic, remedial, and preventive.” When failing, he was “iatrogenic”: illness-causing! Finally, he maintained that mental health was not a humanitarian add-on in American business, but an integral part of “getting the job done.” American management needed to move beyond psychological manipulation: “psychological understanding cannot fail.”5

In the late 1960s, Levinson joined Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School, and founded The Levinson Institute, a consulting firm and his base until the early 1990s. He wrote numerous books and introduced workplace concepts familiar to this day, among them the employee assistance program, performance feedback, and coping with loss in workplace change.6

How would Harry Levinson deal with Don Draper? For Levinson, the most important goal is alleviating workplace stress, which Don does through alcohol—as well as other outlets. Levinson’s means were solidarity and leadership, with the aim of re-establishing a creative balance. How well Draper would have responded to this message is up for grabs: my guess is that he’d be out the door!

References

1. Harry Levinson, Charlton, R. Price, Kenneth J. Munden, Harold J. Mandl, and Charles M. Solley, Men, Management, and Mental Health (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962).

2. Levinson, Men, Management, and Mental Health, p. viii.

3. Levinson, Men, Management, and Mental Health, Appendix 1, “Research Team Operations,” pp. 173–82, quotation from page 179.

4. Levinson, Men, Management, and Mental Health, passim, but for those terms, see pp. 21 and 122.

5. Levinson, Men, Management, and Mental Health, chapter 10, pp. 157–72.

6. See also Diana Gordick, “Leader Speak: A Conversation with Harry Levinson,” The Consulting Psychologist: Spotlight on Consulting Issues, http://www.apa.org/divisions/div13/Update/2003Fall/Spotlight2Fall2003.htm. Accessed April 2, 2015.

Why the Beef? Empire and Cuisine

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Rachel Laudan. Originally trained as a historian of science, Dr. Laudan has taken her historical research into food history. This blog post is inspired by Dr. Laudan’s most recent work, Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History (University of California Press, 2013), focusing on the movers of gastronomic change from pre-history to the present.

Dr. Laudan will discuss her work on April 12 at the Food Book Fair at Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel. The Fair will include two panels presented by the New York Academy of Medicine, Food and Empire and Cookbooks and History. For more information and for tickets, visit foodbookfair.com.

“Where’s the beef?” asked actress Clara Peller of a rival burger in a 1984 Wendy’s advertisement. Within a matter of weeks, her words had become an American catchphrase.

 

Curious, though, when you think about it, that Americans were so enamored of beef. Through most of history, beef was low on the hierarchy of meats. Chinese preferred pork or fish; people in the Middle East and the Mediterranean relished lamb and goat; and Indians created cuisines in which meat played a secondary role if not avoided altogether. Most people stayed away from the tough stringy meat from old work animals or worn out dairy cattle.

Northwestern Europe and its former colonies are the exceptions. For Americans, for example, not only is beef delicious, but they and others see it as a symbol of American power, particularly when combined with white bread to make a hamburger. On January 31, 1990, 5,000 people waited in the chilly Moscow dawn for the first McDonald’s in the USSR to open its doors; by nightfall, 30,000 had been served. Many commented that the opening of McDonald’s foreshadowed the fall of the USSR.

Because McDonald’s was so symptomatic of American strength, no one took it lightly, whether they liked it or not. The Economist used the price of a Big Mac to value the world’s currencies; the sociologist George Ritzer coined the term McDonaldization to mean efficiency, predictability, and mechanization. In the 1980s, the Slow Food movement took its name as it opposed the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. In 1999, the French farmer José Bové dismantled a McDonald’s under construction in France, rallying supporters with the call McMerde (McShit).

Beef recipes from pages 38-39 of Ann Peckham's The Complete English Cook, Leeds, 179?. Click to enlarge.

Beef recipes from pages 38-39 of Ann Peckham’s The Complete English Cook, fourth edition, Leeds, 179?. Click to enlarge.

Beef as the symbol of American power was a natural successor to beef as the symbol of British power. Beef, the flesh of the most powerful domesticated animal, its bright red color suggesting strength and masculinity, had been hallowed by the English since at least the 17th century. In song, in quips such as the “roast beef of Old England,” in clubs centered around eating steaks, and in ox roasts distributed to the poor on political occasions, beef became synonymous with Englishness. When Justus Liebig, the leading chemist of the first half of the 19th century, declared that proteins were the crucial nutrients, essential to the building and maintenance of the body, English faith in beef was confirmed.

In fact, steaks and roasts were beyond the means of most English in the 19th century. Sticky brown essence of beef provided, as hamburger offered later, an affordable alternative. Meat extract, according to Liebig, was as nutritious as beef itself. He offered to provide it neatly bottled from his factory in distant Uruguay, which extracted beef essence from cattle carcasses hitherto valuable only for their fat and hides.

Calendar blotter for December 1928 and January 1929 issued by Fairchild Brothers and Foster and their UK agents, Burroughs, Wellcome and Co. advertising 'Panopepton' beef extract, "the pure nutritious substance of beef and wheat in perfect solution". This would have been one of a series of blotters sent out to members of the medical profession every 2 months. Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London.

Calendar blotter for December 1928 and January 1929 issued by Fairchild Brothers and Foster and their UK agents, Burroughs, Wellcome and Co. advertising ‘Panopepton’ beef extract, “the pure nutritious substance of beef and wheat in perfect solution”. This would have been one of a series of blotters sent out to members of the medical profession every 2 months. Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London.

Beef essence was one of the fastest growing areas of the food-processing industry in the 19th century, with entrepreneurs from the American meat packer Armour to the chef Escoffier investing their reputation and money in extracts.

"I hear they want more Bovril. My place is at the front." 1915 advertisement. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters.

“I hear they want more Bovril. My place is at the front.” 1915 advertisement. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters.

One of the most successful companies was Bovril. Its name combined modern theories of race embodied in the bestselling novel The Coming of the Master Race (1871) by the politician Edward Bulwer Lytton, and classical antecedents of empire. The first provided “Vril,” the name for all-penetrating energy harnessed by a subterranean race of super men, and the second “bovis,” Latin for “of the ox.” According to a series of stunning advertisements, this small jar of brown syrupy stuff strengthened men at the front, built up children bursting with health, and averted influenza, no small matter when the 1918 pandemic killed three to five percent of the world’s population.

Meat extract, like hamburgers later, depended on an infrastructure that stretched from the advertising and retailing industries, through the steamships and trains that shipped carcasses to factories and gleaming bottles of extract around the world, to vast areas of land. In 1932, Bovril ran cattle on 1.3 million acres in Argentina and 9 million acres in Canada, over ten times the acreage of the King Ranch in Texas, which claimed to be the biggest in the United States.

Inevitably, the power of beef came to be seen as underpinning the expanding British Empire. To mark the coronation of Edward VII, the major British weekly The Illustrated London News ran an advertisement on February 2, 1902. Titled “How the British Empire Spells Bovril,” it illustrated “the close association of this Imperial British Nourishment with the whole of King Edward’s Dominions at Home and Beyond the Seas” by fitting the national outlines (reduced or expanded as necessary) into the letters of the word Bovril.

Bovril advertisement in The Illustrated London News, February 2, 1902. Courtesy of Rachel Laudan.

Bovril advertisement in The Illustrated London News, February 2, 1902. Courtesy of Rachel Laudan.

Today, although English soccer fans still take hot Bovril broth to games, the idea that it is nourishment for Empire builders is long gone. And even McDonald’s is not the power it was a decade ago. Consumers go instead to Chipotle, Panera, and Starbucks, which offer the promise of healthier, tastier, less mass-market foods. Is this the end of empire? Or a change of direction?

Presentations for History of Medicine Night: 19th and 20th Century Stories

The New York Academy of Medicine’s Section on the History of Medicine and Public Health invites you to join us for “History of Medicine Night: 19th and 20th Century Stories” on May 6, 2015 from 6:00pm–7:30 pm at the Academy, 1216 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 103rd Street. Admission is free but advanced registration is required. Register online.
RBR deskPresenters will address historical topics relating to medicine with a focus on the 19th and 20th centuries. The evening’s presenters will be:

Constance E. Putnam, PhD
Independent Scholar (Medical Historian)
“Semmelweis Revisited”

Devon Santoro
Health Advocacy Program, M.A. expected 2016
Sarah Lawrence College
“Puffing and Passing Legislation: The History of Marijuana and Its Place in Society”

Jane Himmel
Health Advocacy Program, M.A. expected May 2016
Sarah Lawrence College
“Medical School Discrimination:  Advocacy In A Postwar World”

Georgia Gaveras, DO
Director of Training and Education in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Consultation Liaison Service
Department of Psychiatry
Mount Sinai Health System
“Art of Medicine – Medicine in Art”

Natalie Taylor
Health Advocacy Program, M.A. expected May 2016
Sarah Lawrence College
“The Unequal Burden of Censorship: Classism in the Wake of the Comstock Law”

Karen G. Langer, PhD
Clinical Associate Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine
NYU Langone Medical Center
“Fixation Found: On the Process of Anchoring Impressions into Memory”

Program Announcement: Interlibrary Snacking

As announced last month, our programming theme for 2015 is Eating Through Time.

We are thrilled to introduce a new pilot program, the Reciprocal Library Snack Cooperative, or Interlibrary Snacking, to go along with this theme. Our library boasts more than 10,000 volumes relating to food and cookery. For this new program, library staff will prepare recipes from the collection and send them to requesting libraries, who will in turn offer prepared recipes from their collections. All service providers will undergo thorough food safety training. In addition to white cotton gloves, cookbook users will receive hairnets.

Library snacks will focus on locally sourced, sustainable items. We are building a bespoke refrigeration unit based on the 1890 volume Mechanical Refrigeration and are taking into consideration cold storage advice from Into the Freezer—And Out (1946).

We are building a refrigeration unit based on his illustration from Mechanical Refrigeration, scheduled for completion in September 2016.

We are building a refrigeration unit, scheduled for completion in September 2016, based on this illustration from Mechanical Refrigeration.

The plan for our cold storage organization closely adheres to that shown in Into the Freezer—And Out.

The plan for our cold storage organization closely adheres to that shown in Into the Freezer—And Out.

Men Like Meat, an undated pamphlet from the American Can Company. Disclaimer on back cover: "We manufacture cans. We do no canning."

Men Like Meat, an undated pamphlet from the American Can Company. Disclaimer on back cover: “We manufacture cans – we do no canning.”

Before we tackle perishables, however, our focus will be on more shelf-stable foodstuff. Our collection includes a selection of items on canning, preserves, canned meats, food drying and dehydration, and other expiration-extending technologies.

The practice of developing new technologies to enable the safe transportation of food from one place to the next is an old story. As early as the 1850s, commercially canned goods—especially sardines, tomatoes, condensed milk, and fruits and vegetables—found an eager consumer audience in the Western United States. Cowboys bought oysters from Baltimore and canned tomatoes in bulk. In the early 20th century, canning facilitated the introduction of regional fruits like the California fig and the pineapple nationwide. Coast to coast, commercial canning introduced Americans to new foods, but often at the expense of freshness and taste.1

After the 1930s, supermarket foods were increasingly packaged: boxed, frozen, canned, dried, bottled, or combined in ready-to-eat forms. Advertisers marketed these in bright colors with catchy names that increased sales and added preservatives to ensure a longer-shelf life. Convenience usually trumped taste, and boredom at the family dinner table led many families increasingly to dine out.1

Our aim will be to use technologies like canning to enhance flavor. Along with the Reciprocal Library Snack Cooperative’s mission to include local, sustainable foods, we will also embrace more traditional methods of preservation. Goodbye chemical preservatives, hello pickling! Here is an example of a recipe currently in the works.

In addition, our program will have a secondary focus on recipes featuring new cooking technologies at the time of their publication. We have already had the soft-launch of the program: Our first item sent was inspired by this recipe from 1911.

The first recipe successfully made and sent as part of the Reciprocal Library Snack Cooperative.

The first recipe successfully made and sent as part of the Reciprocal Library Snack Cooperative.2

Want to know more about food history? Attend our Eating Through Time programming.

Reference
1. Hooker RJ. Food and drink in America: A history. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill; 1981.
2. Special thanks to Juan at Sterling Affair for preparing historically accurate toast.

Happy Bird-day, Conrad Gesner (Item of the Month)

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

Gesner_historiae_v3_1585_395-bMarch 26 marks the birthday of the man behind one of my favorite books in our collection.

Conrad Gesner was born in Zurich in 1516. His family was not wealthy, but thanks to various benefactors he was able to study and travel to Straussburg, Paris, Basel, and elsewhere. He became knowledgeable in many topics, including linguistics, botany, and zoology. He also received a medical degree and was a practicing physician.

His most famous work, Historia Animalium, is a well-illustrated, enormous encyclopedia on animals. The work was influential not only due to the quality and quantity of the woodcuts, but also because of its descriptions. Gesner relied heavily on existing works about animals, but he also included his own observations and enlisted many contributors who provided descriptions and specimens.1,2

Five volumes were published in total, the first in 1551 and the last, posthumously, in 1587. The first volume was on quadrupeds that gave birth to live young, the second on quadrupeds that laid eggs, the third on birds, the fourth on fish and aquatic animals, and the last on serpents. Since it is Gesner’s bird-day (get it?), we’re celebrating with some of his flying friends from Liber III of the Historia Animalium. In our copy, a 1585 edition, the woodcuts are hand-colored and many of the birds’ French names were added in by an early reader.

Click on an image to view the gallery:

References

1. Locy, William A. The growth of biology. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1925.

2. Locy, William A. Biology and its makers. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915.

Tuning in to Tuberculosis

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

WNYC-LogoTo mark World TB Day, we are going to tune in to the 1950s radio series “For Doctors Only.” Selections from this series and several others produced by The New York Academy of Medicine and WNYC were recently digitized and cataloged by the Academy and the New York Public Radio (NYPR) Archives.

The program “The Biological and Social Aspects of Tuberculosis” was the 26th Hermann M. Biggs Memorial Lecture, held at the Academy in 1951.The lecture was given by Pulitzer Prize-winning author René Jules Dubos in honor of physician and public health champion Hermann Biggs and his contribution to the control and elimination of tuberculosis (TB).

At the beginning of his career, Dubos focused on developing antibiotics. But after his first wife, Marie-Louise, died of pulmonary TB in 1942, he changed the focus of his research. His lab determined a way to more quickly culture strains of tubercle bacilli, which led to a better understanding of their virulence and properties. In 1946, he married Jean Porter, who worked alongside him in his lab. Dubos likely based his lecture on the research he did for his book The White Plague, which he published with his wife in 1952.1

Oil portrait of Hermann M. Biggs by Renwick, held in our Oil Portrait Collection.

Oil portrait of Hermann M. Biggs by Renwick, held in our Oil Portrait Collection.

In the lecture, Dubos discussed Biggs’ contribution to tuberculosis prevention in the 1900s. Biggs graduated from Cornell in 1881. In his dissertation, “he expressed his conviction that filth and poor hygiene were the primary causes of contagious disease and microorganisms were only byproducts of disease.”2

Dubos pointed out in his lecture that when Robert Koch discovered the Tubercle bacillus in 1882, it revolutionized the perception of TB. It was no longer a social disease but a biological one. The bacteriological era had begun!

Biggs was quick to realize the profound effect of this germ theory. He formulated a practical way to control TB, shifting the emphasis from patients passively taking physicians’ orders to actively participating in the eradication of the disease as a community through the following formula:

  1. Check the spread of the infection and minimize contacts
  2. Help humans develop higher resistance
  3. Educate to mobilize the community to take action

His TB-control formula began the anti-tuberculosis movement, which eventually led to the formation of the National Tuberculosis Association in 1905.3

In 1889 Biggs and his colleagues “presented to the Health Department of New York City a communication calling attention to the communicability of tuberculosis and recommending that measures be taken to prevent the spread of the disease.” As a result, the Health Department published and distributed a leaflet in large quantities. As noted in A History of the National Tuberculosis Association, “So far as we are able to ascertain, this is the first leaflet ever published for distribution among the general public. It is certainly the first one published and distributed by a health department, and as such marks an epoch in tuberculosis education.”4

The Health Department leaflet, reprinted in Knopf SA. A History of the National Tuberculosis Association: The Anti-Tuberculosis Movement in the United States. New York: National Tuberculosis Association; 1922.

The Health Department leaflet, reprinted in Knopf SA. A History of the National Tuberculosis Association: The Anti-Tuberculosis Movement in the United States. New York: National Tuberculosis Association; 1922.

Over the years, public-health measures helped reduce the spread of TB. Despite these efforts, the population was still susceptible to infection. Mortality rates had been falling faster than infection rates, which Dubos noted in The White Plague. He also showed a connection between industrialization and reduced mortality.

In Dubos, RJ, Dubos J. The white plague: Tuberculosis, man, and society. New Brunswick : Rutgers University Press; 1987.

In Dubos, RJ, Dubos J. The white plague: Tuberculosis, man, and society. New Brunswick : Rutgers University Press; 1987.

Complete eradication of the disease was almost impossible. Instead, Dubos suggested two ways to attack the progression of the disease: 1) decreasing risk of infection and 2) boosting resistance. To do this, thought Dubos, researchers must focus on fostering new and unorthodox ways to determine resistance to infection and adventure into unexplored fields.

Dubos stressed in his lecture that it was imperative to investigate the human and environmental factors that determine resistance to infection. But according to the Global Tuberculosis Report 2014, “tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the world’s deadliest communicable diseases. In 2013, an estimated 9.0 million people developed TB and 1.5 million died from the disease.” Today, efforts to prevent and control TB infection are similar to those championed by Biggs and Dubos: drug-resistant surveillance, community-based TB activities, and collaboration across sectors in research and policy-making.

References

1. Hirsch JG, Moberg CL. Rene Jules Dubos 1901-1982. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences; 1989. Available at: http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/dubos-rene.pdf. Accessed March 20, 2015.

2. Dubos RJ, WNYC (Radio station : New York NY). Biological and Social Aspects of Tuberculosis. New York : WNYC; 1951. http://www.wnyc.org/story/biological-and-social-aspects-of-tuberculosis-26th-hermann-m-biggs-memorial-lecture.

3. Knopf SA. A History of the National Tuberculosis Association: The Anti-Tuberculosis Movement in the United States. New York: National Tuberculosis Association; 1922.

4. Knopf SA. A History of the National Tuberculosis Association: The Anti-Tuberculosis Movement in the United States. New York: National Tuberculosis Association; 1922.