“The Politics of Infrastructure” Class Review

By Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

As part of the ongoing collaboration between the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research (BISR) and The New York Academy of Medicine Library, I was able to spend the beginning of summer contemplating how material and immaterial infrastructures affect peoples’ daily lives.

Throughout the BISR course titled “The Politics of Infrastructure,” taught by one of my favorite professors, Danya Glabau, we covered everything from why park benches are a certain length (so that people don’t sleep on them), to the United States’ unique economy of technological obsolescence. We took some deep dives into theoretical texts, such as Michelle Murphy’s Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty and Bruno Latour’s Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. We were also encouraged to apply what we read to our daily lives. During my morning commutes, I suddenly found myself wondering if an umbrella or a subway car were inherently political objects (and what this might mean for their construction and use).

As always, there were beautiful treasures from the Academy Library that we were able to view during class, thanks to our Rare Books and Manuscripts Curator Anne Garner’s expansive knowledge of our holdings. One item she found for the class that was particularly striking was Stephen Smith’s The City That Was (1911).[1] We used this item as a complement to our unit titled “Infrastructure and Public Health,” where we read critical texts such as Paul Farmer’s “An Anthropology of Structural Violence” and Manjari Mahajan’s “Designing Epidemics: Models, Policy-Making, and Global Foreknowledge in India’s AIDS Epidemic.”

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Image from Smith’s The City That Was (1911) showing the “Region of Bone-Boiling and Swill-Milk Nuisances.”

Smith was a New Yorker who many now regard as the father of public health. He founded the American Public Health Association and was the first to attribute the spread of typhus and cholera to environmental conditions around New York City.[2] Without him, New York would likely not have advanced into the public health-conscious city it is today (at least not as quickly). In The City That Was, Smith outlines through detailed illustrations various areas of the city that were public health concerns. I hate to imagine what Nolita’s trendy residents would think of their apartments if they knew they were once next to noxious hide-curing and fat-gathering houses.

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Image from Smith’s The City That Was (1911) showing the “Region of Hide-Curing, Fat-Gathering, Fat and Soap Boiling, and Slaughter-Pens, Behind the Bowery Shopping Houses.”

While examining physical infrastructures, past and present, provided us with the tools to critique New York’s metropolitan landscape responsibly, we also learned about more cerebral types of infrastructure. One author whose work particularly struck me was Susan Leigh Star. In her article titled “Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On Being Allergic to Onions,” she examines the power of living in between worlds, and challenges her readers to question the idea of standardization. Of the latter, she brings attention to stoplights, writing: “The initial choice of red as a colour of traffic lights that means, ‘stop’, for example, is now a widespread convention that would be functionally impossible to change, yet it was initially arbitrary.” And it’s true — who decided that red meant stop? Why does red mean stop everywhere now, from stop signs to walk signals?

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Diagram showing Star’s theory of the dimensions of power, from “Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On Being Allergic to Onions,” 1991.

For me, the power of Star’s scholarship really became solidified throughout her discussion of marginality, though. She writes:

“We are at once heterogeneous, split apart, multiple — and through living in multiple worlds without delegation, we have experience of a self unified only through action, work and the patchwork of collection biography . . . That is, in the case of Pasteur or any executive, much of the work is attributed back to the central figure, erasing the work of secretaries, wives, laboratory technicians, and all sorts of associates. When this invisible work . . . is recovered, a very different network is discovered as well . . . All of these ways of gaining access imply listening, rather than talking on behalf of. This often means refusing translation — resting uncomfortably but content with that which is wild to us.”[3]

As someone who works in the intersection of medicine and the social sciences, the ideas in the above quote seem especially relevant. Biological scientists hate lingering in the unknown, while social scientists get tenure by writing about it. The idea of a library whose collections reflect the chameleonic history of medicine likely exists in a space much like Star’s “multiple worlds.” And, similar to those lab technicians whose names you never read about when a team of scientists win the Nobel Prize, libraries function largely on invisible labor. Thanks to Star, I am getting more comfortable with my own brand of marginality, too.

Glabau lead us expertly down these paths and many more during my time as a BISR student in “The Politics of Infrastructure.” We are currently hosting another one of her classes (“Science, Race, and Colonialism“), so stay tuned for more synopses from the field.

References:
[1] Smith S, The City That Was. New York, NY: F. Allaben; 1911.
[2] A Short Narrative of Dr. Stephen Smith. Medph.org. Published 2016. Accessed July 10, 2017.
[3] Star S. Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On Being Allergic to Onions. The Sociological Review. 1991; 38(S1):26-55, p29-30.

The Other Language of Flowers: The Doctrine of Signatures

By Emily Miranker, Events & Projects Manager

“Is that page winking at me?”

I said this at the office last week, and it’s actually not the weirdest of the sentences I’ve uttered at work here at the library. Some of those include, “That’s the prettiest hairball I’ve ever seen!” and “Yeah, I do wish garlic cured the plague.”

In this case, the sixteenthcentury page in question was winking at me (in a manner of speaking). Page 135 of our 1588 edition of Neapolitan natural scientist and polymath Giambattista della Porta’s Phytognomonica features a woodcut of eyebright. Eyebright is an alpine plant that gets its name for its use treating eye ailments.

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As this woodcut aims to make very clear with the frontal and side views on the bottom of the page, the fully open flower resembles a human eye. Image source: Giambattista della Porta, Phytognomonica (1588).

The resemblance of a plant to the body part or malady that it cures is a concept called the Doctrine of Signatures. Along with other early classical scholars, Roman natural philosopher Pliny the Elder and the Greek physician Dioscorides make reference to the Doctrine, but it was best developed by medieval Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1591).[1] The Doctrine was widely believed in the West, especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though it did persist beyond.[2] Nineteenth century American historian and novelist Edward Eggleston observed, “The wild woods were full of creatures (flora and fauna) whose value was written on each of them in the language of signatures … considerately tagged at the creation.”[3] I love this notion, not for its accuracy–it is not accurate, definitely do not eat a plant with heart-shaped leaves if you have heartburn–but because I think it’s a terrific design concept. Simply put, function dictates form and outward appearance reveals therapeutic value.

I’m not alone in affection for the “much-maligned” theory that biologist Bradley C. Bennett called “the Doctrine.” He argues that in many preliterate societies, the association of plant name with its medicinal uses helped people remember useful plants.[4] Similarly, anthropologist G. H. Shepard Jr. suggested such names or signatures are like a mnemonic device for peoples for whom knowledge transmission is oral.[5] Of course, the Doctrine had detractors. Flemish herbalist Rembert Dodoens declared it “absolutely unworthy of acceptance” in 1583.[6] It is inherently subjective (not a good thing for science)–a leaf that looks like a liver to me might look like a kidney to you.

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Hair loss an issue? Maidenhair fern to the rescue. Image source: Giambattista della Porta, Phytognomonica (1588).

Signatures as a method to remember plants makes sense, particularly with all the scientific advances debunking the medical rationale since della Porta published his book. Bennett conducted an experiment that underscores the memory aid value of the Doctrine “that many valuable herbs were in use before the doctrine and that the organ-plant match was made later to accommodate and validate the doctrine.”[7] Of the over 2,500 plants with heart-shaped leaves, Bennett randomly selected 80. Twenty-one of those were used in medicine, and only three were used in cardiac medicine. So much for every ‘signed’ plant having therapeutic value.

So more accurately, the Doctrine of Signatures is a very human design concept. Indeed, it’s a human-centric design concept; seeing bits of ourselves in bits of plants. This makes sense when you consider that in della Porta’s time it was assumed the universe was created (by God) with mankind at the mortal pinnacle. And remarkably effective, not as a medical truism, but as a memory device.

For what is good design but a simple and powerful solution to a problem, in this case how to remember helpful plants. Not only is 20 percent of our brain devoted to vision, but there is a specific area in the frontal lobe of the brain critical to facial recognition: the fusiform gyrus. “We are hardwired to seek out a round object with two dark bands (one for the eyes, one for the mouth) even before we can see them clearly,” observes neuroscientist Andrew Tate.[8] Is it any wonder that people saw faces (not to mention other body parts) in the plants around them?

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Plants resembling the human hand and teeth. Image source: Giambattista della Porta, Phytognomonica (1588).

References:
[1] Bennett, Bradley C. “Doctrine of Signatures Through Two Millennia,” HerbalGram No. 78 (May-July 2008): 34-45.
[2] Simon, Matt. Fantastically Wrong: The Strange History of Using Organ-Shaped Plants to Treat Disease, Wired. Accessed 7/24/17.
[3] Eggleston, E. The Transit of Civilization from England to America in the Seventeenth Century. Appleton and Company: New York, 1901.
[4] Bennett, Bradley C. “Doctrine of Signatures: An Explanation of Medicinal Plant Discovery or Dissemination of Knowledge?” Economic Botany 61 (3). New York: The New York Botanical Garden Press, 2007: 246.
[5] Shepard, G.H. “Nature’s Madison Avenue: Sensory Cues as Mnemonic Devices in the Transmission of Medicinal Plant Knowledge,” Ethnobiology and Biocultural Diversity: Proceedings of the 7th International Congress of Ethnobiology. University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA, 2002: 326-335. Accessed 7/25/17.
[6] Arber, Agnes Robertson. Herbals, their origin and evolution; a chapter in the history of botany, 1470-1670. Cambridge: The University press, 1938
[7] Bennett, p 250.
[8] Tate, Andrew. “10 Scientific Reasons People are Hardwired to Respond to Your Visual Marketing,” Canva. Accessed 7/26/17.

A Brief History of the Vampire

By Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

Most people associate vampires with Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula; however, the vampire has much older roots than that. Robert McCully reports that “the earliest known depiction of a vampire appears on a prehistoric Assyrian bowl…”[1] Much later came the vampiric texts with which we in the West are familiar, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Christobel (1797), Marquis de Sade’s Justine (1791), and John Keats’s Lamia (1819).[2] Finally, in 1897, comes Stoker’s Dracula.

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Chapter heading illustration, from Paul Barber’s Vampires Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality, 1988.

Perhaps the easiest place to start a history of the vampire is the differentiation between the folkloric vampire and the fictional vampire.

The Folkloric Vampire

Paul Barber warns that “if a typical vampire of folklore…were to come to your house this Halloween, you might open the door to encounter a plump Slavic fellow with long fingernails and a stubby beard, his mouth and left eye open, his face ruddy and swollen… [his] nose fallen in somewhat, the hair, beard, and nails grown, and new skin formed under the old” (a lovely phenomenon called ‘skin slippage’).[3] Other telltale signs of folkloric vamps are that people usually kill them with stakes (the act of which causes them to bleed and emanate ‘painful’ sounds); they like to attack cattle; they can regenerate;[4] and they bite.[5]

Regarding the origins of the folkloric vamp, Barber puts forth a forensic and socio-political argument. In short, Barber thinks that the idea of the folkloric vampire arose from the exhumation of decomposing bodies. These bodies normally have a little blood at their mouths, they get bloated, they smell, and they bleed when cut.[6] Barber believes that these bodies were likely scapegoats for society’s fears of plague or murder victims, whose bodies were buried in shallow graves (meaning that they decomposed faster).[7] When these ‘vampires’ were exhumed for inspection (which happened when a corpse was accused of being a vampire) and were ‘killed’ with stakes, it would be normal for a decomposing body to lack rigor mortis and also let out a painful sound, like the one mentioned previously. In reality, this sound is just the bloated body expelling methane.[8]

The Fictional Vampire

The fictional vamp, on the other hand, is the pop culture phenomenon. These vampires are “power mad” and want “nothing less than to take over the world, with the aid of an army of subordinate vampires.”[9]

This fictional vamp is the creature to which the real-life disease porphyria can be (dubiously) linked. Porphyria is a term given to multiple diseases that involve “enzyme defects in the haem biosynthetic pathway.”[10] Coming from the Greek word πορφύρα (pronounced “por-FOO-ra”), meaning purple, porphyria sufferers usually have red- or purple-tinged urine. This discoloration is caused by an excess of porphyrins.[11] Porphyrins are “light-activated chemicals that can be used to combat ills including tumors and diseases of the eye.”[12] Porphyria is also the disease many think plagued King George III.[13]

The specific type of porphyria most link to vampires is congenital erythropoietic porphyria (CEP), otherwise known as Gunther’s Disease.[14] Roderick McEwin writes that “this extremely rare disease presents on first exposure to light . . . blistering [the] exposed skin,” and that the urine, teeth, and bones, all stained pink, fluoresce in ultraviolet light.[15] These symptoms would explain why we usually associate vampires with burning in the sun.

Regarding the blood-sucking behavior of typical (fictional) vampires, Lane writes that it is possible early scientists linked vampires to porphyria patients because, in principle, it is possible to relieve the symptoms of porphyria by drinking blood. Not all scholars buy this argument, however. Maranda et al argue that there is no “scientific explanation for why people with porphyria would benefit from drinking blood” and that true porphyria patients suffer from scarring, which does not complement the world’s perception of (fictional) vampires.[16]

Another belief is that vampires arose from real people getting rabies. Juan Gómez-Alonso writes about how rabies sometimes presents in spasms and the emission of hoarse sounds that together make someone’s teeth clench and lips retract like those of an animal. The spasms are “generally triggered by some stimuli,” which include light (“photophobia”). Rabies might also explain vampires’ relationships to mirrors. Gómez-Alonso tells us that “a man was not considered rabid if he was able to stand the sight of his own image in a mirror.”[17]

There is almost too much that could be said about the vampire’s history. The vampire has been around for a long time, and continues to be a source of fascination. In fact, the next time you are on the 6 train, just look up and check out the ad for Casper® mattresses.

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Casper® ad on the number 6 subway line in New York City, photograph by author, 2017.

Further Reading:

References:
[1] McCully, Robert. “Vampirism: Historical Perspective and Underlying Process in Relation to a Case of Auto-Vampirism.” Vampires, Werewolves, and Demons: Twentieth Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature, edited by Richard Noll, New York: Brunner/Mazel; 1992: p. 38.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Barber, Paul. Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1988: 2-13.
[4] Ibid., 19.
[5] Ibid., 32.
[6] Ibid., 121.
[7] Ibid., 124-5.
[8] Ibid., 158.
[9] McCully, 83.
[10] Youngs, Giles R., ed. Dobson’s Complaint: The Story of the Chester Porphyria. London: Royal College of Physicians of London; 1998: 1.
[11] McEwin, Roderick. Porphyria in Australia: A Review of the Literature, and the Australian Experience. Sydney: Health Commission of New South Wales; 1975: 6.
[12] Lane, Nick. “Born to the Purple: The Story of Porphyria.” Scientific American. December 16, 2002.
[13] Youngs, 11.
[14] McEwin, 43.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Maranda, Eric Laurent et al. “Porphyria and Vampirism-A Myth, Sensationalized.” JAMA dermatology 152.9 (2016): 975.
[17] Gómez-Alonso, J. “Rabies: A Possible Explanation for the Vampire Legend.” Neurology 51.3 (1998): 856–859.

College Student Reflects on Recent Academy Lecture

Today’s guest post is by Eliana Lanfranco, who is a rising sophomore studying at Georgetown University. She is majoring in medical anthropology and hopes to pursue a career in medicine in the future with the aim of returning to her home country to open a clinic. Eliana attended the Academy lecture with Project Rousseau, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to empower youth in communities with the greatest need to reach their full potential and pursue higher education. Project Rousseau takes a holistic approach to students’ educational problems delivering a variety of programs and strongly believes in the importance of exposing students to as many new experiences as possible, such as attending lectures at the New York Academy of Medicine!

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Eliana Lanfranco (center) with Project Rousseau Founder and President, Andrew Heinrich, and two younger Project Rousseau students.

On May 11, I attended “Facades and Fashions in Medical Architecture” at the New York Academy of Medicine.  This was my first time attending a lecture outside of my college classes, and I left with a different perspective on what lectures have to offer. The lecture did not contain slides filled with information I was required to know for a course, but rather an interactive, engaging talk filled with information I wanted to know. Through it, I learned about a new side of the history of medicine that I had never thought about before.

The lecture began with an overview of dispensaries, which were used primarily by the lower income groups in NYC (the wealthy had their own private doctors) in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Many of the volunteers in these dispensaries were doctors from affluent backgrounds who had recently graduated and wanted to gain clinical experience to become established doctors. Later, when hospitals began to serve both the poor and rich, recent graduates preferred the hospitals over the dispensaries, since the former had the latest equipment, such as x-rays and anesthesia, which the doctors could learn about and use.  It is interesting to see how this trend has, to some extent, remained among medical students today, and which medical institutions attract which students. Today, it may be easier to find a volunteer spot in community clinics than in hospitals, and medical students can oftentimes be more exposed to the health issues that affect certain communities who use these facilities.

The lecture also highlighted the way in which hospitals were built to be relatable to the patients and how their architecture reflected medical beliefs at the time. Older hospitals were built with long, narrow wings, as it was believed that the flow of air and light eliminated germs. Their architecture also tried to be welcoming and non-imposing to people walking past them; for example, mental health institutes were built to have a countryside feeling instead of looking like enclosed plots of land. Later, many of the hospitals built during the New Deal time period also featured murals painted by local artists in their waiting rooms. These murals were sometimes twofold, as they featured “controlled medicine” or modern medicine, and “uncontrolled medicine” or folk forms of healing. They portrayed historical figures in medicine, such as Louis Pasteur, and minorities in the field of medicine. As a patient, I would have been thankful for these murals since they offer some distraction from the endless wait in the waiting room.

In contrast, modern hospitals have been built in big clusters, along with skyscrapers. Their rectangular shape makes them reliant on mechanical ventilation, and their towering height makes them overpowering to people walking by. However, many try to maintain their air of welcome by making the entrances wide to show that it is not an institution for a select few. I think that these small details are very important because even though the majority of patients may not consciously think about the architecture they’re entering, these features greatly affect how patients, especially those who are not used to having structured medical systems in their home countries, feel about entering the hospital. I lived in a rural part of the Dominican Republic and the tallest hospital I saw growing up was four floors high. When I moved to New York City, I was surprised at the height of the hospitals and, although I am no longer a child, I am often intimidated by the buildings. It is good to see that some hospitals have incorporated details into their architecture to retain the air of welcome for patients, although as I, and many others, still quiver as we enter hospitals, I wonder how successful this approach has truly been!

Prior to this lecture, I was unaware that so many buildings I walked by every day, and that just looked like apartments with no historical importance, were actually hospitals and medical institutions.  Although older medical institutions can give us an insight into older medical beliefs and practices when carefully inspected  and can help us shape future medical practices, many of the older medical institutions have survived only through repurposing to other uses, such as apartments or firehouses; few have maintained their original purpose. It would be great to see the older hospitals that have survived, continue their original purpose or become museums so that their medical history can be saved, as has been the case with some buildings in nearby Philadelphia and Boston. As a pre-med student, the thought of attending an architecture lecture was, at first glance a little strange, but now I realize how related medicine and architecture are. A doctor’s primary aim is to treat all those in need, but without the right architectural design many patients may be hesitant to enter towering, intimidating hospitals!

Summer & Fall 2017 Catalog of Events

By Emily Miranker, Events and Projects Manager

Welcome to The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s Summer & Fall 2017 cultural programming.

For the third year running, we are partnering with our neighbor The Museum of the City of New York for a three-part series: “Who Controls Women’s Health?: A Century of Struggle.” Marking the centennial of New York State suffrage law, Century of Struggle is a free, three-part talk series that examines key battles over women’s ability to control their bodies, health choices, and fertility. The series reflects the Academy’s long history of involvement with improving maternal and infant mortality, and complements the forthcoming exhibition at MCNY Beyond Suffrage: 100 Years of Women and Politics in New York.

“Who Controls Women’s Health?: A Century of Struggle” speakers Randi Epstein, Faye Wattleton, and Jennifer Nelson.

Next in our special series, “Legacies of War: Medical Innovations and Impacts”—how the experience of war prompts medical innovation—we welcome Professor Beth Linker on September 28 to speak on World War One and veteran care, and Professor John Kinder on October 17 to explore the history of American war through the bodies of five veterans.

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Cover of Pictorial Review (Feb 1919).

Starting in mid-September, Kriota Willberg will lead an Embroidering Medicine Workshop. This workshop is the culmination of a six-month artist residency –the first ever such at the Academy Library- dedicated to the intersections between body sciences and artistic practices. The workshop explores the relationship between medicine, needlework and gender. Willberg focuses on the areas of the collection invoking the ideals of femininity and domesticity, as well as needlework (in the form of ligatures, sutures, and stitching of the body.)

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John Bell, The Principles of Surgery (1801).

Our collaboration with Atlas Obscura continues this year with topics like Anatomical Illustrations, Astronomy and Astrology, Cookery, and Women’s Medicine. The intimate sessions in our beautiful Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Room offer a chance to be enlightened by early alchemists, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, physicians, and midwives. You’ll leave with the wisdom that they penned, including the ancient secrets of how to turn metal into gold, what fruit to eat to delay labor, and how the Zodiac Man guided medical practices.

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Joannes de Ketham, Fasciculo de Medicina (1522).

Later in the fall, socio-medical scientist Ijeoma Kola of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health presents “Unable to Breathe” on November 14. As asthma hospitalization rates skyrocketed, researchers shifted their focus from psychosomatic explanations to the toxicity of black urban locales. This talk explores how emerging asthma research in the 1950s and 1960s bolstered broader African American struggles for equity.

Download the Summer/Fall Catalog for more details. To register, click the names of events in the catalog, or visit www.NYAM.org/events. You can keep up to date on our events and activities by following us on social media, @nyamhistory.

We look forward to seeing you throughout the second half of this year.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Our Hogwarts Digital Collection

By Anne Garner, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts

When Hogwarts librarian Irma Pince first appears in book one of the Harry Potter series, published twenty years ago this week, she is brandishing a feather duster and ordering young Harry out of the library where he’s pursing the noble (and ultimately world-saving) task of looking up the alchemist Nicholas Flamel.

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Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.

Pince doesn’t exactly scream poster-child for open access.  And yet, a chance look at our card catalog recently revealed that the Academy Library might have something in common with Hogwarts, aside from its ambiance (The Library’s Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, nestled on a locked mezzanine level of the Academy that visitors sometimes call its “Hogwarts floor,” frequently invites comparisons.)  That something is our collections.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the publication of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The New York Academy of Medicine Library has launched a special digital collection, “How to Pass Your O.W.L.s at Hogwarts: A Prep Course.” Featuring rare books dating back to the fifteenth century, the collection reveals the history behind many of the creatures, plants and other magical elements that appear in the Harry Potter series.

The digital collection is organized as a fictional study aid for Hogwarts students preparing for their important magical exams, the O.W.L.s. The collection is organized into seven Hogwarts courses, featuring historical content related to each area of magical study. For example, the Transfiguration section focuses on alchemy and the work of Nicholas Flamel—a historical figure who is fictionalized in Rowling’s books.  Both Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and seventeenth century scientific literature represent Nicholas Flamel as an important alchemist responsible for achieving the philosopher’s stone (the real Flamel was a wealthy manuscript seller, and likely never an alchemist himself).

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Salmon, William. Medicina Practica, or the Practical Physician, 1707, featuring Nicholas Flamel’s Hieroglyphics.

The collection’s Care of Magical Creatures section features spectacular centuries-old drawings of dragons, unicorns and basilisks—plenty of prep material here to keep the attention of young wizards during this third year elective course.

The early naturalists Conrad Gessner and Ulisse Aldrovandi both devoted entire volumes of their encyclopedic works to serpents.   Some illustrations depicted snakes as we might see them in the natural world.  Others celebrated more fantastical serpentine creatures, including a seven headed-hydra and a basilisk.  Said to be the ruler of the serpents, the basilisk (from the Greek, basiliskos, for little king) looks a little like a turtle with a crown on his head.

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Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo…, 1640, pp. 270-271.

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Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo…, 1640, p. 363.

Off campus proves to be where the wild (er) things are.  In book one of the series, Voldemort gains strength by ingesting the blood of a unicorn.  Rowling’s unicorns have healing properties and can act as antidotes to poison.  The qualities Rowling assigns to these beautiful and rarest of beasts echo their characterization in early modern natural history texts.  Several of these works —illustrated encyclopedias that depict and describe both real and fantastic animals in the sixteenth century—present the unicorn as powerful healers.

We’ve written already about the French apothecary Pierre Pomet’s illustrations of the five types of unicorns, and his assertion in his 1684 history of drugs that unicorn horns sold in most apothecary shops were actually the horns of narwhals.

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Pomet, Pierre. Histoire generale de drogues, traitant des plantes, des animaux, & des mineraux…., 1694, p. 9.(Click Here for a coloring sheet of this image!)

Conrad Gessner’s 4500 page encyclopedia of animals, the Historia Animalium, also includes a depiction of a unicorn (below). Gessner writes that unicorn horn and wine together can counteract poisons, and assigns it other efficacious properties.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we meet a band of spirited and enigmatic centaurs in the Forbidden Forest.  Centaurs and mer-people fall into a category throughout the series of what Rowling refers to as “half-breeds”:  hybrid creatures who are part man or woman, and part animal. This category of beings is often diminished for being somehow less than fully human.  In the books, half-breeds don’t have the civil rights that other wizarding folk have. Hagrid, Dumbledore, and others are sympathetic to the creatures—In Harry’s fifth year, Dumbledore appoints one as Hogwarts’ Divination Professor.

While the History of Magic taught at Hogwarts is largely fictional, the Academy Library contains books in the real-life history of magic, including the 1658 manual Natural Magick by Giovanni Battista della Porta and a manual for witch-hunters by della Porta’s rival, Jean Bodin—two highlights of the digital collection. Another featured treasure is an actual bezoar (ours comes from the stomach of a cow, ca. 1862), and is used as a key potions ingredient by Hogwarts’ students.

As Hermione Granger says, “When in doubt, go to the library.” We hope you’ll heed her advice and check out our new digital collection, “How to Pass Your O.W.L.s at Hogwarts: A Prep Course.”

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Who Practices “Visualizing Anatomy”?

Today’s guest post is written by Kriota Willberg, New York Academy of Medicine’s Artist-in-Residence.  Through graphic narratives, teaching, and needlework, Kriota explores the intersection between body sciences and creative practice. This May, Kriota taught a four-week workshop entitled “Visualizing and Drawing Anatomy,” which utilized live models as well as anatomical illustrations from the New York Academy of Medicine’s library. You can read more about Kriota’s work HERE.

Class

The class gets oriented before drawing practice.

The Visualizing and Drawing Anatomy workshop was held at the Academy Tuesday evenings in June.  Once again I was impressed by the participants willingness to practice looking underneath our models’ skin to draw the deep anatomical structures that give our bodies form.

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Participants draw using their preferred medium, in this case, paper or an iPad.

Who benefits from this kind of drawing practice? Practically everyone. Trained artists sharpen their skills, and those new to art and drawing learn fundamental principles of anatomy that lay the foundation for drawing the human figure.

Debbie Rabina, who is new to art, took the workshop last year.  Since then she has kept a regular drawing practice and she occasionally incorporates anatomy into her work.

Rabina

Debbie Rabina’s drawing since taking “Visualizing Anatomy” in 2016.

Ellen Zaraoff is a photographer who has just started drawing. Until taking the classes this year she had been focusing on drawing portraits in charcoal.  She took the workshop to get an introduction to anatomy, structure, and proportion.

Sarah Wukoson has a BA in art, and works in medical research. She took the workshop this year because she’s interested in the intersection of art and medicine as well as “the interplay of different modes of understanding the body.”

Wukoson

Sarah Wukoson’s 2017 in-class sketches and exercises.

Jim Doolley is a “life-long art lover who decided a couple years ago to take a stab at producing, not just consuming.” His focus is drawing and painting. He took this class to improve his draftsmanship.

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Jim Dooley’s 2017 homework.

Susan Shaw is an artist.  She says, “I took the class (last year) because I found I was thinking 2 dimensionally when I was drawing and the figures seemed to have no life… I now think about how the body functions when I draw and it makes gesture and weighting much easier.”

Shaw

Susan Shaw’s figure drawing since taking “Visualizing Anatomy” in 2016.

The variety of participants: artists, illustrators, cartoonists and enthusiastic beginners – all interested in anatomy and the Library’s historical collection make this workshop one of my favorites to teach.

This September 14-October 5, Kriota is offering an “Embroidering Medicine Workshop,” which will take place at the Academy.  This four-week workshop explores The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s historical collections, examining relationships between medicine, needlework, and gender. Learn more and register HERE.

 

The Original ‘App’: Paper Volvelles

By Emily Miranker, Events and Project Manager

Nowadays, “there’s an app for that” for nearly any question or need you might possibly have –not to mention needs you didn’t even know you had. What you might not realize is that apps –in the sense of a handheld device for manipulating data- are hundreds of years old.[1]

Meet the ancestor of your smartphone apps: the volvelle, sometimes called a wheel chart. It’s a (brilliantly) simple paper construction of moving parts; layers of rotating discs with information on them. Externalized, artificial data memory before the printing press, steam power, photography, electricity, ether anesthesia, radar, cars, the internet and wifi. Wow.

Gadgets for working with data are even older than paper volvelles. Think of the astrolabe, which had dials that measured the angle of the sun, allowing you to determine accurate time. Useful as an astrolabe was, it was very fine metalwork and, therefore, expensive. Paper devices were a more economical idea.

Two views of an astronomical volvelle from Federici Chrisogno’s De modo collegiandi pronosticandi et curandi febres (1528). Chrisogno was among the first to posit that the cause of tides was connected to the moon and the sun.[2] Note among the exquisite details the tiny human faces on the sun and moon orbs (in the edges of the top two discs) and the delicate astrological symbols (around the outer disc’s rim).

Like many scientific innovations, volvelles came to Europe from the Arabic world during the 11th and 12th centuries in medicinal and astronomical works.[3] One of the earliest extant volvelles was created by Ramon Llull from Majorca (modern day Spain) in his Ars Magna published in 1305. His volvelle, “The Night Sphere,” could be used to calculate the time at night by aligning the device with the pole star –exact times being important to him for knowing the most auspicious times to administer medicine.[4] Incidentally, the European adoption of this useful device is reflected in the name we have for it, volvelle, from the Latin volvere meaning “to turn.” The scope of information that volvelles depict is huge. Besides astronomy, subjects include: verb conjugations, color wheels, metric conversions, fortune-telling, first-aid techniques, and local seasonal foods (such as in the modern example below).

Local Foods Wheel

The Local Foods Wheel, New York Metro Area; 2015.

Some volvelle constructions can get very elaborate in form, like this unusual and entertaining piece in our collection, The Bodyscope (1948), by Ralph H. Segal and Theodore I. Segal, with illustrations by William Brown McNett. It is a color-lithographed, interactive anatomical chart designed for the educated lay public. When opened, the chart displays a male figure on the left and a female figure on the right, surrounded by skeletons and muscle men. Each of the large figures houses a volvelle that, when rotated, displays five different views of the internal organs. Additional cut-outs on the front and back of the chart also change as the volvelles move to display additional views of various body parts and systems.

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The Bodyscope (1948) by Ralph H. Segal and Theodore I. Segal, with illustrations by William Brown McNett.

Inspired by volvelles in our collections, we’ve gotten creative for the upcoming Museum Mile Festival, Tuesday June 13 from 6-9pm along Fifth Avenue. It’s a delightful cultural block party; seven museums are open for free, and there are special crafts and performances. An evening you won’t want to miss! Especially since we’ve created a DIY volvelle for festival goers to make for themselves.

Our volvelle feature male and female bodies created by the highly influential Dutch physician and anatomist, Andreas Vesalius, for De Humani Corpis Fabrica (1543). The Fabrica was groundbreaking not only for its artistry, but for its promotion of learning about human anatomy through dissection. Understanding of the human body had been dominated in the West since the third century by the work of the Greek anatomist Galen, who performed animal dissection. Vesalius’ work on cadavers revealed anatomical errors in Galen’s work and pushed medical knowledge forward.

Our DIY volvelles let you deepen your own anatomical knowledge by adding in human organs (from the well-known Gray’s Anatomy) and anatomy facts of your choice. See you at the Festival!

Acknowledgments:
Special thanks to Anne Garner for information on The Bodyscope, and the Library extends our gratitude to Harlem Artist & Craftsman for the generous donation of supplies for the Festival.

References:
[1] Adam Rothstein. The Original Mobile App was Made of Paper. Retrieved from https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/the-earliest-mobile-apps.
[2] Federico Bonelli, Lucio Russo. The Origin of Modern Astronomical Theories of Tides: Chrisogno, de Dominis and Their Sources. The British Journal for the History of Science. 1996; 29 (4): 385-401.
[3] David Kahn. On the Origin of Polyalphabetic Substitution. Isis. 1980, 71 (1): 122-127.
[4] Rheagan Martin. Decoding the Medieval volvelle. Retrieved from http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/decoding-the-medieval-volvelle/. Accessed March 14, 2017.

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Launched? Check! Library’s New Digital Collections & Exhibits Website

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital

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Content inventory complete? Check.

New and enhanced scans created?  Check.

Content migration complete? Check.

All collections uploaded to repository? Check.

All metadata confirmed? Check.

Backend infrastructure secured? Check.

Design complete?  Check.

Quality assurance complete? Check.

Sign-off? Check.

Then, we’re ready for take-off.

Let’s launch!

We are very excited to announce the launch of our new digital collections and exhibits website.

Starting in 2016, we began working with Islandora, an open-source framework that provides a robust infrastructure for digital collection development.  Our goal was to migrate old collections and develop new digital collections.  Islandora offered a solution that was extensible, easy to use, and built on a foundation that included a preservation-quality repository (Fedora), one of the most extensible content management systems (Drupal), and a fast search (Solr).   With this base, we set about designing the interface, migrating and developing collections, and working to build a digital collection website that would make it easy for the public to explore the amazing collections available at the Library.

You can find us at digitalcollections.nyam.org

The homepage of the website will be your guide to our collections.  There you will find a showcase of our treasures from rare medieval manuscripts to 19th century advertising cards.  From the homepage, you can access a collection by clicking on the image for that collection, search for particular terms using the search box on the right, and browse recently added collections just below the search.  As you explore a collection, you will find that some use the Internet Archive BookReader to provide the experience of turning the pages of a book, while others appear similar to image galleries.  Regardless of the collection design, you can learn more from the descriptive metadata below the object, zoom in on a specific area, and download a copy of the image.

William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards

The William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards was donated to the Library between 1986 and 1992 by Mr. Helfand, a leading collector of medical ephemera.  The collection includes approximately 300 colored cards produced in the United States and France in the mid-nineteenth century that advertised a variety of goods. For example, if you’d like a cure for your corns and bunions, then “Ask Your Druggist for Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve.”  Maybe you’d like a solution that will work for multiple ailments such as “Ayer’s Cathartic Pills: the Country Doctor.”   Whatever your ailment, chances are pretty good you will find something in this collection that offers a solution.

As part of the Library’s early digitization efforts and grant funding in the early 2000s, half of the collection was digitized.  This project digitized the rest of the collection.  For the first time, the complete collection, duplicates and all, is available to the public.  Researchers and the general public can explore these trade cards in new and novel ways to gain an understanding of the collection as a whole.

The majority of the metadata on the cards are hyperlinked so that users can easily find information.  For example, if you were interested in a particular manufacturer such as “D. Jayne and Son,” then you can click on that manufacturer’s name to find all the cards associated with that manufacturer.  Also, if you’re curious about all the cards with cats or dogs, then you can search the collection for “cats” to see how many cats appear on trade cards or “dogs” for the number of dogs in our collections.  Let us know how many cats or dogs you find!

Rare and Historical Collections

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The website includes a glimpse into our rare and historical collections material.   In one day, high-end photographer, Ardon Bar-Hama, courtesy of George Blumenthal, took photos of a subset of the Library’s treasures.  For example, if you’re interested in cookery, you can page through our Apicius manuscript with 500 Greek and Roman recipes from the 4th and 5th centuries.  Maybe you’re interested in Aristotle’s Masterpiece, or you just want to see the most beautiful anatomical images from Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani corporis Fabrica, or a skunk-cabbage (Symplocarpus Fœtida) hand-colored plate from William P. C. Barton’s Vegetable Materia Medica.  Whatever the interest, this collection offers a broad range of materials from the Library.

Launched? Check!

The History of Garlic: From Medicine to Marinara

Today’s guest post is written by Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine (Simon & Schuster, 2016). On Monday, June 5, Lohman will give her talk, “The History of Garlic: From Medicine to Marinara.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.

Ms. Amelia Simmons gave America its first cookbook in 1796; within her pamphlet filled with sweet and savory recipes, she makes this note about garlic: “Garlickes, tho’ used by the French, are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.” In her curt dismissal, she reflected a belief that was thousands of years old: garlic was best for medicine, not for eating. To add it to your dinner was considered the equivalent of serving a cough syrup soup.

There are records of ancient Greek doctors who prescribed garlic as a strengthening food, and bulbs were recovered from Egyptian pyramids. Garlic was being cultivated in China at least 4,000 years ago, and upper class Romans would never serve garlic for dinner; to them, it tasted like medicine.

In medieval Europe, garlic was considered food only for the humble and low.  While those that could afford it imported spices like black pepper from the Far East, lower classes used herbs they could grow. Garlic’s intense flavor helped peasants jazz up otherwise bland diets. It was made into dishes like aioli, originally a mixture of chopped garlic, bread crumbs, nuts and sometimes stewed meat. It was intended to be sopped up with bread, although it was occasionally served as a sauce to accompany meats in wealthier households.

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Garlic (Scientific name Allium Sativum) from Medical Botany (1790) by William Woodville.

The English, contrary to the stereotype about bland British cooking, seemed particularly enchanted by garlic. In the first known cooking document in English, a vellum scroll called The Form of Cury, a simple side dish is boiled bulbs of garlic. Food and medicine were closely intertwined in Medieval Europe, and garlic was served as a way to temper your humors. Humors were thought to be qualities of the body that affected on your health and personality. Garlic, which was thought be “hot and dry,” shouldn’t be consumed by someone who was quick to anger, but might succeed in pepping up a person who was too emotionally restrained. According to food historian Cathy Kaufman, a medieval feast might have a staggering amount of different dishes, all laid on the table at one time, so that different personality types could construct a meal that fit their humors.

Up through the 19th century, people also believed you got sick by inhaling bad air, called “miasmas.” Miasmas hang out by swamps, but also by sewage, or feet–I always imagined them as the puddles of mist that lie in the nooks between hills on dark country roads. Garlic can help you with miasmas, too. Ever see an image of plague doctors from Medieval Europe wearing masks with a long, bird-like beak? The beak was filled with odorous herbs, garlic likely among them, designed to combat miasmas.

In 18th-century France, a group of thieves may have been inspired by these plague masks. During an outbreak of the bubonic plague in Marseilles in 1726 (or 1655, stories deviate), a group of thieves were accused of robbing dead bodies and the houses of the deceased and ailing, without seeming to contract the disease themselves. Their lucky charms against the miasmas? They steeped garlic in vinegar, and soaked a cloth or a sponge in the liquid, then tied it like a surgical mask over their mouth and nose. In their minds, the strong smells would repel miasmas. This story is probably a legend, but I think there is some grain of truth to it: in modern studies, garlic has been shown to obfuscate some of the human smells that attract biting bugs. Since we now know bubonic plague was carried by fleas, it’s possible the thieves were repelling the insects. The plague is also a bacterial infection, and both vinegar and garlic are effective antimicrobials.

Garlic remained in the realm of medicine for most of the 19th century. Louis Pasteur first discovered that garlic was a powerful antimicrobial in 1858. In 1861, John Gunn assembled a medical book for use in the home, The New Domestic Physician, “with directions for using medicinal plants and the simplest and best new remedies.” Gunn recommends a poultice of roast garlic for ear infections:

“An excellent remedy for earache is as follows: Take three or four roasted garlics, and while hot mash, and add a tablespoonful of sweet oil and as much honey and laudanum; press out the juice, and drop of this into the ear, warm, occasionally.”

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Garlick from Botanologia: The English Herbal (1710) by William Salmon.

He also recommends garlic for clearing mucus from the lungs and reducing cough, given by the spoonful with honey and laudanum.  Gardening for the South: Or, How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits, an 1868 botanical guide, says the medicinal values of garlic include making you sweat, which,  like bloodletting, was believed to leach out disease; it will also make you urinate, and is an effective “worm destroyer,” for any intestinal hitchhikers you might have. By the late 19th century, scientists also used garlic to treat TB and injected it into the rectum to treat hemorrhoids.

Today, garlic is one of the most heavily used home remedies, and it is increasingly being studied in the medical field. Some of its historic uses have been proved as bunk–while others, like its efficacy as a topical antiseptic, hold up. But since the late 19th century, garlic has found an even more worthwhile home, thanks to French chefs and Italian immigrants, who spread their garlic heavy cuisine around the world, and made even garlic-reticent Americans a lover of this pungent plant.

Join us on Monday, June 5 to learn more about this topic.  Click HERE to register.