Time Tested Tips for Spring Cleaning

By Emily Miranker, Projects Manager

Ah, March. That time of year when our fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … spring cleaning!

Whether your style is to pare down to your most joyful possessions à la Marie Kondo, follow the flow charts of decluttering tips that abound online, or grab the latest Martha Stewart Living off the magazine rack: spring cleaning is upon us.

Once upon a time, when spring finally came around after the dark, cold of winter, families would literally pull  everything out of their house and scour the place from top to bottom. After a long winter of heat and light from candles, coal, and oil, the dust, soot, ash, and general grunge must have been oppressive.[1] Cleaning everything off heralded both a figurative and an actual “breath of fresh air,” since it was presumably safe and comfortable to once again open windows and the door without freezing.

Our collections are a trove of tips for daily (and healthful) living, and as I prepare to whip my own home back into shape I pulled out A Collection of Choise Receipts, a beautiful compendium of recipes and how-tos from the culinary and domestic to the medical from 17th century London. I needed to consult it to solve the dilemma of the patina of dinge on my wall art that snuck in through the cracks of the window A/C unit.

Happily, Choise Receipts has just the thing:

cleaning of pictures_watermaked

“Take the Picture out of the frame, lay it flat on the ground, sprincle [sic] it with water, then sift Wood ashes and strew it upon the Picture, then pour more water upon it, then with your hand rub it very well then wash it off.”

Scrubbing ash onto the picture may sound counterintuitive, but wait. Mixing water and wood ashes like this would yield a crude form of lye (mostly potassium carbonate). Lye combined with water and fat (animal or plant) is what makes soap; the key to cleanliness since soap breaks up the chemical bonds of dirt.[2] In fact, this recipe makes a good deal of sense for spring cleaning, since at the end of winter all that burning of wood to keep warm would have yielded plenty of wood ash to be repurposed into lye or soap.

Turning our attention from the walls to the doors, here’s a handy solution to troublesome locks and fixtures:

Cleaning brass locks_watermarked

“For the cleaning of brass locks. Rub them with v[i]n[e]gar and rotten stone.”

Mix vinegar –got that– and rottenstone –what now?! Since when do stones rot? Rottenstone (sometimes called tripoli) turns out to be a finely ground, porous rock. The stone is typically a mixture of limestone and silica.[3] Weathered and softened by the leeching away of its calcium carbonate makes the rock friable – crumbly. This crumbly tendency gives rise to its name, rotten—decomposing, breaking down—stone. It is used as a polishing abrasive for metal and woodworking. Think of it as pumice for for your locks and fixtures. Vinegar is called for in this solution probably because its acidity combats the tarnishing that occurs with time and exposure to air.

Are these old-timey recipes for cleaning really effective, really worthwhile? Here’s Choise’s author’s response to that:

Approved of_watermarked

“This receipt is approved of.”

[1] McNamee, G. “Spring Cleaning: Its History and Importance.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Blog,16 April 2008. Accessed 1/22/17.
[2] Living Naturally. “How to Use Wood Ashes in the Home and Garden.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 30 November 2017. Accessed 1/22/17.
[3] Wikipedia Contributors. “Rotten Stone.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 30 November 2017. Accessed 1/20/2017.

Saving the Race from Extinction: African Americans and National Negro Health Week

Today’s guest post is written by Paul Braff, a PhD candidate in American History at Temple University whose research focuses on African American history and public health during the twentieth century. On Tuesday, March 6, Paul will give The Iago Galdston Lecture: “Who Needs a Doctor?: The Challenge of National Negro Health Week to the Medical Establishment.” Click HERE to register for this event.

In 1896, Frederick Hoffman, a statistician for the Prudential Insurance Company of America, released his assessment of African American health. His Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro recommended against insuring the race and gave an emphatic confirmation of what Charles Darwin and other scientists and doctors had asserted for years: African Americans were going extinct.[1] Within the context of the burgeoning professionalization of the medical field, such a conclusion had the potential to omit African Americans from medical care, especially when combined with the preconceived racial differences of the time.


A common joke in the early twentieth century.[2]

For Booker T. Washington, this negative view of the future of his race and the idea that blacks could not understand basic health or improve their situation had the potential to undermine all attempts at racial uplift. As he put it, “Without health and until we reduce the high death-rate [of African Americans] it will be impossible for us to have permanent success in business, in property getting, in acquiring education, to show other evidences of progress.”[3] For Washington, health was the building block upon which everything, political rights, economic self-sufficiency, even citizenship, rested.

To fight this white perception of African American health, in 1915 Washington launched a public health campaign, “National Negro Health Week” (NNHW). The Week focused on both public and private displays of health, emphasizing hygiene as well as painting and whitewashing, the latter overt actions to demonstrate that African Americans could achieve “proper,” or white, standards of cleanliness and connect being clean with health improvement. Thus, the Week incorporated Washington’s racial uplift philosophy as NNHW extolled health and cleanliness values to blacks that aligned with those of whites in the hope of decreasing racial differences. This non-clinical definition of health, in which practicing proper hygiene and painting, not physician overseen checkups and vaccinations, made one healthy, allowed African Americans to understand their own health and empowered them to become leaders in their communities. The straightforward and inexpensive activities the Week suggested were easy to duplicate and rally the community behind. The connections made in organizing a Week could then be used for more extensive African American social and political activities. Although he died later that year, the campaign lived on for another 35 years and became part of Washington’s legacy.


“National Negro Health Week: 17th Annual Observance, Sunday, April 5, to Sunday, April 12, 1931,” USPHS, Washington, D.C., 1931, cover, Folder 2, Box 5, “National Negro Health Week Collection,” Tuskegee University Archives, Tuskegee, AL.

NNHW’s popularity attracted the interest of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), and when the Great Depression made the Week difficult to finance, the USPHS took it over in 1932. With the vast resources of the USPHS behind it, the Week grew into a massive campaign that had millions of participants in thousands of communities participate each year.


Susan L. Smith, Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women’s Health Activism in America, 1890-1950 (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 1995), 70.

However, such participation came with a price as the USPHS worked to redefine the Week’s definition of health. Under the USPHS, physicians were the ultimate arbiters of health and the focus changed from cleanups and whitewashing to vaccination and getting regular checkups from doctors and dentists. With the white medical establishment more centrally enthroned in the Week and the nascent Civil Rights Movement starting to take shape, African Americans called for an end to a Week based upon race.

National Negro Health Week illuminates the important role non-experts can play in defining personal health, and how those definitions can become internalized. Exploring the role of non-experts allows historians to examine the ways in which social constructions of health can be challenged, and the study of NNHW better positions scholars and public health officials to understand how race and health intersect today.

[1] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London, UK: John Murray, 1871). Reprint. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2004, 163; Frederick L. Hoffman, Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro (New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1896), 35; George Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1971), 236-237, 252-258.
[2] “An Important Work,” April 12, 1926, in “The Tuskegee Health Collection, 1926,” 853, Tuskegee University Archives, Tuskegee, AL (TA). See also “Negro Health Week Conference,” November 1, 1926, 1, Box 1 Folder 2, “National Negro Health Week Collection,” TA and Edwin R. Embree, “Negro Illness and the Nation’s Health,” Crisis, March 1929, 84, 97.
[3] Booker T. Washington, Gallery Proof, January 15, 1915, 827, “National Negro Health Week,” Reel 713, Booker T. Washington Collection, TA.

Diagnosing Love:  A Look at Classical Sources

By Anne Garner, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts


Frontispiece from Galeni librorum (1525)

In lyric from the 7th Century BCE, Sappho offers the famous description of the symptoms of lovesickness:

My heart beats (but my blood is gone)
At the sound of your sweet laugh.
I cannot look at you for long,
I cannot speak.

My tongue is wounded, and a light
Flame runs beneath my skin.
In my eyes there is no sight,
But my ears roar.

Dank sweat and trembling pass
Where my body was before.
I am greener than grass,
I am almost dying.

(Sappho fragment 2, translation by Willis Barnstone).[1]

For Sappho, love is an affliction, with all the attendant symptoms of a bad fever: Beset by cold sweat, drumming ears, and shaking, the speaker of Sappho’s poem has also gone green.  Her lines also allude to another physical response to falling  in love, one taken up by Galen, Hippocrates, and other classical writers interested in clinical observation and diagnosis. Sappho’s description of the heart, with fire pulsing under the skin, suggests that love may also cause a spike in pulse rate.

Texts from Greek and Roman medical authorities support the idea that an increase in pulse rate might signal an unrequited love.  Both men and women were susceptible to physical illness as a consequence of desire in stories told by Appian, Plutarch, Valerius Maximus, Galen, and others; later sources in the early modern period, especially Dutch genre paintings like those of Jan Steen (see below), often argue that the malady is largely a female ailment.


Jan Steen’s The Doctor’s Visit (c.1663). Taft Museum of Art (Cincinnati, Ohio).

Many of the earliest Greek prose accounts in classical writing date much later than Sappho.  Lovesickness is not mentioned at all in the core Hippocratic corpus, comprised of approximately seventy collected works by multiple authors in Ionic Greek.  And yet, the Greek physician and writer Soranus (fl. 1st / 2nd century CE) tells a story about the physician Hippocrates of Kos, born around 460 BCE. When Hippocrates visits the sick and lethargic king Perdiccas of Macedonia, he notices that his pulse increases each time Phyle, the wife of Perdicca’s deceased father, is near.  His health improves remarkably once Phyle establishes herself at his bedside (and, we are to infer, in his bed).[2]

The Roman physician Galen (130–210) relates the case of the wife of one Justus, kept awake at night by an ailment that she is reluctant to discuss.  After examining and questioning her, Galen suspects her to suffer from melancholy.  But when a visitor to the woman’s sick bed mentions he’s just seen a performance by the dancer Pylades, Galen writes that the woman’s “facial expression changed, and observing this and putting my hand on her wrist, I found that her pulse had suddenly become irregular in several ways, which indicates that the mind is disturbed.” Galen recounts that when other dancers are mentioned the woman’s pulse remained unchanged.  Pylades, Galen concludes, and her love for him, are at the heart of her illness.[3]

Galen also discusses the case of one Prince Antiochos, the son of the king of Syria (ca. 294 BCE).  Antiochos’ story appears in Appian’s Syrian Wars. King Seleucus the Conqueror, sick with worry over Antiochos’ sudden illness, brings the great physician Erasistratus to his son’s bedside. Erasistratus examines him, but can’t find any signs of disease.  When he questions him, Antiochos is close-lipped.  Erasistratus stations himself near the young man’s bed, and watches his physical symptoms when people enter and leave the room.  As Appian describes it:

He found that when others came the patient was all the time weakening and wasting away at a uniform pace, but when Stratonice [his stepmother] came to visit him his mind was greatly agitated by the struggles of modesty and conscience, and he remained silent. But his body in spite of himself became more vigorous and lively, and when she went away he became weaker again.

Erasistratus persuades the king to give Stratonice to Antiochus to marry, the only possible solution for his incurable disease.[4]


Frontispiece of Ovid’s The Art of Love (1931).

All of these fallen hearts in the writings of Galen and others beg the question: how to treat a lovesick patient? The answer varied, depending on the source. The physicians in stories by Soranus and Galen conclude that relief could be found only in consummation of the relationship.  For others, the answer was more complicated. Ovid, who wrote more than a hundred years before Galen, is emphatic about the necessity of ridding oneself of desire. In his Remedia Amoris (“Remedy of Love”), a poem enumerating the cures for lovesickness, he writes:

I believe in drastic treatments only, for there can be no cure without pain. When you are ill, they deny you all the good things you crave and feed you nothing but bitter physic, and yet you suffer it willingly enough to save the health of your body. You must submit to the same treatment to save your mind, for it certainly is as precious.[5]

So what course does Ovid prescribe?  Ovid seconds Galen’s conclusion that sex with the desired person is a good idea, but makes the suggestion that the desired should be positioned in the most unflattering light possible.  If that doesn’t work, he advises the sufferer to avoid poetry (except presumably, his own), and move to the country.


Philip Ayre’s Emblemata amatoria (c.1690)

[1] Sappho & Barnstone, W. Poems. Los Angeles: Green Integer, 1999.
[2] Jody Rubin Pinault. Hippocratic Lives and Legends. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992; Michael Stolberg. Uroscopy in Early Modern Europe. Surrey: Ashgate, 2015.
[3] Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, V, 8, 1.  Accessed online February 7, 2018. pp.101-103.
[4] Horace White and Appian, Syrian Wars. New York: Macmillan, 1899.
[5] Ovid and Charles D. Young.  “Remedy of Love.” In The Art of Love. New York: Horace Liveright, c 1931.

What Lies Beneath… #ColorOurCollections 2018


The third annual #ColorOurCollections week has officially begun! From February 5th through 9th, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions are showcasing their collections in the form of free coloring sheets. Follow #ColorOurCollections on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms to join in on the fun. Be sure to visit the #ColorOurCollections website for free, downloadable coloring books created for the campaign.

Our 2018 coloring book was inspired by the depths of the sea…as documented in four of our favorite early modern natural histories.

The Alsatian humanist Conrad Lycosthenes’ (1518-1561) sixteenth-century book on signs and marvels includes our cover image, featuring a choppy sea full of terrifying lobsters, scaly serpents, and a retinue of bizarre fish with lolling tongues and vicious fangs.  We’re not exactly dreaming of being airdropped into the water with this motley crew of creatures, but we do think they’ll be awfully fun to color.


Source: Lykosthenes, Konrad. Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon… (1557)

The Historia Animalium, a five-volume, 4500 page diversionary project for the prolific and energetic Swiss bibliographer Conrad Gesner (1516-1565), was published in Zurich between 1551-1558.  Gesner’s volume four, devoted to sea life, includes ethereal cephalopods, a conniving crab, and fish of all sorts, including bishop fish and other strange hybrid forms.


Source: Gesner, Conrad. Fischbuch (1575)

The work of the Italian physician Ulysse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) remains one of our favorite sources for coloring images. Aldrovandi maintained a museum of specimens, and published his findings and those of others in a thirteen volume work on natural history.  More on Aldrovandi’s life can be found here (and don’t miss his adorable giraffe, swoon!)


Source: Aldrovandi, Ulisse. De piscibus libri V et De cetis lib…(1613)

Finally, a contribution from the Jesuit Filippo Bonanni (1638-`1735), once a student of Athanasius Kircher and later curator of Kircher’s museum collection at the Collegio Romano. Our 1709 edition of Bonanni’s catalog of the Collegio Romano is bound with Bonanni’s important work on conchology, the earliest printed book on seashells.

buonanni_musaeumkircherianum_1709 2_watermark

Source: Buonanni, Filippo. Musæum Kircherianum (1709)

Intrigued by the mysteries of the deep? Download, print and color our coloring book!

New York Academy of Medicine_ColorOurCollections_2018

Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature: Medical Botany

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital and Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian
Cross-posted at The Biodiversity Heritage Library blog.

The New York Academy of Medicine Library has contributed nine digitized titles (11 volumes) on medical botany to the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) as part of the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project.   It is very exciting to share some of the Academy Library’s botanical resources with the wider public.

While the Library’s collections include a large number of printed botanical books dating back to the beginning of the sixteenth century, for this project we were interested in identifying resources that could be sent to the Internet Archive for external digitization, which meant that we concentrated on our holdings from the second half of the 19th century forward through 1922.  After generating lists from our online catalog, we checked to see if any of these resources had already been digitized by the BHL, Internet Archive, or HathiTrust.  For this process, we developed a set of simple guidelines.

  • Resources not available via BHL, Internet Archive or HathiTrust remained on the list.
  • Resources already available via the BHL were eliminated from the list.
  • Resources already available via the Internet Archive were eliminated from the list because BHL harvests content from the Internet Archive, so there would be no need for us to digitize that content.
  • Resources already available via HathiTrust could still potentially be digitized for access via the BHL based on whether our copy provides additional information for the public once digitized. For example, the Indian Medicinal Plants (Kīrtikara & Basu, 1918) has been partially digitized by HathiTrust, but the volume with the images was missing. As such, it became important for us to digitize so that it would be fully available.

We went through multiple lists and rounds of de-duplication to narrow down our potential submission.  Once we finalized the list, Scott Devine, Head of Preservation, conducted a conservation assessment to determine which resources could be sent out for digitization and which were so fragile that they could only be digitized in house.  We separated these into two lists.  The first list was sent to the Internet Archive for digitization and is our contribution to BHL.   The second list will be a project for our new digital lab and we hope to make them available at a future date.


Indian Medicinal Plants (1918), plate #256 showing Leea Sambucina.

The Indian medicinal plants (Kīrtikara & Basu, 1918) stood out as a resource to digitize and share widely.  It documents the medicinal plants found in India.  The authors describe a need to provide a text that reproduces illustrations of Indian medicinal plants from other works since there were few prior to this publication.  Dr. W. Roxburgh’s text, reprinted in 1874, was used as a reference throughout.

Although Indian medicinal plants did not focus on the use of plants in the development of drugs, this theme can be seen throughout the resources submitted to the BHL. Each author grapples with the role of plants in the creation and production of drugs.


A course in botany and pharmacognosy (1902), plate #1 showing organized cell-contents.

In A course in botany and pharmacognosy (1902), Henry Kraemer, Professor of Botany and Pharmacognosy, defines pharmacognosy as the “study of drugs of vegetable origins.” Kraemer devotes the first part of his text to plant morphology and the second part to pharmacognosy.  In addition, he provides illustrations to aid in the study of both parts so that students can connect the descriptions throughout the text to the visual representations.


Pharmaceutical Botany (1918), fig 57 showing leaf bases, species and compound leaves.

Youngken’s Pharmaceutical botany, 2nd edition (1918) was expanded to take advantage of the growing area of botany, including a section on drug-yielding plants.  The text focuses on the morphology and taxonomy of plants used in drug development.

In Pharmacal plants and their culture (1912), Schneider argues that the majority of imported plants used in medicine could already be available in the United States.  He focuses on California and outlines what can be cultivated and grown in the state.  Schneider provides a list of uses and common names.

The medicinal plants of Tennnessee (1894) is an observational inventory of Tennessee’s plants and their descriptions based on a similar project conducted by North Carolina.  Published by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the report emphasizes the importance of documenting and understanding the native plants of Tennessee and how they can help increase usage and revenue.

Overall, readers of this collection can begin to understand the role of plants in the creation, development and economic viability of drugs.  Many of the resources provide some form of inventory, index or list that documents the plants and associated drugs.

All titles submitted by the Academy Library to BHL:

The BHL Expanding Access project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Looking back on 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, it’s customary to look back at the year that was. For us at the Academy Library, that means reflecting on our many exciting events and achievements. As you enjoy this look back at the past year through the eyes of our staff, please consider supporting the Academy Library. 

Your generous donation will help ensure the ongoing vitality of the Library and its collections. Donations help underwrite the Library’s public programs and outreach activities; the acquisition, conservation, and cataloging of remarkable historical materials; and digitization of our key Library treasures.




DrMiller_watermark_TwitterI will always be awed by the items that are discovered in our vast collections; it is almost as if they are waiting for the right opportunity to reveal themselves. My favorite example of this was when our volunteer, Dr. Sanford Miller, came across what he thinks is a picture of himself on the cover of The Story of Anesthesia by the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Dr. Miller, an Anesthesiologist, has been volunteering for the Academy Library for two and a half years and has helped in the processing of thousands of pamphlets. Allison Piazza, Reference Services and Outreach Librarian

ketham_fasciculomedicina_4_1495_watermarkFor me, one of the highlights this year was my participation in the “Making the book” project (supported by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation). My job was to review catalog records for all Johannes de Ketham editions of Fasciculus medicine (an influential medical text) and make necessary changes for increased findability. The most interesting part of this process was a detailed examination of text and plates for each of our five editions and making copy-specific notes. As a result of this work, six original records were created: five for the Ketham’s (1495, 1500, 1509, 1513 and 1522) editions and one for Savonarola’s Practica medicinae (1497), which is bound with Fasciculus medicine, 1500. Tatyana Pakhladzhyan, Rare Book Cataloger


ponds_bitters_watermark My favorite project this year was working with the library’s collections of 19th- and early 20th-century medical trade cards to select cards for a Valentine’s Day blog post. Our William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards is available via our new Library Digital Collections and Exhibits website, and we are working on describing and organizing the Bingham Patent Medicine Collection, a recent bequest of approximately 4,900 trade cards from the estate of Walker Bingham. The images in these cards are delightful, even if the medicines they advertise are of dubious efficacy. Becky Filner, Head of Cataloging

NYAM_44_previewMy favorite event this year was Acquisitions Night on September 26. It was great on a number of levels: seeing the wonderful books that we had acquired in the course of the year, watching as Anne Garner (Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts) and Arlene Shaner (Historical Collections Librarian) explained the finer points of the items, seeing the wonderful reaction that it evoked in our guests, and listening to Scott Devine (Head of Preservation) present on a book he had conserved, bringing out the physical aspect of the book that we often don’t pay enough attention. Paul Theerman, Associate Director

I look forward every year to the evening class we host in the Rare Book Room for “The Pulse of Art,” a class on the intersection between art and medicine.  This class, co-taught by the dynamic duo of the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller (MD and PhD in Art History, respectively), meets one evening in the late Fall to talk visual representations of anatomy.  For an hour and a half, we pour over illustrations by the likes of Durer, Vesalius, Gautier d’Agoty and Bernard Albinus.  Arlene and I do this together, and inevitably we learn new things about our own collections from the Collers, whose deep knowledge of the history of medicine, illustration processes and art history always make it an unforgettable evening.  The energy in the room is electric!  Anne Garner, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts

AABAfter nearly two years of hard work, we launched the Adopt-A-Book program this October. Preparing the adoption of our rare books, secondary sources, and the iconic card catalog gave me all kinds of insights into our collections. I am both thankful and ecstatic that we’ve already had some adoptions. These precious books have become so special to me; it’s great to know other people out there feel the same way. Emily Miranker, Events and Projects Manager


Among many enclosures I have made so far this year, the boxes for our collection of 17th-century anatomical manikins are the most memorable. I cut and built up Ethafoams and Volara foams so that the trays of manikins would fit perfectly in the boxes. It was challenging, but there was a lot of learning and discussion with other conservation and library staff in the process. Check out our blog post about the manikins and the rehousing! –Yungjin Shin, Collections Care Assistant


indianmedicinalp00krti_0380_watermarkThis year I am excited about exploring the three- volume set of Indian Medicinal Plants by Kānhobā Raṇachoḍadāsa Kīrtikara (1849-1917). The plates caught my attention, propelling my desire to digitize it.  As part of our collaboration with the Biodiversity Heritage Library, we digitized all three volumes and made them available to the public. Digitization can take time, but taking an object off the shelf, digitizing it and making it available to the public is always amazing! –Robin Naughton, Head of Digitial




From all of us at the Academy Library, Happy New Year!


Embroidering Medicine, Re-imagining Embroidery

Today’s guest post is written by Kriota Willberg, New York Academy of Medicine’s Artist-in-Residence researching the history of sutures and ligatures.  Through graphic narratives, teaching, and needlework, Kriota explores the intersection between body sciences and creative practice. This past September, Kriota taught a four-week workshop entitled “Embroidering Medicine,” which explored the relationships between medicine, needlework, and gender.

Historically, needlework has been used to enforce stereotypes of women as docile, obedient, and incapable of creative or original thought.  Embroidery as a skill and a decorative medium was a required part of a woman’s education for centuries.  Across different periods of time, embroidery techniques (stump work, black work, etc.) and themes (religious, botany, etc.) in vogue provided only very narrow focus for creative outlets for women.  From the 16th century onwards, embroidery publications encouraged the use of pre-drawn patterns.  Images generally included geometric stitch motifs, flowers, plants, and animals. Many women, including Mary Queen of Scots translated images from books such as the Icones Animalium (1560) and La Nature et Diversité des Poissoins (1555).[1]


Workshop participants discuss their work.

The cultural pressure to recreate existing patterns and images has been the basis of the argument that a craft such as embroidery is inherently unoriginal. In the 16th century and later, many people considered women incapable of original creative thought, proved by the adherence of women to unimaginative media such as embroidery.

As the Academy’s Artist-in-Residence, I wanted to facilitate an embroidery workshop that connected the histories of women, medicine, and embroidery. In my own work I have done this by looking at the broad scope of health and medical literature available at the Academy Library, exploring feminist histories of medicine and of needlework, and using drawing and needlework to identify and describe intersections of medical and textile arts. In the workshop I encouraged participants to re-imagine the tradition of embroidery pattern translation by using historical medical imagery mostly created by male artists.


Dental anatomy after an image by John Hunter by Stephanie Russell.

The workshop was a great way to explore history on one’s own terms. Cultural forces limiting women’s economic and artistic independence have been at work for centuries in Europe and the United States. The establishment and regulation of craft and medical guilds in Medieval Europe began the limitation of women from the professional practices of medicine and needlework.[2] While working with materials from the historical collection, the status of women as medical professionals during different periods was a topic of conversation as we stitched our embroidery.


An embroidery in progress by Abby Tannenbaum, stitched from an image in the Hortus Sanitatis.

Our group (coincidentally all women) explored the library images, learned about the history of medicine, examined books about home economics and sciences, found images to work with that were interesting or personally relevant, explored historical descriptions of medical needlework (i.e. suturing the body), and practiced embroidery stitches. The products of this workshop embody the stitcher’s process and creative experimentation combining the history of medicine with the histories of feminism and the decorative art of embroidery.


Kriota Willberg (third from left) and embroidery participants in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.

There is a lot of creativity that can go in to re-imagining a pre-existing image. In addition to working with line, filling, and color, embroidery can add texture and depth through its use of various types of threads and yarns. The embroiderer studies the image she is recreating. Is it educational? Entertaining? Are certain anatomical structures or pathological states emphasized? The embroiderer interprets the original artist’s intentions, determines her own interests in the image, and re-works the image using color, texture, stitch variety, and fabric, to create a new work. To practice basic stitches, an embroiderer might choose to follow an original pattern closely or experiment and make “mistakes,” as one might when drawing in a sketchbook.


Anatomized genitalia from an anatomy book by Adriaan van de Spiegel (aka Spiegalius) and Giulio Cesare Casseri (aka Casserius) published in the 17th century. Stitched by Susan Shaw.

Embroidery is becoming a popular medium again and still provokes associations with hominess and winsome imagery. I was delighted to see workshop embroiderers re-imaging pictures of dental anatomy and dissected genitalia into images that are simultaneously comforting and disturbing. The embroiderers in this workshop are taking needlework in new and exciting directions!

[1] Swain, Margaret. The Needlework or Mary Queen of Scots. New York, London: Man Nostrand Reinhold Company, Inc., 1973.
[2] I recommend reading The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker and Women and the Practice of Medical Care in Early Modern Europe, 1400-1800 by Leigh Ann Whaley. Reading these books simultaneously has been a revelatory experience!

Winter/Spring 2018 Upcoming Events

As 2017 winds down, we turn our attention to 2018 and the rich programming we have in store this winter and spring. As always, we look forward to seeing you at many of our events as we explore the cultural, historical, and political context of health and medicine.

chin-jou-2017.jpgWe kick off our winter/spring programming on January 24 with “The Obesity Epidemic and Fast Food Marketing to African Americans” with speaker, Chin Jou. This sure-to-be-fascinating talk will look at how fast food companies have aggressively marketed to African Americans since the early 1970s.

Mike Kelly

How can a book-historical approach to the history of race in America help us to navigate the fraught landscape of race in the early 21st century? Join us on January 27 for “The Moon, Indian Medicine, and Scientific Racism” with speaker Michael Kelly, as he examines how nineteenth-century publications can help us explore the bibliography of race in America.

james-delbourgo-headshot.jpgLondon’s British Museum was the first free national public museum in the world. How did it come into being? Find out on January 31 when our speaker, James Delbourgo, discusses “The Origins of Public Museums: Hans Sloane’s Collections and the Creation of the British Museum.” The little-known life of the British Museum founder, Sir Hans Sloane, provides a new story about the beginnings of public museums through their origins in imperialism and slavery.


February 5-9 is Color Our Collections Week! Begun by the Academy Library in 2016, Color Our Collections Week brings you free coloring sheets based on materials in our Library as well as other cultural institutions from around the world. Users are invited to download and print the coloring sheets via the website www.colorourcollections.org and share their filled-in images with hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

Nina Berman headshotJoin author and documentary photographer, Nina Berman, on February 21 for Navigating Care for the Most Vulnerable. Berman will take us through the healthcare system’s cracks through the photographic story of one woman’s travails with drug abuse, homelessness, and mental illness for thirty years, revealing an intimate encounter with health care in the U.K. and the U.S.

paul-braff-e1512763884522.jpgDuring the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many white people believed that African Americans were inherently ill. To challenge this, Booker T. Washington launched a public health campaign in 1915: National Negro Health Week. On March 6, speaker Paul Braff will give the Iago Galdston Lecture on “Who Needs a Doctor?: The Challenge of National Negro Health Week to the Medical Establishment,” which will examine the changes in, and challenges to, medical authority and public health in African American communities the Week caused.

Daniel Margocsy headshotIn the past five hundred years, copies of Andreas Vesalius’ Fabrica travelled across the globe, and readers studied, annotated and critiqued its contents in different ways from its publication in 1543 to 2017. On April 24, Daniel Margócsy will give the Annual Friends of the Rare Book Room Lecture, “Reading Vesalius Across the Ages,” which will discuss the book’s complex reception history, show how physicians, artists, theologians and collectors filled its pages with copious annotations, and offer an interpretation of how this atlas of anatomy became one of the most coveted rare books for 21st-century collectors.     

Randi Esptein headshotFinally, on June 28, Academy Fellow and author Randi Hutter Epstein will give the talk AROUSED: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About EverythingHormones have a fascinating history replete with medical sleuths, desperate patients, and swindlers. Dr. Epstein will separate the hype from the hope in hormonal discoveries and mishaps, past and present.

Check back here for special guest posts by some of our speakers in the coming months!

Red Medicine: The West Looks at the Soviet Experiment in the 1930s

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

Last month marked the 100th anniversary of the Great October Revolution, whereby the Bolsheviks in Petrograd overthrew the Russian government and took power.[1] Immediately after, the Revolution’s leader, Vladimir Lenin, consolidated his rule by suppressing competing political parties; withdrawing Russia from World War I; and fighting a bitter Civil War. By the early 1920s, the country had obtained a modicum of peace, albeit isolated from the rest of the world. Through wars and purges, technological advance and political suppression, the Bolsheviks, renamed the Communist Party, held control in Russia for almost 75 years.

In a Hospital Waiting Room, Moscow

Margaret Bourke White, “In a Hospital Waiting Room, Moscow,” 1932. Red Medicine, endpaper.

Lenin was aware of Russia’s backwardness compared with the West. He saw Communist rule as a way to make up for that deficiency. His oft-cited definition of communism made this belief explicit: “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” Soviet power meant political rule that flowed from ostensibly democratic workers’ councils (the Russian word for “council” is “soviet”), with the aim of basing governance in the working class; electrification meant providing the latest means of technological development. Soviet rule and technological development, together, would enable the country to leap-frog its capitalist neighbors and become the vanguard for humanity’s future development, both social and economic.

The socialist left hoped this vision would be realized. Early accounts were enthusiastic—sympathetic American journalist Lincoln Steffens gushed in 1919: “I have seen the future, and it works!”

By the 1930s, as the United States and Europe slid into the Great Depression, Soviet Russia was held out as a more workable and more equitable society than those in the West. In the field of medicine and public health, two observers set out to see if that were true. Sir Arthur Newsholme (1857–1943), and John Adams Kingsbury (1876–1956), a Briton and an American, traveled through the Soviet Union in August and September 1932.[2] Their account was published the following year as Red Medicine: Socialized Health in Soviet Russia.[3]

Itinerary of the authors

“Itinerary of the authors, who traveled 9,000 miles within Soviet Russia.” Red Medicine, p. 19.

Newsholme and Kingsbury travelled over 9,000 miles throughout the Soviet Union. Entering Russia from Poland, the two traveled to Moscow, took a trip up to Leningrad and back, and then headed east to Kazan, south to Samara and Stalingrad, and jogged back to Rostov-on-Don before journeying to Tiflis (Tbilisi) in Soviet Georgia. They traveled back to Moscow by way of Sochi, Sevastopol (in Crimea), and Kharkov in Ukraine, and from Moscow, they returned to Poland. Their book chronicled their trip with an overlay of commentary. It was in part a look at Soviet institutions, such as residential and non-residential treatment, physician training, maternity care, and tuberculosis sanitaria. Beyond this, the authors provided social and political observations on life in the Soviet Union, with chapters on “The Background of Russian Life,” “Stages in the Introduction of Communism,” “Women in Soviet Russia,” and “Religious and Civil Liberty and Law.”

Though clear-eyed about the authoritarian nature of the Soviet government, Newsholme (the acknowledged author of most of the work) nonetheless focused on one question:

Does the Soviet organization—including all that is implied in the unification of financial responsibilities and control of the entire resources of the country—assist to an exceptional extent a complete medical and hygienic service for the entire community? To this question we can at once give a definitely affirmative answer. [4]

Though the “civilized countries” had variously tended toward socialized medicine, he thought that the U.S.S.R. had surpassed them all, both in delivery of health care and in prevention, in social services as well as medicine more narrowly defined. As one reviewer of Red Medicine understood Newsholme’s claim:

“[In the] organization and practice of medicine . . . the present government has made truly great progress, and seems to have only fairly gotten under way. The authors clearly perceive that Russia has laid a more adequate basis for up-to-date public health than any western nation; also, that we have arrived at a stage of cultural development when medical services must be provided on a sound basis for all, regardless of ability to pay.”[5]

Traveling dental station

Soviet Photo Agency, “Traveling dental station in rural district near Moscow,” [1932]. Red Medicine, p. 223.

This level of public support was seen as the inevitable goal of social development, so much so that, as Newsholme put it, “Even if the Communist experiment fails, Russian government cannot be expected to revert entirely to capitalist conditions.”

Did the Soviet experiment work? The new system of medicine and public health was initially very successful in dealing with infectious disease and extending care more widely through the country. Nonetheless, as Newsholme had envisioned, the initial impetus could not be sustained. Fifty years after Red Medicine, the system was broken; while citizens could usually get access to health care, quality lagged. After the collapse of the Soviet system in 1989–91, the new Russian government attempted reform and adopted a mixed public-private economic model, mandating compulsory health insurance while continuing a guaranteed right to free care. Fifteen years on, though, an OECD report concluded that “Russia continues to struggle with a health and mortality crisis.”[6] One could fairly state that our country faces such as crisis today as well, and in both cases, the resolution is yet to come.

A note: Red Medicine includes several photographs by noted photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, taken during her own 1932 trip to the Soviet Union, and provided freely to the authors for their use.[7]

[1] Yes, it took place in November! In 1917, Russia still used the Julian calendar, according to which the day of the Bolshevik coup was October 25. The rest of the West, using the Gregorian calendar, called that day November 7. Most of Catholic Europe had switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1582, with the Protestant countries adopting it in the 17th century and the British domains in 1752. Russia made the change in early 1918, one of the last countries in Europe to do so.

[2] Newsholme was an eminent British public servant and advocate of state intervention in public health, while Kingsbury, a Fellow of The New York Academy of Medicine, was formerly Commissioner of Public Charities for New York City, and at that time, Executive Director of the Milbank Fund, a foundation supporting research in health policy.

See “Sir Arthur Newsholme, K.C.B., M.D. (LOND.), F.R.C.P.,” American Journal of Public Health 33(8) (August 1943): 992–94; John M. Eyler, Sir Arthur Newsholme and State Medicine, 1885–1935, Cambridge History of Medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Arnold S. Rosenberg, “The Rise of John Adams Kingsbury,” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 63(2) (April 1972): 55–62; “Biographical Note,” The John Adams Kingsbury Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, accessed November 7, 2017.

[3] Sir Arthur Newsholme and John Adams Kingsbury, Red Medicine: Socialized Health in Soviet Russia (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1933). Note that, despite the title, the work was about more than Soviet Russia. The two men’s travels took them to the Georgian and Ukrainian Soviet Republics as well.

This work was conceived as in some ways completing Newsholme’s previous three-volume survey of medical practice in Europe, which he undertook with the support of the Milbank Foundation: Medicine and the State: The Relation between the Private and Official Practice of Medicine, with Special Reference to Public Health. London, Baltimore: George Allen and Unwin, Williams and Wilkins; 1932. The Academy Library holds the third volume.

[4] Newsholme and Kingsbury, Red Medicine, “Concluding Observations” (for this and subsequent statements).

[5] Frank H. Hankins, “[Review of] Red Medicine: Socialized Health in Soviet Russia. By Sir Arthur Newsholme and John Adams Kingsbury,” Social Forces 14 (1) (1 October 1935), 155–56, accessed November 7, 2017. Hankins (1877–1970) was a prominent American sociologist.

[6] William Tompson, “Healthcare Reform in Russia: Problems and Prospects,” Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Economics Department Working Papers, No. 538 (Paris, January 15, 2007), 5.

[7] Gary D. Saretzky, catalog for “Margaret Bourke-White in Print: An Exhibition at Archibald S. Alexander Library, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, January–June 2006,” item 23, Red Medicine, accessed November 7, 2017.

10 Gifts for the [Anyone] in Your Life

By Emily Miranker, Project Manager

How do you choose the perfect gift to symbolize the relationship you have with another person? Daunting task; no wonder the holidays get stressful!

Never fear, the images from our library’s collections offers up scores of ways to express any sentiment. Find some new products and old favorites below. As our gift to you, use code ZTHANKS15OFF for 15% off at check out.

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  1. We’re a Library, so we have to encourage getting wrapped up in a good book. In this case, a cozy blanket showing a beautiful illuminated manuscript from the sixteenth-century.

Book Blanket

  1. Warm people from the inside too with coffee or tea in this china mug with a caduceus. In the late 19th century the caduceus began to be widely accepted as a symbol of medicine. Perfect for the surgeons, nurses, doctors, and all the healers in your life.

Caduceus mug

  1. A thing of beauty, a tool of healing, a feat of design: the stethoscope –stocking stuffer sized!

Stethoscope bookmark

    1. Brilliant thoughts deserve an extraordinary notebook. The thinking skeleton on this journal has been brainstorming since he was first printed by woodcut in the 16th century.

Thinking skeleton notebook

  1. Our botanical images adorn items from stationery to home goods. These engravings, illuminations, and woodcuts from our herbals, encyclopedias and recipe books reveal the age-old human fascination and affection for plants as things of beauty, medicine and meaning.

Clove pillow

  1. Librarians never judge a book by their cover; but we definitely judge a present by its packaging.

Amarylis gift tag

  1. Send warm wishes to loved ones on chilly winter days. This stunning card of plants from 17th-century botanist, astrologer and physician Nicholas Culpeper is just one of hundreds of cards and stamps in our stationery collection.

Culpeper card

  1. Only prize winning cats are fit to tote your belongings around! These feline beauties come from a pet project of British Naval doctor, W. Gordon Stables, a guide to keeping cats.

Longhaired black cat tote

  1. Our sunflower earrings from the longest running botanical magazine – Curtis’ Botanical Magazine, in publication since 1787- brighten the dreariest day.

sunflower earrings

  1. The iconic Brooklyn Bridge is always a stylish choice.

Brooklyn bridge pencil case

Grand finale: for that impossible-to-shop-for-person adopt a book from our collections in their honor. With your donation, you or an honoree of your choice become a permanent part of a book’s story through a beautiful bookplate inserted into the book. Alternately, adopt a card catalog drawer, that iconic symbol of libraries, learning and love of reading.

Bookplate -YourName

All adoptions are fully tax deductible and all Library Shop sale proceeds support the growth and care of the collection; for which we are very grateful to you and all our supporters.

Happy Holidays!