Happy Preservation Week!

By Emily Moyer, Collections Care Assistant, Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory

PreservationWeek2015_logoSponsored by the American Library Association’s Association of Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS), Preservation Week aims to raise awareness of the importance of preservation and education in providing collections for future generations.

Every week is preservation week in the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory at The New York Academy of Medicine. Preservation efforts include cleaning, stabilization, and rehousing; monitoring environmental conditions; education on the care and handling of materials; item-level treatments; and disaster preparedness. We work together to try to prevent future deterioration of materials and mitigate risks to the collection.

This behind-the-scenes video shows a day in the conservation lab here at the Academy: creating slings for our 60,000+ health pamphlet collection, shrink wrapping brittle periodicals and books, mounting facsimile images for an exhibition, refoldering and dry cleaning pamphlets, mending a manuscript cookbook, and rebacking a 19th-century medical student notebook.

Happy Preservation Week!


The Dragons of Aldrovandi

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

It’s St. George’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than with dragons?

Title page of Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo, 1640.

Title page of Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo, 1640. Click to enlarge.

Perhaps the most famous illustrations of dragons in our collection come from Ulisse Aldrovandi’s posthumous Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo (The History of Serpents and Dragons), 1640.

Aldrovandi (1522–1605) was a physician and naturalist from a noble family in Bologna. He received a medical degree from Padua in 1553, and became a full professor at the University of Bologna in 1561.1 Pope Gregory XIII, his cousin, supported his career, appointing him as inspector of drugs and pharmacies and offering monetary aid for his many natural history works, only four of which were published during his lifetime.1,2

Aldrovandi maintained a museum of biological specimens, supervised by Bartolomeo Ambrosini, who shepherded Serpentum et draconum to publication after Aldrovandi’s death.2 The book offers descriptions and engravings of snakes, along with more legendary creatures, some drawn from descriptions given by merchants, others debunking the practice of stitching together animal parts to create “monsters.”3,4 Aldrovandi even claimed to have a dragon in his museum, collected in Bologna in 1572 at the bequest of his cousin, the pope.2

Enjoy the dragons! Click on an image to view the gallery.


1. Ulisse Aldrovandi: Italian Naturalist. Encycl Br. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/13659/Ulisse-Aldrovandi. Accessed April 23, 2015.

2. Findlen P. Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press; 1996. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=MdytpHTVf1gC&pgis=1. Accessed April 23, 2015.

3. An “Ethiopian dragon” | Royal Society Picture Library. Available at: https://pictures.royalsociety.org/image-rs-10449. Accessed April 23, 2015.

4. A “dragon” made from fish parts | Royal Society Picture Library. Available at: https://pictures.royalsociety.org/image-rs-10446. Accessed April 23, 2015.

What Lies Beneath: Semi-Limp Parchment Bindings in The Academy’s Rare Book Collection (Items of the Month)

By Erin Albritton, Head of Conservation, and Christina Amato, Book Conservator, Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory

In the summer of 2013, conservators in the Gladys Brooks Book and Paper Conservation Laboratory began investigating conservation treatment options for a 17th-century Parisian imprint. As part of this process, we undertook an examination of a significant portion of The Academy’s early modern parchment volumes and became fascinated with a particular binding style—known as a semi-limp parchment binding—that has received very little attention in the published literature. For April’s item of the month, we offer a sneak peak at some of these bindings and the features that make them unique.1

A group of semi-limp parchment bindings in The Academy’s rare book collection

A group of semi-limp parchment bindings in The Academy’s rare book collection

Parchment2 bindings can be grouped into three basic categories: limp, semi-limp, and stiff. As the name implies, limp bindings are supple structures characterized by the absence of boards beneath their simple covers. Stiff board bindings, on the other hand, live up to their name through the addition of two rigid pieces of board inserted at the front and back. Semi-limp bindings—the category on which we focus here—fall somewhere in between: supple, but due to the presence of flexible boards, not quite limp.3

The most common type of semi-limp binding represented in the The Academy’s collection has two flexible boards that “float,” unadhered, beneath its parchment cover (see picture below).

Floating boards within the detached parchment cover of a  17th-century Belgium binding. Tournai, 1668.

Floating boards within the detached parchment cover of a 17th-century Belgium binding. Tournai, 1668.

During our research, however, we were excited to discover a style of semi-limp parchment binding previously unknown to us—a structure distinguished by the fact that it has a single piece of thin moldable board (rather than two floating boards) inserted beneath its cover (see picture below). The board is wrapped around the whole textblock, the outer parchment cover is folded over it, and both are attached to the textblock at the head and tail via laced endband cores. For lack of any historical name, and to distinguish it from the floating boards binding mentioned above, we have called this structure a wrapped board binding.4

Wrapped board binding with inner paper board stiffener visible through damaged outer parchment cover. Lyon, 1641

Wrapped board binding with inner paper board stiffener visible through damaged outer parchment cover. Lyon, 1641

As illustrated in the photographs below, the two styles outwardly appear very similar and can be almost impossible to tell apart without access to and close examination of the inner joints and spine.

Left: Floating boards binding, Paris, 1645. Right: Wrapped board binding, Paris, 1628.

Left: Floating boards binding, Paris, 1645. Right: Wrapped board binding, Paris, 1628.

To learn more about these structures, we undertook a two-part survey of The Academy’s rare book collection. Part one was a big-picture analysis, in which we examined approximately 20,000 volumes and collected basic information about every parchment binding we found; part two involved a detailed look at the semi-limp structures we identified during part one.

The results of our survey indicate that semi-limp bindings were much more popular in Europe during the early modern period than we suspected. Indeed, given the proportion of scholarly literature devoted to limp parchment bindings and their profile within the pantheon of historical binding structures, we were surprised to count nearly four times as many semi-limp bindings (of both the floating boards and wrapped board varieties) as limp bindings in our collection—with 194 and 48 respectively. Within our survey sample, the wrapped board structure was relatively uncommon—appearing on only 28 (or 14 percent) of all semi-limp bindings—and its use seems to have been limited to France in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.5

Title page from a Parisian wrapped board binding, 1639.

Title page from a Parisian wrapped board binding, 1639.

Almost all of the semi-limp parchment bindings we surveyed were simple structures—small in size and unornamented, featuring a number of structural shortcuts (including abbreviated sewing patterns on only two or three supports; simple endbands with minimal tie-downs; and plain endsheets of very basic construction) typical of retail (or, perhaps, less expensive bespoke) bindings of the time. While evidence indicates that these bindings were probably intended to be permanent,6 they were cheaper and easier to make (and, therefore, also likely less expensive to buy) than leather bindings. Hence, it appears that both the floating boards and wrapped board bindings were, in all probability, part of a larger strategy within the early modern book industry aimed at binding more books for a bigger audience quickly without going broke.

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Our initial findings indicate that, like their limp parchment cousins, semi-limp bindings played a significant role in bookbinding history. This role has been both underappreciated and underexamined in the scholarly literature, however, and much research remains to be done. Consequently, we encourage readers to take a look beneath the covers of the parchment bindings that line the shelves of their collections and start documenting what they see.7


1. For definitions of some of the bookbinding terms used in this post, see Roberts, Matt and Don Etherington. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1982 (accessible online at http://cool.conservation-us.org/don//) or Carter, John and Nicholas Barker. ABC for Book Collectors. 8th ed., New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2004 (accessible online at https://www.ilab.org/eng/documentation/29-abc_for_book_collectors.html).

2. Parchment is any animal skin that has been limed, de-haired, dried under tension, and then scraped and thinned. Although definitive species identification is not possible without DNA analysis, most parchment-bound books are made from sheep, goat or calf skin.

3. From the early 16th century on, binders began replacing traditional wooden boards with a variety of different types of cheaper paper ones. Most parchment bindings with boards were made using these.

4. Although much has been written about limp parchment bindings, we have found very little scholarly literature about their semi-limp cousins. The one notable exception is Nicholas Pickwoad’s 1994 study of the Ramey collection—a group of 359 volumes at the Morgan Library, printed mostly in France between 1485 and 1601—in which he identifies (for the first and, as far as we can tell, only time in an English-language resource) 46 examples of the wrapped board structure we describe here. See Pickwoad, Nicholas. “The Interpretation of Bookbinding Structure: An Examination of Sixteenth-Century Bindings in the Ramey Collection in the Pierpont Morgan Library.” The Library 6th s., XVII, no. 3 (September 1995): 209-249.

5. In The Academy’s collection, the wrapped board binding appears most frequently on French imprints published in Paris between 1620 and 1649. Although floating boards bindings were produced in a variety of different countries throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, in The Academy’s collection they appear most often on Italian imprints published after 1640.

6. Unlike temporary bindings—which were made so that they could be removed and replaced with a more elaborate binding—these structures lack features (such as long sewing supports) that would have made rebinding easy, and are marked by others (such as trimmed and decorated textblock edges) that indicate permanence.

7. For those interested in learning more about this research project, a discussion of our survey results is anticipated to be published by The Legacy Press in 2016 as part of a collection of essays on the history of bookbinding titled Suave Mechanicals (Volume III).

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

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pop’d in his hand) are there in town

Such things as ducklings to be got?

The price I value not a jot.”

“Sir, quoth the cook, I have not less

Than ten fine ducklings fit to dress;”

“Then, quoth the Doctor, if you please,

Stew half a dozen down with pease;

And when enough, where I shall lie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To lose of customers the chief

Was matter of the greatest grief:

Quoth he, “And must you then depart?

The very thought will break my heart!

But if you must—I cannot stay—

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Us on Instagram

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

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

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

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

Brazil, Richly Illustrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on an image to enlarge and view the gallery.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to welcoming you at our events!

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

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

Image courtesy of AMC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Beef? Empire and Cuisine

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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