Secrets in the Scan

By Emily Miranker, Events & Projects Manager

One of the initiatives I oversee here is our wonderful online Library Shop. It features public domain images from our collection on various products. It’s a way for you to take a piece of the library home. Are these two hundred, four hundred, six hundred-year-old images edited? No.

Mostly no.

We keep our images unedited to preserve their historic integrity. The little warps in the vellum, the darkening on the edges of pages from centuries of fingers turning them, little spots of ink or stains from years of use are all part of the life story of each book.

That said, here’s the “mostly” part.

Many of the images used on the shop come from very old books. Books of any age usually don’t lie flat, and certainly not really old ones with big, beautiful bindings. To scan images, our books lie in a cradle; each side propped up by a wedge. This means an image in the initial scan is often at a slight angle. You don’t see it square on.


Cockeyed images aren’t the most visually pleasing, moreover the images sit true on the book pages themselves. Therefor some of our images are rotated after scanning to correct for the angle introduced by that cradle in the scan bed, as in the example below.

Truing Images

Aldrovandi_monstrorumhistoria_1642_p324 watermarkedA real treat came for me when I got to work with this glorious image from the Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605). This is a phoenix from Monstrorum Historia, a volume in a set of encyclopedic works on animals. In Monstrorum, Aldrovandi documented and illustrated anomalous creatures both observed and imagined. The phoenix is a mythological bird that cyclically regenerates or is reborn from the flames and ashes of its previous self.

For the special occasion of the Academy’s 2017 Gala, I was going to edit the background from this image to show just the bird itself. Far more elaborate image editing than I typically get to do. (Part of this was actually done with an editing tool called the “Magic Wand” which struck me as very fitting.) I edited out most of the background and zoomed in to tidy up the image. I started to notice these strips of “fuzz” all over.

re editing

Zooming in even closer –around 200% magnification– I realized, “These aren’t fuzzy strips; I’m seeing the impression of the text from the page behind this!” The text from page underneath the phoenix page wasn’t removed with the layer of background (that tan parchment color), so it was now more starkly visible. The quality of the 17th century printing was so high and the scan was so powerful that not only had the page with the phoenix itself been captured, but the words from the page beneath as well. Not an official palimpsest (a piece of writing material with traces of previous or even removed writing still visible); but a delightful discovery in my scanned image.

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The British National Health Service and the Fight for Universal Health Insurance in the United States

Today’s guest post is by Andrew Seaton, the 2018 Paul Klemperer Fellow in the History of Medicine. Andrew is a History PhD candidate at New York University. His dissertation explains the survival of the British National Health Service since 1948, and its significance at home and abroad. Andrew will be presenting his Fellowship research on Wednesday, April 18, at 4 p.m. in the Hartwell Room. Please email if you would like to attend. Space is limited.

Americans have often looked to other countries in their debates about extending health insurance. Health reformers in the Progressive Era held up Germany’s sickness insurance as a model to work toward, only to have this turned against them during the First World War.[1] In the postwar period, the British National Health Service (NHS) became a focal point of discussion. President Truman’s attempts to include “national health insurance” within existing Social Security legislation coincided with the establishment of the NHS in 1948. When Truman’s opponents – foremost among them the American Medical Association (AMA) – depicted the NHS as emblematic of the problems with “socialized medicine,” (see image below) progressives rushed to its defense.


Typical representation of the British National Health Service by the American Medical Association. “The Rebellion of British Doctors,” Editor and Publisher, March 6 1948.

The left-wing health economist, Michael M. Davis – whose papers are housed in the New York Academy of Medicine historical collections – stood as a central advocate for the British model. Davis was one of the most important American health campaigners of the mid-twentieth century. He founded organizations such as the Committee for the Nation’s Health (CNH) in 1946 to promote national health insurance, and worked closely with Truman to achieve legislative reform.[2] Cognizant of attacks in the Progressive Era on the German model, the CNH realized that AMA “misinformation” about the British scheme would seriously harm their chances of securing their goal of comprehensive health coverage for all. Responding to this threat, the CNH rebutted AMA communications on the NHS in their own pamphlets (see image below), provided statistics and details about the British health service to newspaper editors, and reprinted favorable media coverage from the U.K.


Committee for the Nation’s Health, “The Truth About Britain’s Medical Program” (March, 1949).[3]

Trans-Atlantic trips undergirded American battles over the NHS. Dozens of opponents and supporters of extending health insurance in the U.S. undertook field studies in Britain to aid in the battle back home. Davis – by this point nearly eighty years old – undertook such a trip in 1959 with his wife, Alice. They not only met with their extensive contacts in the medical profession and British civil service, but also spoke to ordinary people in public parks across the country to find out how they felt about the NHS. The Britons that Michael and Alice Davis met – from hotel maids to university professors – were “practically unanimous” in saying they “wanted the Health Service,” pointing to the end of anxieties about doctors’ bills as the main cause of satisfaction.[4] The following year, Davis presented these findings as a talk to various American community and labor organizations in an attempt to stimulate interest in national health insurance.

Despite these efforts, Davis and other progressives lost their battle with the AMA. Congress struck down Truman-era health bills, the CNH ended its activities in 1956, and trade unions turned towards securing the best deals for their members through private health insurance rather than advancing a federal health program. The reputation of the NHS played an important part in these events; the AMA’s negative vision of the NHS triumphed over that presented by figures like Davis. This underlines the importance of transnational perspectives when thinking about the history of health care in America – and indeed in Britain – alongside the significance of convincing a wider public when attempting to enact structural change. If Davis’s dream of universal medical coverage in the U.S. is ever to be realized, it will rest in part on shaping popular opinion about America’s place in the wider world of health systems.

[1] Beatrix Hoffman, The Wages of Sickness: The Politics of Health Insurance in Progressive America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 54-74.
[2] For a biography of Davis, see Alice Taylor Davis, Michael M. Davis: A Tribute (Chicago: Center for Health Administration Studies, 1972).
[3] New York Academy of Medicine, Library of Social and Economic Aspects of Medicine of Michael M. Davis, Box 64, CNH Releases on British N.H.S., “The Truth About Britain’s Medical Program” (March, 1949).
[4] New York Academy of Medicine, Library of Social and Economic Aspects of Medicine of Michael M. Davis, Box 62, Bibliography: England: 2, Michael M. Davis, “My Observations Last Summer of the British National Health Service” (1960).