Color Our Collections 2021

by the NYAM Library Team

Our annual Color Our Collections week kicks off today! From February 1st through 5th libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions showcase their collections through free, downloadable coloring books. A hundred books or so are gathered at ColorOurCollections.org. Follow #ColorOurCollections2021 on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms to participate.

The NYAM Library’s coloring book presents images from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Here are a few coloring sheets to help while away your hours; for more, check out our whole coloring book.

From Diversions for the Sick, published by the Life Conservation Service of the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company (Boston, around 1938).
“Melon,” from Elizabeth Blackwell’s collection of botanical plates, A curious herbal (London, 1739).
“Gyre Falcon,” from Ulisse Aldrovandi, Ornithologiae . . . (Bologna, 1599).

Enjoy!

English-Language Manuscript Cookbooks

By Stephen Schmidt, Manuscript Cookbooks Survey

Over the course of a decade, culinary historian Stephen Schmidt has advised the NYAM Library on our extensive manuscript cookbook collection. This blog post is a version of the essay he wrote about our digital collection Remedies and Recipes: Manuscript Cookbooks. As part of Bibliography Week 2021, he is speaking on “Manuscript Cookbooks and Their Audience” on January 30.

Introduction to Manuscript Cookbooks

The modern Anglo-American tradition of manuscript cookbooks might be said to begin with the world’s first printed cookbook, De honesta voluptate et valetudine, or “On right pleasure and good health.” Written by the celebrated humanist writer Bartolomeo Sacchi, known as Platina, and first published around 1474, the book was translated into Italian, French, and German within a few decades of publication, and it remained widely read throughout Europe into the early eighteenth century. The book featured both a new cuisine and, just as importantly, a new attitude toward food and cooking. Platina presented an interest in food and its preparation as a kind of connoisseurship akin to the connoisseurship of painting, music, or literature. Europe came to call Platina’s attitude toward food and cooking “epicurean,” and those who espoused it “epicures.” At the dawn of the sixteenth century, these new individuals were emblematic of the Renaissance European world.

Platynae De honesta uoluptate: & ualitidine (Venice,  1498)

When Italian epicureanism was first unleashed in Europe, England was in the throes of its own cultural and intellectual Renaissance. Among the English elite classes, the quest for new knowledge found expression in the collecting and creating of recipes, known then and well into the nineteenth century by the now-archaic word “receipts.” Originally the word receipt meant a prescription for a medicine or remedy. During the Renaissance, as the knowledge-hungry English began to write and collect prescription-like formulas for all sorts of things, the term receipt broadened accordingly: directions for farming and building; formulas for chemistry and alchemy; recipes for practical household products like cleaning solutions and paints, and, amid the growing epicurean spirt of the time, food recipes. The sixteenth-century English made a distinction between receipts pertaining to the home and commonly undertaken by women, and receipts for things involving work outside the home, assumed to be the concern of men. Thus, most who collected food and drink recipes also collected receipts for medicines, remedies, cosmetics, and household necessities such as candles, cleaners, pesticides, fabric dyes, and ink. Today, these books of mixed home recipes are often referred to as “cookbooks” when a substantial portion of their recipes concern food and drink.

Cookbooks in History—Manuscript and Print

There is a persistent belief that in the early modern world recipes originated in the home and then were subsequently picked up in print cookbooks. In fact, this was true in England only during the Renaissance, that is, up to about 1625. Only about a dozen cookbooks were published in England, from the first, in 1500, to that date. This may have been due to a lack of demand, but it was also surely due to the thorny practical problem that, cookbooks being a new idea, a community of writers possessing the specialized skills needed to produce them had yet to develop. Printers solved this problem in the only way they could: by cobbling together their printed cookbooks from manuscript cookbooks compiled by ladies of the peerage and then slapping titles and, in some instances, putative authors on them, all of whom, of course, were men. In most instances, the women who actually wrote these cookbooks were unacknowledged—some of their manuscripts may well have been pilfered from their estates—although two Renaissance cookbook authors, John Partridge and Gervase Markham, did explicitly credit noble ladies as the true originators of their printed books. While manuscript cookbooks preceded print cookbooks during the English Renaissance, this situation was soon to change.

G.M. [Gervase Markham], The English House-Wife (1637), in A way to get wealth: containing sixe principall vocations or callings, in which every good husband or housewife may lawfully imploy themselves (London, 1638)

During the seventeenth century, the number of published cookbooks grew rapidly in England, as did the number of manuscript cookbooks, to judge from those now extant. As the use of printed cookbooks spread, most recipes in manuscript cookbooks cycled through print at some point. In fact, quite a few manuscript cookbooks compiled after the mid-seventeenth century contain recipes copied verbatim from print. As English cookbook publishing matured, female cookbook authors appeared, starting with the remarkable Hannah Woolley, active in the 1650s through the early 1670s. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, female cookbook authors, who generally branded themselves “experienced housekeepers” rather than professional cooks, dominated English and American cookbook publishing. The relationship between manuscript and print, however, remained the same: recipes cycled from print into manuscript and back into print again, until cooking fashions changed and the old recipes were replaced by new ones.

The NYAM Collection

The eleven NYAM receipt books in Recipes and Remedies show the same organization patterns common to most manuscript books in the English-language tradition. For example, in most of the NYAM books, the culinary recipes are separated from the medical and household recipes in some fashion. In some of the NYAM books, recipes are clustered by subject matter, that is, a clutch of food recipes will be followed by a clutch of medical recipes, and so on. In other NYAM manuscript cookbooks, the culinary recipes are written from the front of the notebook while the medical and household recipes are written from the back of the notebook going toward the center. In one item in the NYAM collection, the medical and household recipes are also written upside down in relation to the culinary recipes, making the separation more explicit.

“a receipt for pound cake,” from Hoffman cook book : manuscript, circa 1835-1870

The Hoffman cook book in the NYAM collection is rare in that it unveils a style of cooking outside the mainstream norm. Written in halting English by a German immigrant to America, this highly interesting cookbook is composed primarily of German-inflected recipes like those we today associate with the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch. It also contains recipes for standard American dishes, such as roast turkey, pumpkin pie, and pound cake, but approached in idiosyncratic ways by a woman struggling to interpret a cuisine that was foreign to her. While the author of this cookbook was a cultural and linguistic outsider and her cooking outside the contemporaneous American mainstream, she was also a woman of privilege, a member of a prosperous German-American family that had owned paper mills in Maryland since the eighteenth century. For these reasons she was the sort of person, whether in Germany or America, who would be expected to use recipes and perhaps also to collect them.

Manuscript cookbook authors tended primarily to collect recipes for fruit preserves, fruit and flower wines, sweet dishes, cakes, and, after 1700, breads and cakes served at breakfast or with tea. About half of the manuscript cookbooks in the NYAM collection reflect the typical manuscript preference for sweets. Most of the culinary and drink recipes in Gemel book of recipes and A collection of choise receipts are geared to banqueting, an extravagant repast of sweets that was sometimes served after important meals and sometimes staged as a stand-alone party during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Recipe book, 1700s titles its culinary section “Wines, Sweetmeats, & Cookery”; recipes in the first two categories far outnumber those in the last. Receipt book, 1848–circa 1885, by an American woman named Jane Beck, can be aptly described as a cake cookbook. This inclination can be explained, in part, by the fact that many ladies personally participated in preserve-making, distilling, and baking, while relegating the preparation of the principal dishes of dinner entirely to their cooks. In addition, the success of sweet dishes and cakes hinges on precise recipes, while savory dishes can be successfully executed intuitively, without recipes, at least by good cooks, or so people seem to have believed. Finally, up through the nineteenth century, the biggest per capita consumers of sugar in the world were the British, with the Americans not far behind.

“For the Jaundies” and “Almond Butter,” from A collection of choise receipts : manuscript, circa 1680-1700

Conclusion

Manuscript cookbooks contain insights that historical printed cookbooks lack. Manuscript recipes are likely to have been cooked from, if not by the person who collected the recipe and wrote it down in her book, at least by the person from whom the recipe was collected. Thus manuscript cookbooks contain concrete details that historical printed cookbooks generally lack: the precise motion of the hand in stirring; the most suitable cuts of meat; the time that a cooking process takes; the signs that something is going wrong; the size and number of molds needed for individual cakes; the clues that a dish is done; and so on. Manuscript recipes not only illuminate the making of specific dishes but also basic kitchen conditions and broad practices in historical cooking.

A special feature of manuscript cookbooks is that they reflect the tastes of individual households. Thus, while most printed cookbooks published between 1675 and 1800 outline the same three basic recipes for lemon cream, contemporaneous manuscript cookbooks present dozens of different recipes for this favorite dessert, some tart and others sweet, some rich and others lean, suiting the varied tastes of the epicures of centuries past.

Digitizing Our Manuscript Cookbooks

By Andrea Byrne, Digital Technical Specialist

In December 2020, we launched a new digital collection: Recipes and Remedies: Manuscript Cookbooks. This is how we did it.

Our new digital collection showcases 11 of the 40 manuscript cookbooks the Library holds. The digitization is based on our earlier work with these materials. In 2012, the Pine Tree Foundation provided funding for conservation and cataloging of 31 of these manuscripts. In 2019, the foundation awarded the Library funding to digitize a selection of the English-language manuscript cookbooks and make them available to the public through the Library’s Digital Collections & Exhibits website. The digitized manuscripts will also be linked through corresponding listings in the Manuscript Cookbook Survey, providing a full-text option for each of our manuscripts on the site.

Four of the 11 manuscripts were previously digitized as part of an Adam Matthew Digital project, Food and Drink in History. After the earlier conservation work, only a quick conservation review was required before we sent the rest of the manuscripts out for scanning. The 2012 funding had also provided us with robust catalog records, so the work of our current project focused on providing a digital experience that was as similar as possible to paging through these manuscripts in our reading room. This work started with creating high-quality digital scans to display each item as a book object.

The manuscripts are viewable through the Internet Archive Book Reader, which allows a reader to browse a digital book page by page. Additional photo editing work was required to ensure that each page aligned with the next. This digital collection contains 2,021 pages and additional eyes were needed to review each page of every manuscript, to check the alignment, the consistency of page sizes, and the integrity of the images. Quality control is integral and took place multiple times on this project: to confirm the images were scanned correctly, to verify the content on the site was correct, and to check the functionality of the site.

Example of noting blank pages, from Recipe book : manuscript, 1804.

A couple of challenges emerged when attempting to preserve the integrity of each manuscript as a digital object. One of the concerns was blank pages: a few of these manuscripts have many blank pages. In the physical manuscript, a reader can turn several blank pages at a time. In the digital display, a reader may have a frustrating experience clicking blank page after blank page. Our approach to this concern was to include a scan of the first blank page in a section of blank pages and to note that not all the blank pages were scanned.

Example of displaying the front of an insert, from A collection of choise receipts : manuscript, circa 1680–1700.
Example of displaying the back of an insert, from A collection of choise receipts : manuscript, circa 1680–1700.

Another challenge was the display of inserts. A couple of the books included plant clippings and flowers pressed between the pages. To emulate the experience of viewing the inserts in the physical manuscript, we opted to overlay the front of the insert on the recto, and then have the same pages repeated in the next view, but with the reverse of the insert overlaid on the verso.

Elizabeth Duncumb’s recipe for waffles, from Duncumb recipe book : autograph manuscript signed, 1791–1800s.

Of course, no interventions can exactly replicate the experience of viewing and handling a physical object in person. How can one duplicate the heft of taking the 500-page “A collection of choise receipts” out of its clamshell box, or handling the slender “Hoffman home remedies” volume? But one advantage these digital surrogates provide is being able to make waffles from a handwritten recipe from 1791 without splattering batter on a unique and priceless cookbook!

Recipes and Remedies: Manuscript Cookbooks

By the NYAM Library Team

A recipe in verse for “Mother Eve’s Pudding,” from “Recipe book : manuscript, 1700s.”

The NYAM Library is happy to announce the launch of “Recipes and Remedies: Manuscript Cookbooks” on our Digital Collections & Exhibits website. We’ve digitized 11 of our English-language manuscript cookbooks, offering a fascinating look at seventeenth- to nineteenth-century culinary (and non-culinary) history in England and America. The books include recipes for making a range of dishes such as roast turkey, lemon cream, and almond biscuits. Receipts (an older word for recipes) for non-food items are also found in these cookbooks: you can learn about remedies for coughs, bruises, and other ailments, or read about preparing cosmetics or perfumes at home. These manuscripts are part of a remarkable collection of food and drink materials that are a strength of the Library, starting with its ninth-century culinary manuscript, the Apicius.

We hope that you enjoy exploring these unique materials, finding recipes and making discoveries, and reading about their historical context in the accompanying essay written by culinary historian Stephen Schmidt.

Index “C” to “A collection of choise receipts.

The digitization of these manuscript cookbooks was accomplished with a grant from the Pine Tree Foundation. We are grateful for the foundation’s continued support in helping us to provide access to our rich collections.

A drink for the holiday, adapted by Pietro Collina and Matt Jozwiak from “A collection of choise receipts.”

In the past, we’ve highlighted recipes from these cookbooks in blog posts. We invite you to read these earlier posts, even as you delve deeper into the digitized Manuscript Cookbooks Collection.

Enjoy!

Apply for Our 2020 Fellowships

We’re pleased to announce that our two annual fellowships are open to applications!

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The Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, where our fellowship recipients will conduct their research.

The Academy Library offers two annual research fellowships, the Paul Klemperer Fellowship in the History of Medicine and the Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health, to support the advancement of scholarly research in the history of medicine and public health. Fellowship recipients spend a month in residence conducting research using the library’s collections.

Applications for our fellowships are being accepted now through late August for fellowships that may be used at any time during 2020.

Preference in the application process will be given to those whose research will take advantage of resources that are uniquely available at the Academy, individuals in the early stages of their careers, and, for the Helfand Fellowship, applications which include an emphasis on the use of visual materials held within the Academy’s collections and elsewhere. Applicants should provide information in their proposals about the collection items they plan to use, either by including a bibliography of resources they intend to consult or discussing those items in detail in the context of the application essay. Changes in the Library that are scheduled to take place beginning in the second half of 2019 will impact applicants whose projects rely heavily on 19th and 20th century serial literature or on monographs published during the second half of the 20th century. 

Applications are due by the end of the day on Friday, August 23, 2019. Letters of recommendation are due by the end of the day on Monday, August 26, 2019. Applicants will be notified of whether or not they have received a fellowship by Monday, October 4, 2019.

Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian, at 212-822-7313 or history@nyam.org with questions or for assistance identifying useful materials in the library collections.

Click on their names to read blog posts about their projects from our most recent fellowship recipients, Matthew Davidson (Klemperer) and Tina Peabody (Helfand).

We look forward to hearing all about your projects!

Color Your Heart Out at the Museum Mile Festival

Museum Mile street sign

Part of Museum Mile!

The New York Academy of Medicine is once again participating in the annual Museum Mile Festival! This year’s event will be held on Tuesday, June 11th from 6:00pm-9:00pm and will feature lots of fun activities and performances, as well as free admission to eight museums along Museum Mile (Fifth Avenue in Manhattan from 82nd to 110th Streets).

Cover of NYAM 2019 Coloring Book

Can’t make it to Museum Mile? Our coloring books are online, too!

We’ll be offering coloring pages using images from our collections and crayons. We hope you’ll stop by our table at 103rd Street!

Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis Opens

By Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts and Rebecca Jacobs, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Museum of the City of New York

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Typist wearing mask, New York City, October, 16, 1918. Courtesy of the National Archives.

On certain October mornings during 1918, masks like the one in the above photograph would have been a common sight on New York’s streets. Men and women wore them on their commutes to work, or even while doing their jobs, as office workers, postal carriers, and sanitation workers. Over 30,000 New Yorkers died during the 1918 influenza pandemic. And yet, because the city had learned from other contagious disease outbreaks and adjusted its public response and infrastructure accordingly, these numbers were comparatively low side-by-side with other American cities.

A hundred years later, Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis, opening today at the Museum of the City of New York, explores New York City’s history of battles with contagious disease. The exhibition is co-presented with The New York Academy of Medicine, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust as part of their Contagious Cities project. Contagious Cities encourages local conversations about the global challenge of epidemic preparedness.

Germ City tells the very personal stories of New Yorkers’ experiences and their responses to the threat of contagious disease over time using historical objects, oral histories, and artwork. Artist Mariam Ghani’s film, inspired by Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor, invites audiences at the main gallery’s entrance to engage with the themes of metaphor and disease. Ghani’s work leads into the main gallery, where the stories of the some of the city’s many microbes—flu, cholera, diphtheria, the common cold, cholera, smallpox, TB, polio, HIV, and others —are explored through scientific models, historical objects, and contemporary artworks.

CollectionOfManuscriptNotes_MaryRiley_1854 _watermark

Orders for hospitalization for Mary Riley, August 29–31, 1854.

During the 1854 cholera epidemic, physicians visited the homes of the sick and issued orders for hospitalization, most hastily written on scrap paper. According to these notes, this patient, Mary Riley, delayed going to the hospital and died the following day.

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Letter from Mary Putnam Jacobi to Sophie Boaz, February 27, 1884.

The impact of diphtheria, another devastating disease of the 19th and early 20th century, is crystalized in the compelling story of Ernst Jacobi, the son of Abraham Jacobi, the father of pediatrics and himself a committed diphtheria researcher. An 1884 letter in the New York Academy of Medicine’s collections, written by Abraham Jacobi’s wife, the physician and activist Mary Putnam Jacobi, documents the devastating death of Ernst from diphtheria.

While this first section of the exhibition establishes just some of the contagious diseases that have hit New York over time, the remaining four sections of the exhibition probe the responses of the government, medical professionals, and ordinary citizens to the threat of epidemics. A common first response to contagion is to contain it. Visitors learn about New York’s man-made quarantine islands, Hoffman and Swinburne, and the exile of “Typhoid Mary” to nearby North Brother Island. These islands, now covered in overgrowth and closed to the public, are still visible from Manhattan’s shores.

Jordan Eagle’s Blood Mirror, a sculpture created with the blood of gay, bisexual, and transgender men to protest the U.S. government’s ban on their donating blood, provokes viewers to consider the potential consequences of linking particular identities with disease and thus isolating populations.

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Jordan Eagles, Blood Mirror, 2015–present Artwork on gallery floor. On loan from the artist.

The exhibition also explores the ways researchers, public officials, and ordinary New Yorkers have attempted to gather information in an effort to fight contagion. The Citizens’ Association of New York’s map of lower Manhattan illustrates the 1864 survey of New York households, conducted by physicians going door-to-door recording instances of typhoid, cholera, and other deadly diseases.

A copy of one survey, conducted by Dr. William Hunter, records the living conditions of a family of three recent Irish immigrants living on West 14th Street—all with typhoid fever. Science journalist Sonia Shah’s “Mapping Cholera” project illuminates the similarities between nineteenth-century New York’s vulnerability to cholera and more recent outbreaks in Haiti.

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Sonia Shah, Excerpt from Mapping Cholera: A Tale of Two Cities, 2015. Designed and built by Dan McCarey. Courtesy of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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Postcard, Harlem Hospital. From the collection of Dr. Robert Matz.

Over time, New Yorkers have been reliant on medical research, medicine, and family and professional caregivers to provide respite from disease. A collection of postcards from the Academy Library donated by retired physician Dr. Robert Matz depict key institutions where epidemiological research, treatment, and care were given in an effort to save the lives of the city’s sickest. Many of these facilities—hospitals, sanitaria, and health resorts—have been torn down or transformed over time, becoming another invisible layer in the city’s architectural history.

New Yorkers sought care from old family recipes, as with Selma Yagoda’s recipe for chicken soup, and from patent medicines, cheap formulas widely available over the counter, which claimed to cure many ailments, including malaria and the Spanish flu.

 

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Diphtheria pamphlets

Germ City also engages with the ways cities create infrastructure and policies that support health. Public officials sometimes used creative delivery methods to communicate health information to wider audiences. In 1929, The Diphtheria Prevention Commission inundated the city’s subways and streets with placards and brochures in Spanish, Polish, Yiddish, and Greek, directing New Yorkers to get immunized for diphtheria.  David Lynch’s 1991 “Clean Up” video offers a dark and at times surreal look at the city’s rat problem, illustrating the importance of public hygiene. A number of private and public organizations mobilized to minimize disease outbreaks through outreach and education.

Following the main gallery, visitors are invited to engage hands-on with copies of collections materials in the “Reading Room,” in a range of formats (visual, audio, video). People can share their own family stories of disease through our public collecting initiative.

Germ City will be on view until April 28th, 2019. In coordination with the exhibition, the Academy is offering a slate of programming in partnership with the Museum of the City of New York. The first of these, “The World’s Deadliest Pandemic: A Century Later,” will take place at the Museum on September 27th. We hope to see you there (register here.)

Summer Reading Suggestions – Part II

By Emily Miranker, Events & Projects Manager

Our last post suggested foundation and fictional summer reading along the theme of contagion, especially the infectious influenza epidemic of 1918, to whet your appetite for our forthcoming exhibition Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis (opening September 14, 2018). Read on for more not-your-usual summer reading ideas.

Cities are concentrated hubs of peoples’ movements and interactions; for better or worse, the perfect location for populations and infections to collide. And, perhaps more than any other modern metropolis, the fabric of New York City has been shaped by responses to epidemic disease.

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Cities and Sickness

  • Hives of Sickness: Public Health and Epidemics in New York City, edited by David Rosner
  • Epidemic City: The Politics of Public Health in New York, James Colgrove
  • Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth-Century Urban America, Melanie A. Kiechle
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Steven Johnson

Rosner’s Hives of Sickness is a great work to start with for looking at disease through the lens of urbanism; it’s a collection of nine essay the reader can dip and in out of. It’s fascinating to see how many of NYC’s public health initiatives were assigned to government agencies besides or along with the Dept. of Health, demonstrating how creating a health city is not an issue to be siloed. Follow that theme of health’s importance across civic agencies to James Colgrove’s Epidemic City, an analysis of the perspectives and initiatives of the people responsible for the city’s health since the 1960s.

Illustrated Newspaper August 1881_cholera_watermark

Another thing that cities mean is lots of people crowded together; which can smell bad. Bad smells and foul air (malaria, anyone?) were believed to be a cause of disease in the 19th century. Smell Detectives shows how hard it proved to find the sources of those dangerous odors and explores the larger tension between evolving scientific knowledge and people’s common, olfactory senses.

 

From across the pond in London is the story of the 1854 cholera epidemic; Dr. John Snow and Rev. Henry Whitehead’s use of interviews and mapping to identify the source as a contaminated water pump—not foul air—and with this the birth of the field of epidemiology and the power of visualizing data. The Ghost Map is a riveting, multidisciplinary tale.

 

Don’t be so Literal:

  • Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, Susan Sontag
  • In Sickness and in Health: Disease as Metaphor in Art and Popular Wisdom, by Laurinda S. Dixon
  • Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative, Priscilla Wald
  • Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness, Trevor Hoppe

Disease is more than a clinical fact. It’s a concept. Trends go viral. Something cool is sick. There are cancers in the body politic. A cancer survivor herself, author Susan Sontag challenges victim-blaming in her seminal and intense work Illness as Metaphor and its follow-up AIDS and its Metaphors. In Sickness and in Health is a good counterpart, its concentration being on figurative illness through the visual arts and imagery. Many people with AIDs belonged to stigmatized minorities which led to society to link sickness to ‘badness,’ and the criminalizing of illness is not specific to AIDS alone as Trevor Hoppe’s Punishing Disease reveals. In Contagious, Priscilla Wald uses history, journalism, literary and cinematic depictions of disease to describe the “outbreak narrative,” and how getting stuck in this particular storyline and mode of thinking might limit our approach to the next big pandemic.

Bonus book

The Plague, Albert Camus

It’s on every other high school required reading list for a reason; Camus’ masterfully written tale of the town of Oran beset by plague is about death by disease but it’s also a powerful allegory about how we choose to live.

Summer reading blog shop ad

Summer Reading Suggestions – Part I

“There is a narrative power to epidemics … these events typically unfold dramatically and contain elements of discovery, reaction, suspense, conflict, illness, perhaps death, and one hopes, resolution.” -Howard Markel, When Germs Travel

 

This September we open an exhibition with our partners (and next door neighbor) The Museum of the City of New York; Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the influenza pandemic of 1918 which infected an estimated quarter of the world’s population and caused the death of more people than the First World War.

Germ City exhibit graphic_ltblue

Prompted by this centenary, the exhibition and its related programs are the New York City site of the exploration of germs living in people the way people live in cities, along with sister sites in Hong Kong and Geneva. This international collaboration, Contagious Cities, was developed by the Wellcome Trust. Inspired by the Reading Room at the Wellcome Trust’s home in London, our exhibition will include a reading room of books and articles visitors can read.

If you just can’t wait till September to dig deeper into tales of cities’ roles in causing and controlling disease or the stories of human ingenuity, fear, and compassion in the face of sickness; pick among these titles for not-your-usual summer reading. Please bear in mind titles suggested below may not be in the exhibition’s reading room, but that’s where your local library steps in: find yours here.

Hear them Here: Authors Speaking at our Programs

  • The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry
  • Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes, and the Immigrant Menace, Alan M. Kraut
  • Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation, Samuel Kelton Roberts
  • After Silence: A History of AIDS Through its Images, Avram Finkelstein
  • Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, Sonia Shah

Many people aren’t aware of the 1918 influenza pandemic or how widespread and deadly it was in New York, the United States, and globally; so John Barry’s account of the pandemic’s history in The Great Influenza and connecting it to current day challenges like avian flu is a good foundation read. Readers can attend on Sept. 27th [coming soon to our events page] to hear Barry in panel discussion on the legacy of the 1918 flu and how surviving future pandemics may be as much a political issue as a medical one. Moderating that conversation will be Alan Kraut, author of Silent Travelers, a look at the medicalized prejudice that so often targets immigrants.

Infectious Fear Cover_RobertsGerms themselves may be blind when it comes to who infect; but outbreaks don’t strike populations with equity. We tackle the fraught intersection of disease and disparity in a discussion on Nov. 28th  [coming soon to our events page] and give the thumbs-up to our moderator Professor Samuel Roberts’ thought-provoking book Infectious Fear. For a closer look at the lived experiences of disease and how those infected are remembered or all too often forgotten join us in February 2019  [coming soon to our events page] for Remembering the Dead; you’ll have plenty of time to check out panelist Avram Finkelstein’s unflinching look at the AIDS crisis and the responses of artist-activists; After Silence. We face our future with infectious diseases in a discussion in April 2019 lead by journalist Sonia Shah. She weaves an amazing story with history, reportage and personal narrative in Pandemic: Tracking Contagions about how we are making predictions about the next major pandemic.

If you’d like a nonfiction read for a younger audience pick up Jim Murphy’s An American Plague. This is a dramatic retelling of the yellow fever epidemic in 1793 Philadelphia, a survival challenge to the city’s inhabitants as well as the young nation itself with a good spotlight on the incredible role of the Free African Society in caring for the sick. An American Plague pairs nicely with Laurie Halse Anderson’s fictional Fever 1793, also intended for the middle-school reader but from the point of view of its 15-year old heroine Mattie.

Which brings us to works of fiction more generally …

Fiction: Disease as a way to Explore the Body and Self; the Individual and Society

  • Fever: A Novel, Mary Beth Keane
  • The Last Man, Mary Shelley
  • Blue Pills a Postive Love Story, Frederik Peeters
  • The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton

For a change of pace from incisive facts and socio-scientific trends, delve into the highly personal story of Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant to the United States better known as ‘Typhoid Mary,’ in Mary Beth Keane’s Fever. From Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame, there’s an apocalyptic story of humankind brought face to face with its own destruction due to plague in The Last Man complete with thinly veiled versions of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and herself. Most of the English Romantics were deceased by the time Shelley wrote this, so an undercurrent of eulogizing comes through in her tone as she explores the failure of imagination to save society.

Translated from the French by Anjali Singh is Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel, Blue Pills – A Positive Love Story, the story of a man’s relationship with his girlfriend and her son who are both HIV+. The black and white artwork allows for an arresting depiction of what is literally happening to the protagonist and simultaneously what he is perceiving and coping with in the moment.

You didn’t think there wouldn’t be a Michael Crichton, did you? The Andromeda Strain is the kick-off novel of bio-tech thrillers with its deadly microbe brought back from space on a military satellite.

Bonus book:

Eleven Blue Men and Other Narratives of Medical Detection, Berton Roueché

One of the best writers from The New Yorker, Roueché’s short stories are superbly written vignettes of medical mystery solving.

Met by Accident: A Beaten Book

Today’s guest post is written by Julia Miller, a book conservator who studies, writes, lectures, and instructs about historical binding structures. In collaboration with the Guild of Bookworkers New York Chapter, Ms. Miller will speak at The New York Academy of Medicine on June 27th at 6pm, “Meeting by Accident,” about types of bookbinding and delve into the what, why, and how questions concerning historical bindings. 

When I wrote my second book Meeting by Accident: Selected Historical Bindings, I drew on interesting bookbindings encountered in recent years. I wish my book had been published a bit later than it was, just so I could include the book I describe to you here.

Fig. 1

Spine, upper cover, and lower text edge of the Guthrie book. All photographs courtesy of Randel Stegmeyer.

Not long after Meeting by Accident was published, I found a book that immediately intrigued me because it carried an interesting, and to me, unusual direction to the binder: “The Binder is desired to beat the Book before he places the Maps.” It appears on page 10 following the Preface in William Guthrie’s A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar; and Present State of the Several Kingdoms of the World. (The Thirteenth Edition, Corrected. London, Printed for Charles Dilly, in the Poultry; and G.G.J. and J. Robinson, in Pater-noster Row. 1792.)[1]. Beating book sections to flatten them prior to sewing was a common binding practice at one time but fell out of use and out of our collective memory; the mention of this old practice in the binders’ direction reminds us. The flatness of the text leaves (and the near-absence of “bite” to the printed text) indicates the binder of this volume followed the direction to beat the book.

Fig. 4

Detail director to binder in William Guthrie’s A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar; and Present State of the Several Kingdoms of the World.

 

The book measures 22 H x 13.8 W x 8 T in centimeters. It is worn, with losses to the brown sheepskin cover, and much repaired. The detached boards were oversewn to reattach them to the text block, and the spine rebacked with a strip of tawed skin. There is evidence of sewing in two- or three-on style [for a primer on three-on sewing click here] and later oversewing to secure loosened sections. The text block shows heavy use and damage: finger dirt, stains, and damaged edges.

Why is this book of reference interesting to the history of hand bookbinding? In 2013, conservator and bookbinder Jeffrey S. Peachey published his ground-breaking examination of beating books, “Beating, Rolling, and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing” in Volume I of Suave Mechanicals – Essays on the History of Bookbinding.[2] His essay is an exercise in detection and is fascinating to read. Jeff discusses the history, tools, and methods of flattening book leaves, noting that it is sometimes impossible to tell if sections of a given book were beaten in the traditional way, or if sections were rolled or pressed instead. Guthrie’s book, at least the thirteenth edition, carries the type of evidence we need, in the wording of the direction to the binder, to establish that this is probably a beaten book. Peachey mentioned in a recent email that he has seen similar directions in other 17th and 18th century books.

Fig. 5

Fore edge of Guthrie book.

A comparison study of other copies from this thirteenth edition of Guthrie, and earlier/later editions, looking for the same binders’ direction and evidence of beating, plus searching out other imprints carrying similar directions to the binder, would be a valuable and interesting research project; and I hope one of you reading this post will undertake it!

References
[1] The Academy Library has the 1794 edition.
[2] Ed. Julia Miller. 317-382. Ann Arbor, MI: The Legacy Press, 2013.