Botany and Agriculture in the Natural History of New York

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

Among the many books about natural history in the Library’s collections are 22 volumes of the Natural History of New York. In a blog post from 2017, NYAM archivist Rebecca Pou took a close look at one volume from the set, the Birds of New York. In her blog post you can read about the history and scope of this ambitious project to document the natural and geological history of the state of New York, the first published volumes of which appeared in 1842; learn more about the production of Part I, the volumes devoted to zoology; and see some of the hand-colored lithographs of birds, made from drawings by artist J. W. Hill. This current post takes a deeper look at the two botanical volumes and the two volumes from Part V, Agriculture, that document the many fruits grown in the state.

After all but one of the zoology series had appeared, Part II of the survey was published in 1843: two volumes about the flora of the state of New York, with 161 plates. John Torrey (1796–1873) authored these two books. Torrey first developed an interest in botany as a teenager, when his father became the fiscal agent for Newgate Prison in Greenwich Village. Torrey befriended the incarcerated Amos Eaton (1776–1842), who later became a notable natural historian and educator but was then serving time in the prison for illegal land speculation. It was Eaton who introduced him to the study of botany. By 1815, Torrey was pursuing a medical degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he graduated in 1818. He briefly practiced medicine before shifting his interests to natural history, teaching chemistry, minerology, and botany at several institutions, including the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), and Columbia. He became a founding member of the Lyceum of Natural History in 1817, before he had even graduated from medical school, and devoted much of his leisure time to botanical study.

John Torrey (1796–1873),
from the NYAM collections

By the time he began work compiling the Flora of the State of New-York in the 1830s, Torrey had published several other botanical volumes, collaborating with many of the noted botanists of his day. In the preface to the first volume, Torrey celebrates the botanical diversity of the state, claiming that “our Flora embraces nearly as many species as the whole of New-England.” He divided the state into four regions: the Atlantic; the Hudson Valley; the Western Region; and the Northern Region. About 1,450 species of flowering plants are represented in the two volumes, along with about 250 woody plants, and more than 150 non-native plants introduced mainly from Europe. Torrey admits that there are many others that he had no time to describe, including ferns and fungi. About 150 of the plants described in the Flora were used for medicinal purposes (preface, p. vii).

Torrey acknowledges the generosity of many botanist friends who contributed specimens and descriptions from around the state. And he notes that the publication was slowed because it took over two and a half years to find satisfactory illustrators. His original plan also called for many more illustrations than it was ultimately realistic to include. The primary creators of the drawings were two female artists, Agnes Mitchell and Elizabeth Pooley, with some additional drawings by Frederick J. Swinton. Torrey originally hoped the illustrations could be reproduced using engraving, but as happened with the zoology volumes in Part I, the expense proved to be too great (preface, p. ix), and lithography was used instead. George Endicott, the lithographer for the zoology volumes, worked on these two volumes as well. While Endicott’s name appears on every plate, no artists’ names do. All the plates are beautifully hand-colored, but the colorist is similarly uncredited.

American Globe Flower
Giant St. John’s Wort

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Black Snakeroot
Green flowered Milkweed

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Part V of the Natural History of New York, published between 1846 and 1854, describes the geology of the state, including its soil, rocks, and waters. Food crops like vegetables and grains or cereals appear in this part’s second volume, which analyzes the soil around the state, and volumes III and IV of this series, from 1851, are completely devoted to fruit production, with the descriptive text in volume III and a companion atlas of 95 hand-colored illustrations forming volume IV. The final volume of the series is a survey of insects, mainly those that cause the most damage to crops.

Ebenezer Emmons (1799–1863) took on the task of assembling these volumes. From childhood Emmons had been fascinated by geology, minerology, and natural history. He went to Williams College, where, like Torrey, he was influenced by Amos Eaton, who by then was on the faculty. He continued his education at the Rensselaer School, where he earned a graduate degree in geology in 1826. He also pursued a medical degree from the Berkshire Medical College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He taught chemistry, geology, and mineralogy at several colleges, including Williams, and maintained an active medical practice on the side.

Ebenezer Emmons (1799–1863), frontispiece image from Appleton’s Popular Science Monthly 48:21 (January 1896)

Emmons was hired to work on the natural history survey because of his geological knowledge, but he was responsible for the practical texts about cultivation as well, and he acknowledged the rapid pace of change in agricultural science. He worried that his attempts to create a better system of classification for fruit had already been surpassed by those with more expertise, and that the illustrations did not represent the fruit as well as he had hoped. Some are engravings, while others are lithographs, and Emmons made all the original drawings himself.

The Maiden’s Blush, in an engraved image
Several varieties of apples, including Bastard Seek No Further, Lafayette Red, and Prince’s Russet, reproduced by lithography

When comparing the engraved images with the lithographs, one can readily see why the authors of the natural history volumes wanted all the reproductions to be engravings, as they convey a richness of detail and subtlety that lithography just cannot match, although the lithographs are beautiful as well.

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An engraved image of the Beurre D’Amalise pear
Lithographed images of the Frederic de Wurtemburg and Easter Beurre pear varieties

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The zoological, botanical, and agricultural volumes from the Natural History of New York are the featured in a Library virtual visit. There you can see many more images, learn more about the New York State natural history survey, and discover how the NYAM Library came to own its copies of these marvelous volumes.

Updating the Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection

By Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger

In May 2021, the Library rolled out an update to the Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection, one of the digital collections on our Digital Collections & Exhibits website. The upcoming Open House New York Weekend, October 16–17, seems like an apt time to share the updated collection with readers, as the digitized postcards provide a wonderful visual history of New York City hospitals and their architecture.

The Collection

Since 2015 Dr. Robert Matz has been graciously donating postcards of hospitals from his personal collection to the Library; he’s given about 3,000 postcards to date. The bulk of the collection shows hospitals in New York City, with smaller sub-collections of hospitals across the state and country. The collection provides a rich visual history of hospital buildings across decades, both exterior views as well as glimpses of patient wards and chapels, doctors and nurses, and even a children’s schoolroom. The collection also provides a look at postcard printing trends. Many of these buildings no longer exist, but seeing these postcards gives us invaluable visual information about them. In addition, the personal messages on the postcards provide readers with fascinating slices of everyday life.

2019 Pilot Project

In 2019 we began a pilot digitization project, scanning 119 postcards of New York City hospitals and uploading them to our website, arranged by borough. A blog post on February 21, 2020, by Robin Naughton, former head of digital, explained the pilot project and digitization process and launched the online collection. We were excited to give the public online access to these fascinating materials.

Time for an Update

In mid-2020, the Library team decided that a full update of the postcard project was needed to create more accurate metadata (data about data). We had taken the original information for the digitized postcards from an Excel spreadsheet created by volunteers; however, the postcard metadata needed standardization of terms and vocabulary and a consistent overall structure. Therefore, we undertook a general review and update.

Metadata Creation

As the cataloger, I created a set of metadata standards that aligned with best practices in the field. Each postcard would have the Library of Congress subject headings Hospitals and Hospital buildings as well as a standardized location heading, for example, Hospitals — New York (State) — Kings County. In a new spreadsheet I added standardized subject headings depending on what was visible in the postcard or read in the message. If there were trees in the postcard, I added Trees. All these subject headings are searchable so that a viewer can click on the word Trees in one postcard’s subject headings and generate a list of all postcards with Trees as a subject heading or even as a word in the description.

I rewrote the description of each postcard, transcribed the postcard messages, deleted unhelpful keywords, checked the dates of each postcard’s manufacture, checked the official hospital names, and checked the names of the printers and publishers. I was assisted by our summer intern, college student Liani Astacio, who transcribed postcard messages and addresses and checked hospital names, locations, and Library of Congress subjects. She also rewrote some of the postcard descriptions.

Research Sources

Metropostcard.com was an invaluable site for dating the postcards by their design features. The introduction of the divided-back postcard in the U.S. in 1907 was a major event in postcard history, and this fact alone helped me assign a date range to many of the postcards. For further help in dating, I looked up stamp prices using the USPS website and a Wikipedia page about postage rates. The home pages of many hospitals were also helpful in giving me a building chronology, as were various New York City architecture blogs.

Technical Process

Updating each postcard individually would have been time-consuming so we created an automated process to batch update the postcards’ metadata. Andrea Byrne, the Library’s former digital technical specialist, saved the Excel metadata spreadsheet as a CSV file and then created individual MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema) XML files (3 for each postcard) that could be uploaded into Islandora, our digital asset management system. Her tools were the XML editing program Oxygen, and a script that she worked out with our Islandora vendor, discoverygarden inc. After the new MODS files replaced the existing MODS files online, I read each field of each postcard against the data in the Excel spreadsheet to check for accuracy, and Andrea made any necessary corrections. The update was complete!

The Updated Collection

The updated Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection went live in early May. We’re proud of our work, feeling that we’ve captured the unique elements of these images of hospital buildings and city street life. The engaging, information-rich postcards on our digital website are just a small part of the collection. Our hope is to digitize and create metadata for all the postcards in the Matz collection. Then viewers will be able to see thousands more postcards and delve further into hospital and postcard history.

Highlights from the Collection

A view of Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center in the Bronx highlights its entrance gate and driveway, with a group of people in the main doorway.

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St. Catherine’s Hospital, Brooklyn (1901–1908)

The ivy-covered walls of St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn are a dramatic backdrop to this glimpse of Brooklyn street life.

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General Memorial Hospital, Manhattan (1907–1909)

This Gothic Revival building at 106th Street and Central Park West housed New York City’s first cancer hospital and went through a number of iterations before falling into disrepair in the 1970s. The building was converted to luxury condominiums in the early 2000s.

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River Crest Sanitarium, Queens (1901–1907)

This postcard for River Crest Sanitarium functions as an advertisement of available services, assuring its patients of a “home-like” atmosphere on its campus on Astoria.

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Smith’s Infirmary Hospital, Staten Island (1890–1917)

Smith’s Infirmary Hospital was Staten Island’s first private non-profit hospital. The castle-like building was demolished in 2012, after years of neglect. Interestingly, the postcard is addressed to Miss Christine Geisel of Springfield, Massachusetts, the paternal aunt of famed children’s book author Dr. Seuss.

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Sometimes a hospital doesn’t need to be a building! Here is the Floating Hospital, likely in the East River, with passengers aboard. The Floating Hospital wasn’t a true hospital, but rather a recreational service for children and their families; it provided onboard medical exams for children and child-care instruction for their mothers as they enjoyed summer boat outings. The organization later opened a hospital building, the Seaside Hospital on Staten Island.

Cataloging Roundup: New Library Acquisitions in the History of Medicine

by Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger

Founded in 1847 and fast approaching its 175th anniversary in 2022, the Academy Library is a vital part of NYAM. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic we are actively building our collection. As a historical library, we acquire books on a variety of topics in the history of medicine. I wanted to share a few of the titles we added in 2020, so that readers could see the breadth and depth of subjects in our collection. Cataloging these books let me see the fascinating connections among them and the insightful, probing work that is being done today in the history of medicine.

In an occurrence of timely scholarship, a few of our newly acquired titles relate to pandemics:

Epidemics and the Modern World by Mitchell L. Hammond (University of Toronto Press, 2020): This textbook uses primary sources, illustrations, and chapters on key epidemics (bubonic plague, yellow fever, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, etc.) to show how diseases have shaped the modern world.

Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City by John Henderson (Yale University Press, 2019): Henderson’s treatment of the plague in Florence in 1630-31 provides a nuanced, detailed look at this year in the city’s history, with emphasis on the strategies that the government used to manage the crisis.

The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris by Mark Honigsbaum (W. W. Norton, 2019): Honigsbaum looks at the 1918 influenza epidemic, AIDS, SARS, Legionnaires’ disease, Ebola, and Zika. About the spread of infectious diseases, he presciently observes that “Greater global interconnectivity driven by international travel and commerce is undoubtedly a key factor.” 

Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present by Frank M. Snowden (Yale University Press, 2019): Snowden discusses AIDS and influenza, as well as malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox, and yellow fever. Of particular interest now is his final chapter, titled “Dress Rehearsals for the Twenty-First Century: SARS and Ebola.”

The Filth Disease: Typhoid Fever and the Practices of Epidemiology in Victorian England by Jacob Steere-Williams (University of Rochester Press, 2020): Steere-Williams situates typhoid fever in English cultural context and theorizes that this disease and its treatment gave epidemiologists “a new kind of professional identity.”

Our material on the intersection of race, health, and medicine grew with the addition of these titles:

Medicalizing Blackness: Making Racial Difference in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840 by Rana A. Hogarth (University of North Carolina Press, 2017): Hogarth explores “physicians’ objectification of black people’s bodies in slave societies” in this work that covers 18th– and 19th-century Atlantic history.

Doctoring Freedom: The Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation by Gretchen Long (University of North Carolina Press, 2012): An exploration of African American medical culture in the years preceding and following the Civil War. Long asserts that “African American patients and practitioners found themselves in a new medical landscape—one newly shaped both by scientific discovery and by a government that was in the process of recognizing and defining their citizenship.”

Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy by Susan M. Reverby (University of North Carolina Press, 2009): In this notable, meticulously researched book, Reverby analyzes the notorious 40-year Tuskegee Syphilis Study and its legacy of mistrust. She also examines the place “Tuskegee” has in our culture as “the word for racism, experimentation, and government deceit.”

Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation, Samuel Kelton Roberts Jr. (University of North Carolina Press, 2009): Roberts looks at how the “demands and politics of tuberculosis” were managed in the early to mid-20th century, using Baltimore as a case study, while also addressing the issue of racialized medicine in a larger context of race and public health.

The Mismeasure of Minds: Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and The Bell Curve by Michael E. Staub (University of North Carolina Press, 2018): Staub reexamines well-known psychological studies of race, IQ, and intelligence conducted between 1954 and 1994 with an eye to making clear the persistence of “the racialization of mental testing.”

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington. (Little, Brown Spark, 2019): NYAM Fellow Harriet Washington looks at lead, chemical pollution, and microbes in her probing of the Black-white IQ gap. She forcefully disputes the idea that this gap is hereditary, pointing instead to the connection between harmful environmental factors and the disproportionate exposure of minority communities to toxic living and working environments.

Another related cluster of books focuses on fertility, pregnancy, motherhood, and maternity:

Maternal Bodies: Redefining Motherhood in Early America by Nora Doyle (University of North Carolina Press, 2018): Doyle’s “redefining” involves centering women’s bodies and experiences in this focused look at women, maternity, childbirth, and motherhood in the United States between 1750 and 1850.

The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America by Lara Freidenfelds (Oxford University Press, 2020): Miscarriages are common during pregnancy but attitudes and expectations around pregnancy and miscarriage have changed from 18th-century America to today, with changing emotional repercussions for women experiencing an early pregnancy loss.

Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility & Family Limitations in America, 1760-1820 by Susan E. Klepp (University of North Carolina Press, 2009): A scholarly look at fertility and family planning in early America.

Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth by Wendy Kline (Oxford University Press, 2019): Kline tracks changes in birth practices in mid-20th-century America, noting a growing trend toward midwife-assisted home births and away from hospital births attended by an obstetrician. She places this movement in a historical context by using the history of the Chicago Maternity Center and the midwives of The Farm in Tennessee.

I hope this roundup has inspired your interest in our ever-growing collections. For more titles, the Library’s catalog can be explored here. Though we are not able to accept readers because of the pandemic, we look forward to resuming our public hours and, perhaps, seeing you back in the Library in person when it is safe.

World Book Day 2021

By the NYAM Library Team

Since 1995, the United Nations has celebrated World Book Day on April 23. We hope you’ll agree that the NYAM Library is world-class! Library Team members have each selected a book from our vast collection that means something to them. Perhaps these books will mean something for you as well—so endorse our selections in the comments or use the occasion to name books that mean something to you.

Andrea Byrne, Digital Technical Specialist:

Manuale del dilettante del caffè; ossia l’arte de prender sempre del buon caffè (Venice, 1830), translated from French into Italian and written by “M.H.” attributed to Alexandre Martin, first encountered as part of our project with Adam Matthew Digital on food and drink. “It was such an adorable book. It is in a clamshell, and once you open up the clamshell, there is this other smaller compartment inside where the book is stored, and the book is smaller than my hand. Very cute!”

Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger:

Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica … (Basel, 1543). “The publication of this book was a key moment in the study of anatomy, and its illustrations are one of a kind. It’s the starting point for so much scholarship and I think it’s emblematic of the richness of our collections.”

Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian:

Sylvia’s Family management : a book of thrift and cottage economy : a practical cyclopædia of useful knowledge, containing what it is important to know on the essentials of home economy … (London/New York, 188?)

“I’ve chosen this book, rather than one of our early books, because I think it speaks to the experiences many of us have been had during a long period of isolation, without the services we normally take for granted, and how that has prompted people to do things they would not have tried before (so many loaves of sourdough bread!). These kinds of household guides were very popular, and they offered DIY instructions for everything from home brewing to gardening to sewing your own clothing.”

Paul Theerman, Director:

Peter Clemens Kronfeld et al., The human eye in anatomical transparencies; explanatory text [by] Peter C. Kronfeld … anatomical transparencies [by] Gladys McHugh … historical appendix [by] Stephen L. Polyak (Rochester, NY, 1943). “Not only are the book’s transparencies stunning, the work points to the collaborative nature of modern medicine as well as the desire, or even the need, to keep current with ways of representing the human body.”

On World Book Day, we invite you to marvel at the richness of our Library’s holdings, and, above all, to pick up a book!

Uncovering Literature’s Hidden Medical Powers in the NYAM Library

by Angus Fletcher, PhD, 20032004 Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow

Did you know that after William Shakespeare lost his son Hamnet, he forged a literary invention that can alleviate grief by acting on the emotional circuitry of our brain’s amygdala? Shakespeare tucked it into Hamlet, from where it made its way into modern literary classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

Did you know that there are two types of PTSD—and that literature contains therapies for both? The first was devised by Greek playwrights in fifth-century BCE to help military veterans recover from the psychological damage of battle; the second by the modern American cartoonist Alison Bechdel to help survivors of chronic domestic abuse.

And did you know that ancient fairy tales contain an antidote to the mental malady that modern psychiatrists refer to as catastrophizing? Or that the antidote was removed by the 18th-century French author Charles Perrault when he penned his version of Cinderella—which is why it doesn’t exist in the modern fairy tales of Disney’s magic kingdom?

These remarkable—and even fantastical—claims are backed by empirical research that originated during two summer months that I spent at the New York Academy of Medicine Library back in 2003. I had just completed a PhD on Shakespeare at Yale, but my prior background was neuroscience: devoting four years to studying how brain cells communicated and publishing my findings in decidedly nonliterary venues such as The Journal of Biological Chemistry. And, in fact, my focus on the brain was the main reason I had ventured out of a science lab into a literature seminar. I had discovered that the world’s earliest known work of literary criticism, Aristotle’s Poetics, had hypothesized that literature possessed a psychological—in fact, medical—function: purging trauma via a mysterious mechanism termed catharsis.

Despite my curiosity about these matters, I never found anyone willing to fund my research into literature’s healing properties. Until, that is, I approached the New York Academy of Medicine, which granted me $5,000 to devote to exploring the question: Can literature actually do what Aristotle supposed? Can theater, poems, and novels nurture our mental health and well-being?

In the New York Academy of Medicine Library I began grappling with those questions by focusing on a specific case study: the rebellion launched by a group of early-20th-century novelists—Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Virginia Woolf among them—against the “rest cure,” a now discredited psychiatric treatment, chiefly prescribed to women, for “neurasthenia,” or what we might call heightened cognitive reactivity.

To help me understand what the rest cure was—and why Gilman and Woolf found it so repugnant—Arlene Shaner and the New York Academy of Medicine’s librarians took me on a tour of the pseudoscientific works of the rest cure’s inventor, Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, including his eerily titled Fat and blood: an essay on the treatment of certain forms of neurasthenia and hysteria (New York: J. B. Lippincott Co, 1888). From there, I was guided through the Library’s collections to consult a first edition of William James’s Principles of Psychology (New York: Henry Holt, 1890), the textbook that inspired the novelists to replace the rest cure with an alternative literary treatment.

S. Weir Mitchell, Fat and Blood: An Essay on the Treatment of Certain Forms of Neurasthenia and Hysteria, 4th ed. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1885), title page.

That literary treatment worked by stimulating what James referred to in Principles of Psychology as a “stream of consciousness” whose fluid liquidity gentled the emotional “shocks” of heightened cognitive reactivity.

William James, The Principles of Psychology, 2 vols. (New York: H. Holt and Company, 1890), 1:239, from Chapter IX, “The Stream of Thought.”

Prior to Woolf, versions of that stream had been attempted by novelists such as Marcel Proust, Dorothy Richardson, and James Joyce. But while Proust and Richardson had written in a fluid first-person style, and Joyce had written in an atomistic third-person style, Woolf realized that James’s therapy could more effectively be translated into literature by combining Joyce’s third-person with Proust and Richardson’s fluidity. That combination allows our reading mind to flow above a troubled consciousness, observing its ripples without feeling their shock. Consider this passage from Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, where the novel’s innovative machinery encourages our thoughts to register the “something awful” while our emotions glide tranquilly past.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, ‘Musing among the vegetables?’—was that it?—’I prefer men to cauliflowers’—was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace—Peter Walsh. He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull. . .

George Charles Beresford, “Virginia Woolf in 1902,” via Wikipedia.

The spirit I found in the NYAM Library was as important as the documents I perused there. A physical library in the halls of medicine can seem an old-fashioned thing nowadays, when JAMA pre-publishes its newest articles online and few physicians can spare the time to ensconce themselves in a reading carrel. But I benefited deeply from the reflective experience of having the Library’s physical books, manuscripts, and papers before me as my guide, providing a respite from modern life’s relentless speed and carrying me back to the dwelling places where medicine began: the mind’s curiosity and the heart’s care.

In the many years since, I have gone on to partner with doctors, psychologists, and neuroscientists on collaborative research. Most recently, I have engaged in a three-year longitudinal study with Ohio State’s College of Medicine on how reading novels and memoirs can reduce burnout in medical students. And I have authored dozens of book chapters for university press publishers such as Johns Hopkins, Oxford, and Princeton, and dozens of articles for such scholarly journals as Critical Inquiry, Narrative, and New Literary History on the medical and well-being benefits of literature.

None of this work would have happened without that summer, which became for me, as for the many thousands of seekers who have been given the chance to use the New York Academy of Medicine’s Library, a testament to the power of books. The power age-old but vital as ever. The power to teach, to uplift, and even to heal.

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Angus Fletcher is Professor of Story Science at Ohio State’s Project Narrative. A popular account of his research into literature’s medical and well-being effects, including the rest-cure alternative invented by Virginia Woolf, can be found in Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature (Simon and Schuster, 2021). This work has been praised by Martin Seligman as “enchanting,” by Dr. Rita Charon as “a tour-de-force,” and by Antonio Damasio as “the perfect counter to our season in hell.”

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!

Digitization Pilot: The Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection 

By Robin Naughton, Senior Digital Program Manager

The front of a postcard of Roosevelt Hospital.

The front of a postcard of Roosevelt Hospital. NYAM Collection.

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The back of the postcard, with a message from a patient of the hospital. NYAM Collection.

We are excited to launch a new digital collection, The Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection.

Dr. Robert Matz donated about 2,000 hospital postcards to The New York Academy of Medicine Library in several installments between 2015 and 2019. Dating from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, the postcards were organized into three sub-collections: New York City (NYC), New York State (sans NYC), and United States (sans New York).  To create metadata for the postcards, the Library started a project where volunteers researched and captured data about each postcard. New York City was the first sub-collection completed by the volunteers. It was the perfect sub-collection to use for an internal digitization pilot project.

A digitization pilot project is a great opportunity to showcase part of a much larger collection and to test innovative ideas.  For the pilot, 118 postcards were selected from the NYC sub-collection of 962 hospital postcards. Hospital postcards were selected representing all five boroughs (BronxBrooklynManhattanQueens, and Staten Island) to highlight the variety of hospitals, building architecture, and cultural value of the postcards.  The number of postcards selected for each borough is approximately 10 to 12 percent of the total number of postcards for that borough.  For example, Manhattan has the largest number of postcards of the five boroughs and the largest number of postcards in the pilot. The pilot offers an opportunity for users, researchers, potential funders, and the public to explore what has already been digitized, and to learn more about the collection.

Borough # of Postcards in Pilot
Bronx 15
Brooklyn 26
Manhattan 55
Queens 10
Staten Island 12
Total 118

The process of digitizing the postcards provides an opportunity to test new and innovative ways of imaging the collection. For this collection, the opportunity to capture four postcards at once was an innovative approach to digitizing the collection.

The postcard setup in the digitization lab.

The postcard setup in the digitization lab.

The software used for internal digitization was Capture One, which offered many opportunities to enhance the imaging workflow. One such opportunity was to divide the capture area into quadrants so that one shot could capture four objects and ultimately create four images. Rather than taking eight shots for four postcards (front & back), the process reduced the work to only two shots for all four postcards. To do this, variants (duplicates of the raw images) were created in Capture One and the settings applied to each shot.  This method improved the efficiency of digitizing the Matz postcards and provided a significant enhancement to the Digital Lab’s workflow for small, flat objects.

Image capture of four objects (front).

Image capture of four objects (front).

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Image capture of four objects (back).

The Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection pilot project provides a glimpse into what is possible and available if the entire collection were digitized. Digitizing 2,000 postcards and creating metadata so that users can explore the collection in multiple ways will take time and resources, but the Library is excited about the opportunity.

Take some time to explore the collection and learn more about each of the hospitals represented in the pilot.  If you’d like to explore additional postcards, reach out to the Library.

Explore the Matz Collection here.