Eyes Turned Skywards

By Anne Garner, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone….as the song goes, or, on a day like today, when the moon encroaches on the sun. With all eyes turned skywards, we’re taking the long view on star-gazing, looking back to many of our great sixteenth-century astronomy books for inspiration.  Last week, in honor of today’s solar eclipse, we hosted Atlas Obscura in our rare book room for a ticketed event highlighting some of our favorite images of the stars, planets and astronomers– those inquisitive heavenly creatures who made great strides in changing what we know about the physical universe.

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A pocket-sized French book, Les fleurs et secrets de medicine, published around the turn of the 16th-century, offers this partially covered sun, in the image on the left.  On the right, from the same book, our hero, the astronomer.

After Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the most popular poem produced by the ancient Greeks was Aratus’ Phaenomena.  Aratus, born in Soli in Cilicia, lived in the late fourth and early third centuries B.C.E.  As a young man, he studied Stoic philosophy in Athens at the school founded by Zeno. Building on a tradition of didactic poetry exemplified by the epic poet Hesiod, the Phaenomena, Aratus’ only complete extant work, explained the constellations and the effects of the planets and stars on human event in verse. A Latin translation of the poem appears in our 1499 Astronomicae Veteres, a compilation of early astronomy texts printed by Aldus Manutius in Venice.  Many of the woodcut images of constellations accompanying the poem date to an earlier Venetian publication of Hyginus’ star atlas, printed by Erhard Ratholdt.

The image of the Pleiades in the illustrated Aratus can likely be attributed to the artist of the famous Hypnerotomachia Poliphili also published by Aldus Manutius in the same year.

The Academy Library has five copies of the Fasciculus Medicinae –a compilation of medical treatises, many from the medieval period first published in 1491 (our earliest edition dates to 1495).  This compiler was probably an Austrian physician named Kircheim, which the Italian publishers corrupted to Ketham.  Kircheim, born in Germany, was professor of medicine in Vienna in about 1460.

The Fasciculus Medicinae contains the earliest realistic anatomical images in print.  The book’s astonishing woodcut illustrations include skilled renderings of medieval prototypes including this one of Zodiac Man, below.  The woodcut offers a visual demonstration of the belief that the planets and stars governed the openings of the body.  The accompanying text advised when bloodletting could be safely done to treat different parts of the body, depending on the dominant sign. A variation of Zodiac Man continues to feature in astrological publications through the early twentieth-century, as a staple feature of the English and American almanac.

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Ketham’s Zodiac Man (1522).

The sixteenth-century Spanish physician and surgeon Andrés de León includes this excellent Zodiac Man (below) in his 1590 De Annatomia.

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de Leon’s Zodiac Man (1590).

The German monk Gregor Reisch is responsible for the astonishing Margarita Philosophica (Philosophical Pearl), first published in 1503. This early general encyclopedia purported to gather together all of the general knowledge considered mandatory for any real Renaissance man. The Margarita was used as a general textbook both for private study and in universities throughout Western Europe.  Our 1517 copy, published in Basil, includes arresting woodcut images, including a scene of Astronomia aiding Ptolemy in his sky-watching ventures, a Ptolemaic armillary sphere, and an image of celestial phenomena.

Images from the Margarita (1517): Astronomia aiding Ptolemy (left), Geocentric World (center), Meteora (right).

It also includes this timely woodcut (below), illustrating the various positions of the Earth, the Sun and the Moon when eclipses occur.

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From Reisch’s Margarita (1517): Eclipse, 1517.

The Dalmatian author Federico Grisogono’s Pronostica offers readers a working volvelle (below) which could be used to predict the critical days of solar and lunar fevers. Attentive and star-savvy caregivers might be able to determine optimal treatment for their patients using Grisogono’s movable diagnostic tool (but don’t ask us to forecast the day your fever will lift, it’s complicated!).

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Grisogono’s volvelle (1528).

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include the astronomy publication that causes the big(gest) bang of the century. In 1543, Mikolaj Kopernik (better known to us by his Latin name Nicholas Copernicus) published his watershed De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri sex, or six books on the revolution of the heavenly spheres, shortly before his death. The book recorded Copernicus’ assertion that the planets revolve around the Sun, and not the Earth.  Copernicus’ ideas are taken by two later Renaissance astronomers who solidify his work. Tycho Brahe uses his heliocentric assertion to collect observations of the sun. Johannes Kepler does the heavy-lifting in terms of calculations, applying Tycho Brahe’s data to Copernicus’ heliocentric assertions and working them out mathematically.

Copernicus’ work created aftershocks for scientific observers attempting to map the physical universe, similar to those produced by Andreas Vesalius when he published his landmark De fabrica humani corporis (thus altering the anatomical map of the body) that same year.  Our edition of De revolutionibus is the second, from 1566.

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Image of concentric circles. Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (1566).

Incidentally, you can consult another famous astronomer’s work, Cardano’s Libelli quinque, to see this nativity, or astrological chart for Andreas Vesalius’ life (as well as charts for other Renaissance celebrities like Albrecht Durer, Martin Luther, and a Medici or two).

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Cardano’s Vesalian chart (1547).

You’ll find the two remaining ticketed Atlas Obscura events for 2017 listed here and here.

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Thanks to attendee Jasmine for this great pic!

Just my Optotype

By Emily Miranker, Events & Projects Manager

You’ve probably seen the star of today’s post. Or, rather, peered at it trying to see it clearly (like yours truly). That pyramid of big letters with subsequent lines of more letters getting smaller and smaller: the eye chart.

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The relationship of the distance at which the test is done and the distance as which the smallest figure is (correctly) identifiable defines the patient’s visual acuity. Source: John Weiss & Son (1898).

The German physician Heinrich Kuchler created the first eye chart in 1836 with cuttings from books, papers, and almanacs that he glued to a sheet in ever decreasing size.

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Kuchler eye chart. Source: SchoolHealth.com

While Kuchler’s example above is not as cleanly designed as this post’s first image, it was a definite improvement over times past. People basically had to self-diagnose themselves or read a piece of text with a doctor and pick the (hopefully) correct lenses. By the nineteenth century, the need for individualized lenses was clear. In 1862 Dr. Franciscus Donders asked his colleague (and eventual successor to the directorship of the Netherlands Hospital for Eye Patients), ophthalmologist Herman Snellen to design a chart.[1] Now called the Snellen chart, it has become one of the most common.

According to Smith-Ketterwell Eye Research Institute scientist and an eye chart design expert, Dr. August Colenbrander, Snellen experimented with dingbats, shapes and even lines of text for the eye chart.[2] But patients could assume the ending of phrases based on context, and symbols were hard to describe. So Snellen stuck to letter forms –but do they look a little odd to you?

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To the right of the above Snellen Chart is an E Chart, sometimes called a Tumbling E Chart, which works along the same principles but is used for those who cannot read, like children, or patients unfamiliar with the Latin alphabet. Source: Reynders, John, & Co. (1889)

If your answer is yes, you’re picking up on the fact that Snellen developed a specific kind of letterform called an optotype. Once he concluded that letters were better for vision, he speculated that subjects would identify equally weighted letters of consistent size more easily. So he created a complete typeface in a grid system.

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Optotype on 5×5 grid. Source: http://abcdefridays.blogspot.com

Typical typefaces have different line thicknesses and ornamental touches (like the dot on lowercase i’s, the cross-stroke of T’s).  Letter proportionality is usually determined by family groupings (like h, m, n, r, and u). Snellen developed a 5 x 5 grid for his optotypes so the width and height of an optotype is five times the thickness of the line weight.[3] Snellen based his grid on a medical measurement, the arcminute, or one sixtieth of a degree.[4] In optotypes, the weight of a line is equal to the negative space between lines. Typically, C and D would appear wider than Z. The opposite is true of optotypes.

Snellen isn’t the only game in eye chart town. Others include the Jaeger chart, Landolt C, LEA test, LogMAR charts and the Golovin-Sivtsev table. Retired eye surgeon and antique eye glasses expert David Fleishman attributes the Snellen’s widespread popularity even after the advent of other vision assessments to it’s being a “low-tech solution to a complex problem because it was cheap and easy to use.”[5] The 21st century is making its own easy to use -if high-tech solutions– such as the newly released Warby Parker Prescription Check app which utilizes a user’s laptop and iphone to check their vision. The app allows an eye doctor to assess your prescription; though the app stresses it does not replace a comprehensive eye exam.

Warby Parker app

Warby Parker website.

Whatever computer screens hold for the future of vision checks, the Snellen remains one of the top selling posters in the United States.[6]

Special thanks to Avery Trufelman and the 99 Percent Invisible podcast team for inspiration from Episode 242: Mini-Stories: Volume 2.

References:
[1] Kennedy, Pagan. “Who Made that Eye Chart?” The New York Times. New York: May 14, 2013.
[2] Frear, Lori. “What are Optotypes? Eye Charts in Focus,” I Love Typography: July 12, 2015. Accessed 8/1/17.
[3] Frear, Lori. “Examining the Fascinating Typographic History of Eye Charts.” Gizmodo: September 24, 2015. Accessed 8/2/17.
[4] Kalatschinow, Alex. “Optotype: Typography of the Eye Chart,” ABCDEFridays: A Typographic Inspiration Blog: Tyler School of Art of Temple University. Accessed 8/2/17.
[5] Kennedy.
[6] Bordsen, John. “Eye Chart Still the Standard for Vision.” Seattle Times. Seattle: August 9, 1995.
Eye chart blog shop ad

The Other Language of Flowers: The Doctrine of Signatures

By Emily Miranker, Events & Projects Manager

“Is that page winking at me?”

I said this at the office last week, and it’s actually not the weirdest of the sentences I’ve uttered at work here at the library. Some of those include, “That’s the prettiest hairball I’ve ever seen!” and “Yeah, I do wish garlic cured the plague.”

In this case, the sixteenthcentury page in question was winking at me (in a manner of speaking). Page 135 of our 1588 edition of Neapolitan natural scientist and polymath Giambattista della Porta’s Phytognomonica features a woodcut of eyebright. Eyebright is an alpine plant that gets its name for its use treating eye ailments.

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As this woodcut aims to make very clear with the frontal and side views on the bottom of the page, the fully open flower resembles a human eye. Image source: Giambattista della Porta, Phytognomonica (1588).

The resemblance of a plant to the body part or malady that it cures is a concept called the Doctrine of Signatures. Along with other early classical scholars, Roman natural philosopher Pliny the Elder and the Greek physician Dioscorides make reference to the Doctrine, but it was best developed by medieval Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1591).[1] The Doctrine was widely believed in the West, especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though it did persist beyond.[2] Nineteenth century American historian and novelist Edward Eggleston observed, “The wild woods were full of creatures (flora and fauna) whose value was written on each of them in the language of signatures … considerately tagged at the creation.”[3] I love this notion, not for its accuracy–it is not accurate, definitely do not eat a plant with heart-shaped leaves if you have heartburn–but because I think it’s a terrific design concept. Simply put, function dictates form and outward appearance reveals therapeutic value.

I’m not alone in affection for the “much-maligned” theory that biologist Bradley C. Bennett called “the Doctrine.” He argues that in many preliterate societies, the association of plant name with its medicinal uses helped people remember useful plants.[4] Similarly, anthropologist G. H. Shepard Jr. suggested such names or signatures are like a mnemonic device for peoples for whom knowledge transmission is oral.[5] Of course, the Doctrine had detractors. Flemish herbalist Rembert Dodoens declared it “absolutely unworthy of acceptance” in 1583.[6] It is inherently subjective (not a good thing for science)–a leaf that looks like a liver to me might look like a kidney to you.

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Hair loss an issue? Maidenhair fern to the rescue. Image source: Giambattista della Porta, Phytognomonica (1588).

Signatures as a method to remember plants makes sense, particularly with all the scientific advances debunking the medical rationale since della Porta published his book. Bennett conducted an experiment that underscores the memory aid value of the Doctrine “that many valuable herbs were in use before the doctrine and that the organ-plant match was made later to accommodate and validate the doctrine.”[7] Of the over 2,500 plants with heart-shaped leaves, Bennett randomly selected 80. Twenty-one of those were used in medicine, and only three were used in cardiac medicine. So much for every ‘signed’ plant having therapeutic value.

So more accurately, the Doctrine of Signatures is a very human design concept. Indeed, it’s a human-centric design concept; seeing bits of ourselves in bits of plants. This makes sense when you consider that in della Porta’s time it was assumed the universe was created (by God) with mankind at the mortal pinnacle. And remarkably effective, not as a medical truism, but as a memory device.

For what is good design but a simple and powerful solution to a problem, in this case how to remember helpful plants. Not only is 20 percent of our brain devoted to vision, but there is a specific area in the frontal lobe of the brain critical to facial recognition: the fusiform gyrus. “We are hardwired to seek out a round object with two dark bands (one for the eyes, one for the mouth) even before we can see them clearly,” observes neuroscientist Andrew Tate.[8] Is it any wonder that people saw faces (not to mention other body parts) in the plants around them?

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Plants resembling the human hand and teeth. Image source: Giambattista della Porta, Phytognomonica (1588).

References:
[1] Bennett, Bradley C. “Doctrine of Signatures Through Two Millennia,” HerbalGram No. 78 (May-July 2008): 34-45.
[2] Simon, Matt. Fantastically Wrong: The Strange History of Using Organ-Shaped Plants to Treat Disease, Wired. Accessed 7/24/17.
[3] Eggleston, E. The Transit of Civilization from England to America in the Seventeenth Century. Appleton and Company: New York, 1901.
[4] Bennett, Bradley C. “Doctrine of Signatures: An Explanation of Medicinal Plant Discovery or Dissemination of Knowledge?” Economic Botany 61 (3). New York: The New York Botanical Garden Press, 2007: 246.
[5] Shepard, G.H. “Nature’s Madison Avenue: Sensory Cues as Mnemonic Devices in the Transmission of Medicinal Plant Knowledge,” Ethnobiology and Biocultural Diversity: Proceedings of the 7th International Congress of Ethnobiology. University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA, 2002: 326-335. Accessed 7/25/17.
[6] Arber, Agnes Robertson. Herbals, their origin and evolution; a chapter in the history of botany, 1470-1670. Cambridge: The University press, 1938
[7] Bennett, p 250.
[8] Tate, Andrew. “10 Scientific Reasons People are Hardwired to Respond to Your Visual Marketing,” Canva. Accessed 7/26/17.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Our Hogwarts Digital Collection

By Anne Garner, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts

When Hogwarts librarian Irma Pince first appears in book one of the Harry Potter series, published twenty years ago this week, she is brandishing a feather duster and ordering young Harry out of the library where he’s pursing the noble (and ultimately world-saving) task of looking up the alchemist Nicholas Flamel.

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Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.

Pince doesn’t exactly scream poster-child for open access.  And yet, a chance look at our card catalog recently revealed that the Academy Library might have something in common with Hogwarts, aside from its ambiance (The Library’s Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, nestled on a locked mezzanine level of the Academy that visitors sometimes call its “Hogwarts floor,” frequently invites comparisons.)  That something is our collections.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the publication of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The New York Academy of Medicine Library has launched a special digital collection, “How to Pass Your O.W.L.s at Hogwarts: A Prep Course.” Featuring rare books dating back to the fifteenth century, the collection reveals the history behind many of the creatures, plants and other magical elements that appear in the Harry Potter series.

The digital collection is organized as a fictional study aid for Hogwarts students preparing for their important magical exams, the O.W.L.s. The collection is organized into seven Hogwarts courses, featuring historical content related to each area of magical study. For example, the Transfiguration section focuses on alchemy and the work of Nicholas Flamel—a historical figure who is fictionalized in Rowling’s books.  Both Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and seventeenth century scientific literature represent Nicholas Flamel as an important alchemist responsible for achieving the philosopher’s stone (the real Flamel was a wealthy manuscript seller, and likely never an alchemist himself).

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Salmon, William. Medicina Practica, or the Practical Physician, 1707, featuring Nicholas Flamel’s Hieroglyphics.

The collection’s Care of Magical Creatures section features spectacular centuries-old drawings of dragons, unicorns and basilisks—plenty of prep material here to keep the attention of young wizards during this third year elective course.

The early naturalists Conrad Gessner and Ulisse Aldrovandi both devoted entire volumes of their encyclopedic works to serpents.   Some illustrations depicted snakes as we might see them in the natural world.  Others celebrated more fantastical serpentine creatures, including a seven headed-hydra and a basilisk.  Said to be the ruler of the serpents, the basilisk (from the Greek, basiliskos, for little king) looks a little like a turtle with a crown on his head.

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Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo…, 1640, pp. 270-271.

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Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo…, 1640, p. 363.

Off campus proves to be where the wild (er) things are.  In book one of the series, Voldemort gains strength by ingesting the blood of a unicorn.  Rowling’s unicorns have healing properties and can act as antidotes to poison.  The qualities Rowling assigns to these beautiful and rarest of beasts echo their characterization in early modern natural history texts.  Several of these works —illustrated encyclopedias that depict and describe both real and fantastic animals in the sixteenth century—present the unicorn as powerful healers.

We’ve written already about the French apothecary Pierre Pomet’s illustrations of the five types of unicorns, and his assertion in his 1684 history of drugs that unicorn horns sold in most apothecary shops were actually the horns of narwhals.

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Pomet, Pierre. Histoire generale de drogues, traitant des plantes, des animaux, & des mineraux…., 1694, p. 9.(Click Here for a coloring sheet of this image!)

Conrad Gessner’s 4500 page encyclopedia of animals, the Historia Animalium, also includes a depiction of a unicorn (below). Gessner writes that unicorn horn and wine together can counteract poisons, and assigns it other efficacious properties.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we meet a band of spirited and enigmatic centaurs in the Forbidden Forest.  Centaurs and mer-people fall into a category throughout the series of what Rowling refers to as “half-breeds”:  hybrid creatures who are part man or woman, and part animal. This category of beings is often diminished for being somehow less than fully human.  In the books, half-breeds don’t have the civil rights that other wizarding folk have. Hagrid, Dumbledore, and others are sympathetic to the creatures—In Harry’s fifth year, Dumbledore appoints one as Hogwarts’ Divination Professor.

While the History of Magic taught at Hogwarts is largely fictional, the Academy Library contains books in the real-life history of magic, including the 1658 manual Natural Magick by Giovanni Battista della Porta and a manual for witch-hunters by della Porta’s rival, Jean Bodin—two highlights of the digital collection. Another featured treasure is an actual bezoar (ours comes from the stomach of a cow, ca. 1862), and is used as a key potions ingredient by Hogwarts’ students.

As Hermione Granger says, “When in doubt, go to the library.” We hope you’ll heed her advice and check out our new digital collection, “How to Pass Your O.W.L.s at Hogwarts: A Prep Course.”

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The Original ‘App’: Paper Volvelles

By Emily Miranker, Events and Project Manager

Nowadays, “there’s an app for that” for nearly any question or need you might possibly have –not to mention needs you didn’t even know you had. What you might not realize is that apps –in the sense of a handheld device for manipulating data- are hundreds of years old.[1]

Meet the ancestor of your smartphone apps: the volvelle, sometimes called a wheel chart. It’s a (brilliantly) simple paper construction of moving parts; layers of rotating discs with information on them. Externalized, artificial data memory before the printing press, steam power, photography, electricity, ether anesthesia, radar, cars, the internet and wifi. Wow.

Gadgets for working with data are even older than paper volvelles. Think of the astrolabe, which had dials that measured the angle of the sun, allowing you to determine accurate time. Useful as an astrolabe was, it was very fine metalwork and, therefore, expensive. Paper devices were a more economical idea.

Two views of an astronomical volvelle from Federici Chrisogno’s De modo collegiandi pronosticandi et curandi febres (1528). Chrisogno was among the first to posit that the cause of tides was connected to the moon and the sun.[2] Note among the exquisite details the tiny human faces on the sun and moon orbs (in the edges of the top two discs) and the delicate astrological symbols (around the outer disc’s rim).

Like many scientific innovations, volvelles came to Europe from the Arabic world during the 11th and 12th centuries in medicinal and astronomical works.[3] One of the earliest extant volvelles was created by Ramon Llull from Majorca (modern day Spain) in his Ars Magna published in 1305. His volvelle, “The Night Sphere,” could be used to calculate the time at night by aligning the device with the pole star –exact times being important to him for knowing the most auspicious times to administer medicine.[4] Incidentally, the European adoption of this useful device is reflected in the name we have for it, volvelle, from the Latin volvere meaning “to turn.” The scope of information that volvelles depict is huge. Besides astronomy, subjects include: verb conjugations, color wheels, metric conversions, fortune-telling, first-aid techniques, and local seasonal foods (such as in the modern example below).

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The Local Foods Wheel, New York Metro Area; 2015.

Some volvelle constructions can get very elaborate in form, like this unusual and entertaining piece in our collection, The Bodyscope (1948), by Ralph H. Segal and Theodore I. Segal, with illustrations by William Brown McNett. It is a color-lithographed, interactive anatomical chart designed for the educated lay public. When opened, the chart displays a male figure on the left and a female figure on the right, surrounded by skeletons and muscle men. Each of the large figures houses a volvelle that, when rotated, displays five different views of the internal organs. Additional cut-outs on the front and back of the chart also change as the volvelles move to display additional views of various body parts and systems.

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The Bodyscope (1948) by Ralph H. Segal and Theodore I. Segal, with illustrations by William Brown McNett.

Inspired by volvelles in our collections, we’ve gotten creative for the upcoming Museum Mile Festival, Tuesday June 13 from 6-9pm along Fifth Avenue. It’s a delightful cultural block party; seven museums are open for free, and there are special crafts and performances. An evening you won’t want to miss! Especially since we’ve created a DIY volvelle for festival goers to make for themselves.

Our volvelle feature male and female bodies created by the highly influential Dutch physician and anatomist, Andreas Vesalius, for De Humani Corpis Fabrica (1543). The Fabrica was groundbreaking not only for its artistry, but for its promotion of learning about human anatomy through dissection. Understanding of the human body had been dominated in the West since the third century by the work of the Greek anatomist Galen, who performed animal dissection. Vesalius’ work on cadavers revealed anatomical errors in Galen’s work and pushed medical knowledge forward.

Our DIY volvelles let you deepen your own anatomical knowledge by adding in human organs (from the well-known Gray’s Anatomy) and anatomy facts of your choice. See you at the Festival!

Acknowledgments:
Special thanks to Anne Garner for information on The Bodyscope, and the Library extends our gratitude to Harlem Artist & Craftsman for the generous donation of supplies for the Festival.

References:
[1] Adam Rothstein. The Original Mobile App was Made of Paper. Retrieved from https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/the-earliest-mobile-apps.
[2] Federico Bonelli, Lucio Russo. The Origin of Modern Astronomical Theories of Tides: Chrisogno, de Dominis and Their Sources. The British Journal for the History of Science. 1996; 29 (4): 385-401.
[3] David Kahn. On the Origin of Polyalphabetic Substitution. Isis. 1980, 71 (1): 122-127.
[4] Rheagan Martin. Decoding the Medieval volvelle. Retrieved from http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/decoding-the-medieval-volvelle/. Accessed March 14, 2017.

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Launched? Check! Library’s New Digital Collections & Exhibits Website

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital

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Content inventory complete? Check.

New and enhanced scans created?  Check.

Content migration complete? Check.

All collections uploaded to repository? Check.

All metadata confirmed? Check.

Backend infrastructure secured? Check.

Design complete?  Check.

Quality assurance complete? Check.

Sign-off? Check.

Then, we’re ready for take-off.

Let’s launch!

We are very excited to announce the launch of our new digital collections and exhibits website.

Starting in 2016, we began working with Islandora, an open-source framework that provides a robust infrastructure for digital collection development.  Our goal was to migrate old collections and develop new digital collections.  Islandora offered a solution that was extensible, easy to use, and built on a foundation that included a preservation-quality repository (Fedora), one of the most extensible content management systems (Drupal), and a fast search (Solr).   With this base, we set about designing the interface, migrating and developing collections, and working to build a digital collection website that would make it easy for the public to explore the amazing collections available at the Library.

You can find us at digitalcollections.nyam.org

The homepage of the website will be your guide to our collections.  There you will find a showcase of our treasures from rare medieval manuscripts to 19th century advertising cards.  From the homepage, you can access a collection by clicking on the image for that collection, search for particular terms using the search box on the right, and browse recently added collections just below the search.  As you explore a collection, you will find that some use the Internet Archive BookReader to provide the experience of turning the pages of a book, while others appear similar to image galleries.  Regardless of the collection design, you can learn more from the descriptive metadata below the object, zoom in on a specific area, and download a copy of the image.

William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards

The William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards was donated to the Library between 1986 and 1992 by Mr. Helfand, a leading collector of medical ephemera.  The collection includes approximately 300 colored cards produced in the United States and France in the mid-nineteenth century that advertised a variety of goods. For example, if you’d like a cure for your corns and bunions, then “Ask Your Druggist for Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve.”  Maybe you’d like a solution that will work for multiple ailments such as “Ayer’s Cathartic Pills: the Country Doctor.”   Whatever your ailment, chances are pretty good you will find something in this collection that offers a solution.

As part of the Library’s early digitization efforts and grant funding in the early 2000s, half of the collection was digitized.  This project digitized the rest of the collection.  For the first time, the complete collection, duplicates and all, is available to the public.  Researchers and the general public can explore these trade cards in new and novel ways to gain an understanding of the collection as a whole.

The majority of the metadata on the cards are hyperlinked so that users can easily find information.  For example, if you were interested in a particular manufacturer such as “D. Jayne and Son,” then you can click on that manufacturer’s name to find all the cards associated with that manufacturer.  Also, if you’re curious about all the cards with cats or dogs, then you can search the collection for “cats” to see how many cats appear on trade cards or “dogs” for the number of dogs in our collections.  Let us know how many cats or dogs you find!

Rare and Historical Collections

IslandoraCollections

The website includes a glimpse into our rare and historical collections material.   In one day, high-end photographer, Ardon Bar-Hama, courtesy of George Blumenthal, took photos of a subset of the Library’s treasures.  For example, if you’re interested in cookery, you can page through our Apicius manuscript with 500 Greek and Roman recipes from the 4th and 5th centuries.  Maybe you’re interested in Aristotle’s Masterpiece, or you just want to see the most beautiful anatomical images from Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani corporis Fabrica, or a skunk-cabbage (Symplocarpus Fœtida) hand-colored plate from William P. C. Barton’s Vegetable Materia Medica.  Whatever the interest, this collection offers a broad range of materials from the Library.

Launched? Check!

The Enduring Impact of the X-Ray

Today we have part two of a guest post written by Dr. Daniel S. Goldberg, 2016 recipient of the Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health. Part one can be read here.

X-ray exhibitions were hugely popular all over the country, and the greater NY area was no exception.  At a February 1896 demonstration run by Professor Arthur Wright, director of the Sloan Laboratory at Yale University, a newspaper reported that despite the auditorium being literally jam-packed, students were still crawling through windows 30 minutes into the lecture — and all this despite the fact that none of the audience, save those in the first few rows, could even hear Wright’s discussion.  The deans of multiple Yale schools (Divinity, Law, and Science), the head of the Yale Corporation, and the chief medical examiner were all in attendance.

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Perhaps the first published X-ray in the United States of a clinical condition. In “Rare Anomalies of the Phalanges Shown by the Röntgen Process,” Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 134(8), February 20, 1896: 198–99.

The pressing question is “why”? Why did X-rays exert such tremendous power across a wide spectrum of social domains? (X-rays were a constant topic of conversation in sermons and religious journals, in women’s journals, in influential satirical periodicals like Punch, and were the subject of a seemingly endless number of political and non-political cartoons, to name but a few).  Although historians of the X-ray have offered a number of plausible answers, I believe there is a key element left unexplored in the historiography: the intellectual frameworks, or ideas, relating to changing ideas of truth, doubt, and objectivity in U.S. society at the time.

Two of these frameworks are most useful in unpacking the stunning impact of the X-ray: the rise of mechanical objectivity, and what can be called “somaticism” within medicine and science.  Historians of science Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison explain that a new model of ‘objectivity’ begins to take hold during the middle decades of the 19th century.  Under this new model, the truth-value of scientific knowledge is a function of the investigator’s ability to remove or eliminate human, subjective influence from the knowledge-making process.  The fact that this is more or less impossible, and that X-rays can be manipulated in all sorts of ways was well-known to contemporaries and remained a source of anxiety for some time.  The important point is the ultimate goal: to let the mechanical processes of nature speak for themselves and reveal their truths.  Ideas of objectivity, as Daston and Galison point out, have for over four hundred years been connected to scientific images, which makes media like photography and X-rays especially significant.

By the end of the 19th century, ideas of mechanical objectivity begin to fundamentally reshape ideas of what is known and what is certain.  This is especially crucial in a century that features so much intense change, including but not limited to governments, family and labor structures, migration patterns, and, of course, industrialization and urbanization.  Late Victorians were beset with anxieties connected to their changing world, and they were especially concerned with artifice and deception — that the world was not what it seemed.  As such, intellectual frameworks that shaped the criteria for truth were hugely influential, and traveled well beyond narrow networks of scientists and medical men.

Somaticism integrates in important ways with constructs of mechanical objectivity.  Historians of medicine have documented the influence of somaticism (or, “empiricism,” as it is also sometimes termed) within medicine over the long 19th century.  The core of the framework is that truths about disease and the body are to be found in pathological anatomical objects.  The existence of these objects can then be clinically correlated with the illness complaints the patient has, or more likely had given that pathological objects are most likely to be located precisely during a postmortem — until the X-ray.  The truths of the sick body are to be found in the natural objects of disease, which makes seeing those objects so essential.  Laennec himself explained that the point of the stethoscope was not to listen; listening was merely a means to an end.  The point, as Jacalyn Duffin explains, was “to see with a better eye.”

Collectively, these frameworks go a significant length in explaining the enormous and enduring social impact of the X-ray.

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Article from the New York Record. May 1896.

For example, Morton’s clippings contain a May 1896 article from the New York Record entitled “X Rays for a Consideration: Light in a Human Kidney.”  The article details what may be the first private X-ray laboratory opened in New York City, founded by Mrs. M.F. Martin, and located at 110 East 26th Street.  The lab was intended solely for the use of physicians and hospitals.  One of its first patients was a doctor named George McLane, who traveled from North Dakota to have his kidney X-rayed for evidence of a possible stone.  A surgeon removed McLane’s kidney, and Morton placed it on a plate and subsequently irradiated it with X-rays.  The procedure “revealed the absence of any stone in the organ, demonstrating the entire reliability of doctors to prove the absence of stone in the kidney.”

The X-ray shines its light into the hitherto dark spaces inside the human body, revealing the truth of a disputed question: whether McLane suffered from a kidney stone or not.  The truth resides in the natural object itself, and the mechanism of the X-ray supposedly insulates the production of medical knowledge from the whims and artifices of the investigator (as compared to illustrations and drawings, for example).

Or, as Dr. McLane himself stated at the Post Graduate Hospital (the primary hospital at which Morton cared for inpatients):

“Dr. McLane spoke modestly at the Post Graduate Hospital about the risk he had taken in the name of science . . . ‘Hitherto a great many mistakes have been made owing to the inability of doctors to prove the absence of stone in the kidney . . .’  Now, by a very simple process, the truth can easily be determined.”

It is difficult to imagine how powerful it must have been, in 1896, to witness an X-ray operator remotely anatomize the living body.  Seeing inside the body had been a dream of physicians for centuries prior, and there is every reason to believe that its achievement has not eroded much of its social power.  Americans still perform significantly more medical imaging procedures than virtually any of our comparator societies, and what is most interesting is the evidence that this utilization is driven both by supply and demand.  That is, it is not merely that we have expensive X-ray and medical imaging machines — so we use them.  Across a wide variety of illness paradigms, illness sufferers and patients request medical imaging; they want it to be performed on their bodies.  The history of the X-ray helps us understand the enduring power of these tools, of what it means to delve into the penetralium.

The Early Days of the X-Ray

Today we have part one of a guest post written by Dr. Daniel S. Goldberg, 2016 recipient of the Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Goldberg is trained as an attorney, a historian, and a bioethicist.  He is currently on the faculty at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

After news of Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays was cabled across the Atlantic late in 1895, evidence suggests X-ray experimentation was taken up eagerly all over the U.S. almost immediately.  While scientists and physicians scrambled to build their own X-ray machines, newspapers in major cities throughout the country eagerly reported on their progress, with stories small and large appearing in nearly every significant daily from New York and Philadelphia to Chicago and St. Louis to San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Historians of the X-ray estimate that within only a year of Röntgen’s discovery, literally thousands of articles had been published on the X-ray in both lay and expert periodicals.  Even in the fertile print culture of 1896, this is a significant accounting.

Therein lies the methodological difficulty for the historian of the X-ray.  So often, the craft of history is a tedious search for small scraps of information that may not even exist.  Yet, as to X-rays, the problem is one of feast, not famine.  With so much print material appearing in so many different sources in so many different places all at the same time, sifting through the morass to articulate coherent and important narratives is difficult.

What makes this task far easier is a remarkable collection held at the New York Academy of Medicine Library.  The William J. Morton Collection is a small holding, consisting of only two boxes.  The second box is the true treasure, containing a single folder, approximately six inches thick.  Inside is an unbound series of pages consisting solely of newspaper clippings related primarily to early X-ray use in the U.S.  These are Morton’s clippings, and as far as is known, the order and arrangement of the pages is original to Morton himself.  The collection is astounding, for it represents something of an index or a cipher for the ferment of X-ray use in NYC in the first half of 1896.

Clippings

Newspaper clippings from the William J. Morton Collection, New York Academy of Medicine Library.

There is no question that New York City played an important role in early X-ray use, if for no other reason than the enormous shadow cast by the inventor, Thomas Edison.  There were, however, many other important figures involved in early X-ray use in NYC, including Nikola Tesla[1], Michael Pupin[2], and Morton.  Morton, the son of William T.G. Morton of anesthesia fame, was a prominent physician, a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, and a respected neurologist and electro-therapeutic practitioner.

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A telegram dated January 2, 1896 from Dyer & Driscoll, attorneys for none other than Thomas Edison, indicated that Morton visited Edison’s workshop for the purpose of conducting experiments (almost certainly with X-rays) several days earlier.

Because Morton was unquestionably at the forefront of early X-ray experimentation in NYC, his curation is a reasonable index as to important events and moments in the early use of X-rays in NYC.  There are limitations to this approach, of course.  Morton was obviously interested in his own role in early X-ray experimentation, so there is something of a selection bias at work (although it should be noted that there are no shortage of clippings pertaining to Pupin’s important work).

The collection is full of interesting and significant stories in the early history of X-ray use.  For example, in March 1896, strongman Eugene Sandow, considered the father of modern bodybuilding, turned to Morton in an effort to locate the source of a frustrating pain he was experiencing in his foot.  Apparently Sandow had stepped on some broken glass, but even his personal physician could not specify the location of the glass in his foot.  The potential for the X-ray must have seemed obvious, and Sandow reached out specifically to Morton to see if he could be of help.  Morton was eager to oblige.  He turned the X-rays on Sandow’s foot and located the shard of glass disturbing Sandow’s equanimity.  A surgeon subsequently operated and removed the glass, and the story made national news.

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The X-Ray of Eugene Sandow’s foot in process.

Interestingly, Sandow was apparently impressed enough with the powerful rays to send an unsolicited telegram to Edison, offering his services as a human subject for any X-ray experiments Edison wished to undertake.

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Letter to Thomas Edison from Eugene Sandow.

It is difficult to imagine how powerful it must have been, in 1896, to witness an X-ray operator remotely anatomize the living body.  Seeing inside the body had been a dream of physicians for centuries prior, and there is every reason to believe that its achievement has not eroded much of its social power.  Americans still perform significantly more medical imaging procedures than virtually any of our comparator societies, and what is most interesting is the evidence that this utilization is driven both by supply and demand.  That is, it is not merely that we have expensive X-ray and medical imaging machines; so we use them.  Across a wide variety of illness paradigms, illness sufferers and patients request medical imaging; they want it to be performed on their bodies.  The history of the X-ray helps us understand the enduring power of these tools.

Footnotes:
[1] Tesla was heavily involved in early X-ray experiments in his laboratory at 46 East Houston Street; much to Edison’s likely chagrin, given the frostiness of their relationship by the time. The New York newspapers constantly asked Edison about Tesla’s progress.
[2] Pupin, a Columbia University physicist, would in short order — in 1896, in fact —  go on to discover a way of substantially reducing the exposure time needed to produce an X-ray image from hours to minutes.  The basics of Pupin’s method are still used today.

Crimson in Memory

By Emily Miranker, Events and Projects Manager

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Canadian doctor John McCrae wrote this poem on a May morning in 1915 in Ypres, what had been a stunning Belgian medieval city then horribly bombarded in the ghastly slaughter of the First World War. The evening before McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields, he presided over the burial of his friend Lt. Alexis Helmer, who died by German shellfire on May 2.[1]

John_McCrae_in_uniform_circa_1914

John McCrae in uniform circa 1914.  Source: William Notman and Son – Guelph Museums, Reference No. M968.354.1.2x

McCrae was one of many soldiers serving in WWI who found writing poetry an outlet for the horrors and grief, hope and homesickness of the conflict; others include Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rudolf Binding, and Laurence Binyon. In Flanders Fields may be among the best known poems from the era today, in part due to the power and symbolism of the poppy flowers he evoked.

The flowers McCrae was looking at that May were Papaver rhoeas, the corn poppy beautifully shown in The British Flora Medica by Benjamin Barton. The sensation caused by the publication of McCrae’s poem got the flower rechristened the Flanders poppy.

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Red or corn poppy. Source: The British flora medica: a history of the medicinal plants of Great Britain by Benjamin H. Barton and Thomas Castle (1877).

In the popular mind, the corn (or Flanders) poppy is often confused or conflated with its cousin, Papaver somniferum –bringer of sleep- the opium poppy. Papaver somniferum pods contains a resin that has morphine and codeine (the only flowering plant known to contain morphine).[2] Both species spread to Europe and across Asia from the Middle East, helped along by trade routes as well as the Crusades. Since ancient times the opium poppy was used as a pain killer, making it a constant companion throughout history to the battlefield wounded, to veterans, and to civilian populations. In high enough doses, it can cause death. By contrast, the corn poppy’s milky sap contains alkaloid rhoeadine, a sedative. From ancient times to the present, the corn poppy has been used to make soporific tea, a milder respite than that offered by its cousin.

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Opium poppy. Source: Medical Botany by William Woodville (1793).

The corn and opium poppies have had a long relationship with people and war. Indeed, the opium poppy gave its name to conflicts over British trade rights and Chinese sovereignty in the min-19th century,  called The Opium Wars.

Poppies have been on many battlefields as relief from pain, a resource to fight over, and as a vivid, little sign of hope or remembrance. The flower as an official symbol for remembrance has roots in New York City.

University of Columbia professor and humanitarian Moina Belle Michael wrote a response to McCrae’s poem, We Shall Keep the Faith, in 1918. Inspired by McCrae’s imagery, she wore a silk version in remembrance of the war’s dead, and spearheaded the American movement to have the flower officially recognized as a memorial symbol, and for money from its sale to help veterans. Across the Atlantic, another Poppy Lady, Anna Géurin, campaigned for selling flowers particularly to aid the women and orphans of France.[3]

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Eastern poppy. Source: The Botanical Magazine, v2, plate 57 (1788).

Poppies grow most readily in churned earth, so they flourish around people who constantly disturb, till, and work soil for various reasons: to build, to garden, to bury the dead. Before the upheavals of trenches and bombardment, poppies grew in Flanders, but not to the extant described by American William Stidger working for the YMCA in French battlefields in WWI:

“a blood-red poppy…[by the millions] covering a green field like a blanket…I thought to myself: They look as if they had once been our golden California poppies, but that in these years of war every last one of them had been dipped in the blood of those brave lads who died for us, and forever after shall they be crimson in memory of these who have given so much for humanity.”[4]

A grisly fact underlay the profusion of poppies on the Western Front. The soil of Flanders had not been rich enough in lime to sustain massive numbers of poppies. The infusion the earth received from the rubble of towns and the calcium from human bones allowed the poppies to flourish in greater numbers than ever before; a fitting beacon of regeneration as well as an ever present sign of the dead and destruction.

References:
[1] David Lloyd. Battlefield Tourism: Pilgrimage and the Commemoration of the Great in Britain, Australia and Canada. Oxford: Berg; 1998.
[2] Nicholas J. Saunders. The Poppy: A History of Conflict, Loss, Remembrance & Redemption. London: One World; 2013.
[3] The Story Behind the Remembrance Poppy. The Great War 1914 – 1918. Accessed April 13, 2017.
[4] William Stidger. Soldiers Silhouettes on our Front. New York, Scribner’s Sons; 1918.

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Graduations and Congratulations

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director

Graduation season is quickly approaching, which means students in medicine, nursing, and the allied health professions will soon be celebrating their accomplishments with family and friends. To help celebrate, we have designed a new collection for our online shop featuring medical symbols.

Some of the symbols of health and medicine are relatively new historically, while others have a long and complex history.  Perhaps the most persistent symbol of medical care is the caduceus, the snakes coiled around a staff. The origins of the symbol go back to the classical world, where Asclepius, the god of medicine, was generally depicted carrying a staff with a snake coiled around it.  Asclepius’s staff was gradually replaced by the caduceus, which shows two snakes entwined around each other and a central staff.[1]

Blue Cadu chocolates

An elegant caduceus drawn by renowned obstetrics pioneer, maternal health educator, and Academy Fellow, Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson.

Asclepius’s daughter, Hygieia, was the goddess of health, cleanliness, and sanitation. Hygieia was often symbolized by a snake drinking from a bowl , and was shown in sculptures and images with a serpent entwined around her. Her chalice and bowl remain a potent symbol of pharmacy around the world.[2]

Bowl of hygieia china cup

This Hygieia mug was made using an image of the brass inlay from the lobby floor of The New York Academy of Medicine.

The stethoscope, invented by René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec in 1816, only took on the binaural form familiar today in the mid-19th century after much experimentation. The double stethoscope, which allowed the physician to listen to the sounds of the body with both ears, relied on the incorporation of flexible materials such as rubber and gutta-percha to become truly practical.[3]

Scalpel & Stetho totebag

The scalpel and stethoscope” was a late 19th century monthly magazine for “the surgical and medical professionals, and all kindred branches.”

Some version of a professional oath in which health professionals pledge to conduct themselves along strict ethical lines is a standard feature in most medical graduations. The most common and well-known of these is the Hippocratic Oath. The Oath is commonly dated to the fourth century BCE. Its original form was modified in Christian Europe in the medieval period, and has been in use in one form or another ever since, becoming particularly prevalent in the post-World War II era.[4]

Oath Notebook

 An early 20th century illustration of the Hippocratic Oath.

You can find these and other symbols on a range of products in our online shop’s Graduation Collection.  All proceeds from the Library shop support the preservation of the Library’s collections and its public programming in history, the humanities and the arts.

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References:
[1] O’Sullivan L. Snakes in Medicine: Slippery Symbolism.  Books, Health and History. The New York Academy of Medicine, 29 Aug. 2012.
[2] History of the Bowl of Hygeia award. Drug Topics 2002;19. 
Accessed 6 Apr. 2017.
[3] Blaufox MD. An ear to the chest : an illustrated history of the evolution of the stethoscope. Boca Raton : Parthenon Pub. Group; 2002, pp41-62.
[4] Hulkower R. The history of the Hippocratic Oath: outdated, inauthentic, and yet still relevant. Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine. 2016; 25(1):41-44