The Healthful Art of Dancing

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

This is one of several posts leading up to our day-long Performing Medicine Festival on April 5, 2014, which will explore the interrelationships of medicine, health, and the performing arts. Register for the festival here.

Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick (1865–1918), best known today as a father of basketball, was an ardent physical education educator and promoter. In 1903, he became the New York City public schools’ first director of physical education, a position he held for 10 years. He may have been one of the busiest men in the city; while holding the position, he co-founded the Campfire Girls with his wife, founded several physical education associations, wrote five books, and served as president of the Playground and Recreation Society of America.1

The Healthful Art of Dancing

The Healthful Art of Dancing

In his 1910 book, The Healthful Art of Dancing, Gulick devoted a chapter to dance in education. Average New York City children, wrote Gulick, spent “Five hours a day in the schoolroom, and then the crowded, ill-ventilated tenement or apartment house, with perhaps a game of tag or hop-scotch or jump-rope in the midst of the hubbub and dirt of the street.”2 In 1905, a partnership with the Girls’ Branch of the Public Schools Athletic League allowed schoolgirls the same opportunity as boys: “Interesting and helpful recreation that would have a real part in their lives outside of school hours.”2

So began after-school folk dance classes for girls on city school rooftops, in gymnasiums, and in school basements. After one year of the program, 2,000–3,000 students were participating.2 Gulick paints an evocative picture:

These classes come after school. The roof playground, high above the chimneys and dangling clotheslines of the neighborhood, is a favorite place for them, unless the weather forbids. There is a piano up there that can be rolled out, and clean open air and sunshine—good things in New York—are all about.2

"The roofs of the New York Public Schools being used for dance," a photograph from The Healthful Art of Dancing. Click to enlarge.

“The roofs of the New York Public Schools being used for dance,” a photograph from The Healthful Art of Dancing. Click to enlarge.

He goes on to describe the students’ enthusiasm:

One has to see [the dances] to get an idea of the kind of spell they possess for the children—how every muscle of their bodies responds accurately and eagerly to the exhilarating, well-cadenced rhythm of the music; how the dancers move back and forth, gliding, hopping, or tripping, crossing and recrossing, now fast, now slow, according to some intricate scheme at which an outsider can only stare in wonder.2

"London Bridge," a photograph in The Healthful Art of Dancing. Click to enlarge.

“London Bridge,” a photograph in The Healthful Art of Dancing. Click to enlarge.

And this joy did not end at school:

The noisy, crowded street and the dingy tenement will be happier places because of the healthy, full-blooded rhythm that still pulsates through their bodies—and their souls, too; for it means that they have a new feeling about life; it is ‘the little white bird’ that is going to keep on singing in their hearts.2

On the Lower East Side? Visit the Luther Gulick playground and dance in his honor.

References

1. Winter, T. (2004). Luther Halsey Gulick: Recreation, physical education and the YMCA. infed.org. Retrieved February 25, 2014 from http://infed.org/mobi/luther-halsey-gulick-recreation-physical-education-and-the-ymca/

2. Gulick, L. H. (1910). The Healthful Art of Dancing. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company. Available at http://books.google.com/books/about/The_healthful_art_of_dancing.html?id=6o0ZAAAAYAAJ

Music and Medicine: Thoughts on a G-String

This is one of several posts leading up to our day-long Performing Medicine Festival on April 5, 2014, which will explore the interrelationships of medicine, health, and the performing arts. Register for the festival here.

Guest blogger Dr. Danielle Ofri, editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, will moderate the closing panel discussion at the event. This essay was originally published in The Lancet and is reposted with permission.

By Danielle Ofri

Danielle Ofri. Credit: Joon Park

Danielle Ofri. Credit: Joon Park

The moment has finally arrived. After three years of sweating through etudes, scales, and Suzuki practice books, my teacher utters the words that every cello student yearns to hear: “It’s time to start the first Bach suite.”

It started on a lark, really, when I asked my daughter’s first violin teacher how to coax a child to practice. She casually commented that the best thing is to see a parent practice. I hailed the nearest taxi and promptly purchased a cello. I started lessons, applying the same brute-force approach I’d acquired in medical school—playing the assigned notes over and over again until they were seared in my memory like the Krebs’ cycle and the 12 cranial nerves.

I added cello to the chores of my life—caring for patients, teaching, writing, and editing. But over the three years, an unexpected transformation occurred. Far from being a chore or a parental device to influence my daughter’s propensity to practice, cello turned out to be something that I genuinely wanted to do each night, almost to the exclusion of all else. Newspaper reading shrunk to cursory glances. Phone calls were avoided. Medical journals slipped to the subterranean level of the reading pile. Journal subscriptions lapsed.

I still love my “day job,” taking pleasure in teaching students and connecting with patients, but I have to be honest that, at this point in my career, the sense of growth has remained at a relatively steady state. With music, however, the intellectual challenges develop in ways that are new and surprising to me. The trajectory of learning, of frustration, and of accomplishment for the beginning musician has more in common with the intellectual vibrancy of life as a beginning medical student. I find that I am more driven to enhance my musical skills than I am my medical skills, although I certainly don’t wish the latter to falter.

As I continued to pursue the cello in the evenings, hospital-corridor conversations during the day revealed musicians hidden in all sorts of unlikely clinical corners: the pathologist who played violin, the ER doctor who was an accomplished cellist, the clinic director who played saxophone, the student who’d flipped a coin between Juilliard and medical school, the anesthesiologist who studied flute at the Eastman School of Music before “retiring” to a more practical career, the pulmonary fellow whose legendary beer-chugging habits masked a prodigious violin repertoire. Was this just a matter of uncovering a common hobby by making the effort to look, or might there be some intrinsic connection between?

I knew there was a doctors’ orchestra here in New York City, and as I started poking around I learned that there were others in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. There was also one in Europe, one in Jerusalem, one in Australia; even a World Doctors’ Orchestra.

Was this merely because most doctors grew up in middle-class homes conducive to music lessons? I searched other professions, and uncovered one lawyers’ orchestra in Atlanta. But I couldn’t find a single accountants’ orchestra, or architects’ orchestra, or engineers’ orchestra. There wasn’t any orchestra made up of Wall Street executives, computer programmers, government officials, or direct marketers.

There have been writings about the relation between medicine and the listening aspects of music, but nothing on the playing of music. Why do so many doctors pursue music? Why does the orchestra of doctors in Boston (the Longwood Symphony) receive audition inquiries on a daily basis?

Mark Jude Tramo, a neurologist, songwriter/musician, and director of The Institute for Music and Brain Science at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, feels that “there is overlap between the emotional and social aspects of relating to sick patients and communicating emotion to others through music. Some would speculate that there is [also] an overlap between aptitude for science, which most premeds major in, and for music.”

Lisa Wong—violinist, pediatrician, and president of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra—speaks for the many who came to medicine after years dedicated to serious musicanship. “The music we create builds in us an emotional strength, sense of identity, and sense of order. Then it is given away—we play for others, we play in ensembles. We come to medicine and it is the same thing. The giving, the service—in music and medicine—is a natural connection.”

Michael Lasserson, a British double-bass player, retired family physician, and founder of the European Doctors’ Orchestra, speaks from the perspective of the dedicated amateur. Although he was raised in a family of professional musicians, it was clear rather early on that he was headed for medicine rather than the stage. But, “music never lets you go,” he says. And it is more than just a hobby to make one a happier doctor. “It is a means whereby one is lifted away from the essential loneliness of clinical decision-making and action, into a world of a common enthusiasm and endeavor as the group searches for the beauty of sound [and] the composer’s intent, and those few hours have what can only be described as a healing function.”

There is also the risk-taking that offers parallels between medicine and music. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to slice open a patient’s abdomen with a scalpel. No less is required to take on Mahler’s seventh or the late Beethoven string quartets. “We hurl ourselves with suicidal courage against the commanding heights of the repertoire,” Lasserson says, hoping just to “touch the hem of that greatness”, though he acknowledges that sometimes, for the amateur, “miming skills will come to the fore.”

I debate this every night as I approach that single precious hour of energy after all the childcare has been completed and before exhaustion forces me to bed. Do I read that groundbreaking clinical trial that will surely impact my practice? Do I work on that unfinished book chapter? Do I read the newspaper and catch up on world events? Do I organize the entropy of my desk? Do I exercise for 30 minutes as I routinely exhort my patients to do?

Unfailingly, the answer is “none of above.” No matter how tired I am, no matter how much neuronal lint has accumulated throughout the day, I tighten the hairs on my bow and dig the end-pin of the cello into my rutted carpet. As I start to work on my assigned music for the week, I find myself focusing ever more narrowly on a single page, a single line, a single measure—even a single note.

Temperamentally, this is the exact opposite of life in the hospital, in which I feel pelted by ringing phones, needy patients, impossible schedules, irritating bureaucracies, and a cacophony of meaningless minutiae. It is a glorious relief, instead, to struggle for—and occasionally achieve—precisely the right note. But then, there is a step even beyond that. The note doesn’t have to merely be right—it also has to be beautiful.

Beauty is not something that gets much shrift in medicine. Other than the experimental design of a classic study that might be referred to as “elegant,” there isn’t much in medicine that falls into the category of beauty. Beauty is inherently unpragmatic—it doesn’t enhance efficiency, increase productivity, earn a grant, or cure a patient. Maybe it is this lack of beauty that drives doctor–musicians to struggle to draw some into their lives via music.

But perhaps there is indeed something in medicine that is related to beauty. After all, medicine is about life—the wriggling, sensual, bodily aspects of being alive. This is not something that can be said about engineering, law, or accounting. Although being alive—and being sick—can frequently be unpleasant, it never ceases to be miraculous. That miraculousness—and the privilege of doctors to be part of it—is a beauty in itself.

Willa Cather once said, “Novelists, opera singers, even doctors, have in common the unique and marvelous experience of entering into the very skin of another human being.” The beauty of entering the very skin of another human being is how many musicians describe the emotional experience of playing music. And for many, it is the striving to achieve that—almost more than the attainment—that offers the most pleasure. As we physicians strive to achieve the best for our patients in the messy, corporeal world of clinical medicine, we work to enter that very skin of another human being, and perhaps—with luck—we can touch the hem of that greatness.

Touching the hem is about all I can aspire to, but that’s enough. I’m willing to grovel for that. The sheet music of the first Bach suite appears straightforward—two pages of evenly spaced notes in the key of G. No intricate timing, no double-sharps, no key shifts, no clef shifts, no fancy ornamentation. But as anyone who as ever tussled with Bach knows, that simplicity is ruthlessly deceptive. “One measure at a time,” my teacher has instructed me. “It needs to be completely memorized. Expect to put in about a year on this.” This is said without irony.

Week after week, month after month, I tiptoe gingerly through the music. The melodic phrases are simultaneously simple and horrifically complex. But when I’ve survived a measure and can play several notes in sequence, the beauty is astounding—the type of beauty that really does take the breath away. I haven’t made it to the hem yet, and may never. But that’s okay. It’s all in the reaching.

Music as a Means of Discipline

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

This is one of several posts leading up to our day-long Performing Medicine Festival on April 5, 2014, which will explore the interrelationships of medicine, health, and the performing arts. Register for the festival here.

From van de Wall, W. (1924). The utilization of music in prisons and mental hospitals, its application in the treatment and care of the morally and mentally afflicted. New York: Published for the Committee for the Study of Music in Institutions by the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music.

Willem van de Wall.2

In the 1920s, Willem van de Wall, a Dutch-born professional harpist and choral director, began promoting the therapeutic use of music in prisons, hospitals, and other institutions.1

In the pamphlet “Music as a Means of Discipline,” van de Wall discussed his successes in prisons, along with this caution:

Never forget that the use of music as an energy awakener call of earnest deliberation, besides psychological and musical insight. If applied indiscriminately it might cause the boiling over of seething temperaments and create havoc through conjuring individual and social crises. If utilized sagaciously, however, it will soothe and transform the lower emotional trends into currents of loftier endeavor and expression.3

Van de Wall carefully chose well-known folk and traditional tunes (including “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Stars of the Summer Night,” “A Perfect Day,” and “The Missouri Waltz”), sang them with groups of prisoners, and discussed the texts “for teachings about socially ethical principles.” And he clearly laid out the limitations of his work: “Can music do it all? No. Can it do a part? Yes. What part? That of inspiring, starting and supporting.”3

As described by van de Wall, the results were often astonishing. In terms of individual inmates, “Many a detained soul confessed to me that our weekly choral group was the first constructive affair in which he had participated since school days.”3 And at the institutional level:

I go to a penal institution where it would be absolute folly to bring the entire population together for any other group expression than community singing. One song of thirty-two bars of music lasting one minute and a half accomplishes more than all the keepers and matrons and disciplinarians and all the other ‘arians’ together.3

phonographdemo

“Group from the extra-recalcitrant, psychopaths, and borderline criminal insane listening to a phonograph demonstration to correct singing methods.”2 Click to enlarge.

Later in his career, van de Wall shifted his focus to music therapy with a broader audience, including those without special behavioral or physical needs.1 As he wrote:

“Music is a great unseen friend accompanying us from our cradle to our grave, always expressing for us, caressing us with, our dearest emotions of life.”3

References

1. Clair, A. A., & Heller, G. N. (1989). Willem van de Wall: Organizer and innovator in music education and music therapy. Journal of Research in Music Education, 37(3), 165–178. doi:10.2307/3344667

2. Van de Wall, W. (1924). The utilization of music in prisons and mental hospitals, its application in the treatment and care of the morally and mentally afflicted. New York: Published for the Committee for the Study of Music in Institutions by the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music.

3. Van de Wall, W. (192?). Music as a means of discipline. Reprinted from the Proceedings of the 53rd Annual Congress of the American Prison Association.

Author’s Night – The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience

Perry N. HalkitisPlease join us on Wednesday, March 19 at 6 pm to hear NYAM Fellow Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH, discuss his latest book, The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience. The book has just been named a finalist for a 2014 Lamda Literary Award in the biography/memoir category. To RSVP, e-mail Donna Fingerhut.

Dr. Halkitis had several motivations for writing this book, as he explains:

First, I wanted to create a historical document of the unique experiences that these men—the men of the AIDS Generation—lived through—people who lived through the darkest moments of the epidemic in the first two decades of AIDS. Second, I wanted to demonstrate the resilience of my generation of gay men and move away from research that is based on deficit models that are too often evident in the literature.  In fact, somehow the men of the AIDS Generation survived and thrived. It would be simple to say it was pure luck that they remained healthy long enough for the development of antiviral therapies. But I believe what I learned from these stories is that there is something greater at work here. These men were able to attend and care for the whole selves—social, biological, and emotional selves—which empowered them to get through to 1996, the turning point of the epidemic, and which is demonstrative of resilience and not deficit. Third, the way that the men of the AIDS Generation managed the disease helps to inform how we can work with all people who are living with HIV and other people living with challenging chronic diseases.

Dr. Halkitis is professor of applied psychology and public health and population health (Steinhardt School and Langone School of Medicine), director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior & Prevention Studies, and associate dean for academic affairs (Global Institute of Public Health) at New York University. He is also an affiliate of NYU’s Center for AIDS Research and Center for Drug Use and HIV Research. Dr. Halkitis has conducted HIV behavior research for the last 20 years, examining HIV in relation to other health problems.

Announcing Our Performing Medicine Festival

Header for Performing Medicine FestivalJoin us on April 5, 2014 to explore the interrelationships of medicine, health, and the performing arts with a day-long festival of actors, dancers, doctors, and musicians. Register here.

Performers will include Dr. Richard Kogan on the mental life of famous composers; Brian Lobel and his comedic adventures as a cancer patient; David Leventhal and Pamela Quinn on dance and Parkinson’s disease with DANCE FOR PD® from Mark Morris Dance Group/Brooklyn Parkinson Group; the medical musicians of Mount Sinai on the art of listening; with discussions, musical interludes from Weill Cornell’s Music and Medicine Initiative, and more.

Throughout the day there will be guided behind-the-scenes tours of our Coller Rare Book Reading Room and and Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory. Spaces are limited to 20 people per tour; make sure to get your tickets early!

This will be the first of two festivals in 2014 exploring the connections between medicine, health, and the performing and visual arts. In the fall our main festival, Vesalius 500: Art and the Body, will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Andreas Vesalius and the impact of his De Humani Corporis Fabrica or The Fabric of the Human Body. Like our 2013 Festival, the day will feature multiple strands of programs, performances, workshops and interactive events.

History Night Presentations Announced

The New York Academy of Medicine’s Section on History of Medicine will hold the “Fourth Annual History of Medicine Night – Part One: Spotlight on New York” on February 6 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm at NYAM, 1216 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 103rd Street. Register to attend here. A second evening of presentations is being planned for spring.

RBR deskThe night will feature the following presentations, as described by the speakers:

“Psychiatric Criminology in the Eugenic Era: The New York Police Psychopathic Laboratory, 1915-1929”
Sara Bergstresser, M.P.H., Ph.D., Columbia University, Bioethics

“First, I explore the historical background of North American and European psychiatry, criminology, and eugenics in the nineteenth century, including threads of early convergence. Next, I examine the development of eugenic psychiatry and its intersections with eugenic criminology, with a particular emphasis on New York State in the early twentieth century. I then present a case study from that time period, which is based primarily on materials from the archives of the New York Police Psychopathic Laboratory. I go on to argue that in this case the workings of psychiatric criminology were more eclectic and uncertain than they may otherwise appear based on broad descriptions of the eugenic era.”

“Not for Self but Others: The Presbyterian Hospital Goes to War”
Pascal J. de Caprariis, M.D., Lutheran Medical Center

“On March 11, 1940 the U.S. Surgeon General reached out to Presbyterian Hospital’s medical board president to develop a military hospital to support US troops in an eventual war. Structured to receive patients from combat areas and follow American troops throughout war, it was to provide complex medical and surgical care over the course of three years and two months abroad.”

“The Cancer Education Campaigns in Progressive Era New York City: The Role of Women”
Elaine Schattner, M.A., M.D., F.A.C.P., Weill Cornell Medical College

“At the start of the 20th century, myths about cancer’s causes and treatments were widespread. Fear of the disease—and of inept surgeons—was rampant. Many afflicted fell prey to hoaxers selling bogus salves, patent medicines and painless “cures.” In April 1913, a prominent New York City surgeon and gynecologist, Dr. Clement Cleveland, invited a group of well-to-do ladies, bankers and physicians to his home. They heard from statisticians and public health specialists, and considered what might be done to reduce cancer’s mounting toll. The group met formally again in June 1913 at the Harvard Club in New York City. They formed the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC), which three decades later became the American Cancer Society.”

“A Diagnosis of Philanthropy: Carnegie and Rockefeller and the Medical Profession”
Catherine (Katia) Sokoloff, Sarah Lawrence College

“Through exploring the evolving interests of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller during the Progressive Era, this paper unearths how these philanthropists and their advisers facilitated and funded the writing of the infamous Flexner Report in 1910. The report, also called Bulletin Number Four, exposed the inadequacies of medical schools and catalyzed dramatic education reforms.”

“Organizing Orthopaedic Societies in New York City in the 1880s: The New York Orthopaedic Society, the New York Academy of Medicine Section of Orthopaedic Surgery and the American Orthopaedic Association”
Jonathan B. Ticker, M.D., College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University

“After the seventh general meeting of the New York Orthopaedic Society (NYOS) on January 4, 1886, steps were taken to merge NYOS into a section of the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM). Thus, on January 29, 1886, NYOS adjourned and the NYAM Section of Orthopaedic Surgery began. On January 29th, 1887, the chairman of the Section and 15 others “[met] and [discussed] the organization of a national orthopaedic society.” This led to the founding of the American Orthopaedic Association (AOA).”

History Night: Call for Papers

RBR desk

The New York Academy of Medicine’s Section on History of Medicine is pleased to announce its Annual History of Medicine night to be held on February 6, 2014 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm. The event will take place at the Academy, located at 1216 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 103rd Street.

We are inviting all those interested in presenting to submit a narrative on a historical subject relating to medicine for consideration.

Note the following submission requirements:

  • Applications must include an abstract, with a  500-word maximum, and this form
  • Abstracts must be submitted no later than January 15, 2014

The time allotted for presentation is 12 minutes with an additional 3 minutes for questions/discussion. Papers selected for presentation will be determined by a panel of History of Medicine Section members.

Abstracts should be submitted electronically to Donna Fingerhut at dfingerhut@nyam.org.  Questions may be directed to Donna via email or phone (212-419-3645).

Congratulations, Captioners!

At our Festival of Medical History and the Arts on October 5, we asked attendees to submit captions for three images from items in our collection. Today, we’re happy to announce the winners of the competition, who will receive high-quality prints of the captioned image. We’ve included original captions with the images, where available, to help show how they appear in context (although the Festival attendees did not get to see them).

The first image comes from William Cheselden’s Osteographia, or The Anatomy of the Bones, published in London in 1733. Linda Kleinman wrote the winning caption.

“I’ve had enough of your lip!”

I’ve had enough of your lip!

The second image appears in Konrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium Liber IIII, published in Zurich in 1558. Samuel Luterbacher wrote the winning caption.

“I knew I should have never trusted Dr. Moreau.”

I knew I should have never trusted Dr. Moreau.

The final image, produced by Egbert van Heemskerck II circa 1730, appears in the George Osborne Mitchell Medical Scrapbook. This picture inspired the strongest pool of captions. But Iana Dikidjieva’s caption stood out from the pack.

“It appears to have been curiosity.”

“It appears to have been curiosity.”

Congratulations to the winners!

Thank You! Festival of Medical History and the Arts Wrap-Up

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Whew!

Our first Festival of Medical History and the Arts was a great success; more than 1,000 people attended and responded enthusiastically to our mix of talks, demos, films, etc. Now that we have had a chance to draw breath, here are a few details from the day:

It’s hard to pick highlights, although of course Dr. Oliver Sacks speaking about his intellectual influences and the patients who inspired his Awakenings was hugely exciting for all of us. We are grateful to Dr Sacks and all the speakers who came and shared their knowledge.

Our guest curators did an amazing job. Lawrence Weschler’s Wonder Cabinet started with a (big) bang, a banjo-accompanied cosmic/neuronal slapdown, and ended with fascinating insights from Riva Lehrer into how an artist’s body can affect her art and her anatomy teaching. In between, spectators had the chance to get a glimpse into the experience of having an epileptic fit; share anatomical adventures; and witness some cringe-inducing treatments suffered by monarchs through the ages.

The cosmic/neuronal smackdown.

The cosmic/neuronal smackdown. Photo by Amy Hart.

Joanna Ebenstein’s Morbid Anatomy presentation of 12(!) talks throughout the day were standing-room only, forcing us to move to a larger room, which filled up just as quickly. The day started with Mexican traditions around death, took a detour to human zoos, wax anatomical models, medical library pleasures, memento mori, and skull theft before ending with the little-discussed practice of bookbinding with human skin.

Sigrid Sarda gives a medical wax moulage demonstration.

Sigrid Sarda gives a medical wax moulage demonstration. Photo by Amy Hart.

Our conservation team prepared a wonderful exhibit of models demonstrating development of the book over time (no human skin involved), as well as a whimsical look at the life of miniature books. We put highlights from our collections on display, and welcomed visitors to our conservation laboratory. Meanwhile, visitors could learn the art of making anatomical wax moulage and see Gene Kelly struggle with combat fatigue.  And the after party cocktails and cartoons were just the things needed to wind down after the long day.

Cocktails and cartoons at the after party.

Cocktails and cartoons at the after party. Photo by Amy Hart.

With so many people, some events did fill up. Particular apologies to those who couldn’t make it on a behind-the-scenes tour. With such overwhelming demand, we’re planning to make them a much more regular feature, so if you missed out you’ll get another chance at a future event. Our two anatomical workshops were also full; for those of you in New York, we are investigating offering courses on a more regular basis, so please let us know if you are interested!

A tour of the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory. Photo by Amy Hart.

A tour of the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory. Photo by Amy Hart.

Pictures from the day are up on our Facebook page, and winners of the caption competition and the raffle will be announced soon.  Meanwhile, keep an eye out for more details of our Performing Medicine mini-fest, coming in the spring. Hope to see you then, if not before for some of our stand-alone events!

Winsome Fetal Skeletons Bearing Scythes: Monro’s Traité d’ostéologie of 1759: Guest post by Morbid Anatomy

A note from the Center for the History of Medicine & Public Health: This is the last post in Morbid Anatomy‘s guest series leading up to our Festival of Medical History and the Arts. If you’ve enjoyed these posts as much as we have, don’t despair! Tomorrow’s event holds a full day of lectures and activities from Morbid Anatomy, Lawrence Weschler, and the Center. We hope you can make it! See the full schedule here.

FrontispieceThe NYAM rare book collection holds a gorgeous copy of the first French edition of Alexander Monro’s (1697–1767) celebrated Traité d’ostéologie (or “Anatomy of Bones”). Monro was trained in London, Paris, and Leiden before going on to become the first professor of anatomy at the newly established University of Edinburgh. It was under his leadership, and that of his successors, that the school went on to become a renowned center of medical learning.

Monro originally published this book without images, thinking them unnecessary after William Cheselden’s lavishly heavily-illustrated Osteographia, or the anatomy of the bones of 1733 (more on that book at this recent post). The very fine copperplates you see here were added to the French edition by its translator, the anatomist Jean-Joseph Sue (1710–1792).

My favorite image in the book is a kind of memento mori–themed tableau morte of winsome, scythe-bearing fetal skeletons enigmatically arranged in a funereal landscape (images 1–3). I also love the frontispiece in which a group of plump putti proffer anatomical atlases and dissecting tools under the oversight of a skeletal bird (above).

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more. All images are my own, photographed at the New York Academy of Medicine.