Event Announcement: The Roles of Physicians in 19th Century Polar Exploration

Our Friends of the Rare Book Room have traveled from Louis XIV’s Paris to early twentieth century Ellis Island.  On Wednesday, February 1, we invite you to join us for the Arctic.  In this special Friends event, Dr. Douglas Kondziolka will discuss his collection of Arctic and Antarctic polar exploration books, maps, and letters from the era of the late eighteenth century through the early twentieth century. Dr. Kondziolka is a member of the neurosurgery faculty at New York University as Professor and Vice-Chair for Clinical Research.

Dr. Kondziolka’s focus on the Arctic was stimulated first by his Canadian father’s tenure with the US Air Force at their Canadian base in the Arctic in the 1950s, and later by the popular historian Pierre Berton and his book “The Arctic Grail.” Dr. Kondziolka’s collection, which began in 1994, was fostered by several trips to the arctic to visit important exploration sites. The collection documents the important steps in Arctic discovery, both for a Northwest Passage to Asia, and to the North Pole itself.

Dr. Kondziolka’s collection tells the story of a cast of unique characters, and among them many physicians, who dared to venture into lands unknown.  A few of these individuals are highlighted below:

Alexander Mackenzie
Alexander Mackenzie was the first European to travel overland to the Pacific Ocean, proving that there was no way to get there entirely by water.  His publication was received by Thomas Jefferson, who spurred him to send Lewis and Clark to “solve the American West.”


Elisha Kent Kane
A few decades later, the Americans joined in the search for the North Pole. A bored physician, Elisha Kent Kane, was the first successful American polar explorer. His book became the #2 best seller during the Civil War, just behind The Bible.

Charles Francis Hall
Spurred by Kane’s adventures, a Cincinnati newspaperman, Charles Francis Hall, ventured up to the Arctic.  He was the first to go native, and brought Inuit back to New York to rave reviews. On his last voyage, despite being able to reach far up the coast of Greenland, his men mutinied and poisoned him, preferring to make their way back home.


We hope you will join us on February 1 for this special event. Click here to register.

Friends of the Rare Book Room are invited to come at 6:00pm to look at selected books with the speaker in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room prior to the talk. This event is part of our series for Friends. To join the Friends please click here.

Become a Friend of the Rare Book Room

Auld Lang Syne, traditionally played at the start of a new year, begins with a question: “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?”  The song that follows is generally thought to be a call to remember long-standing friendships.

As we begin 2017, please consider joining the Friends of the Rare Book Room. Whether you have come to the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room to use some of our 550,000 books and manuscripts, have stopped by for a tour or speaker event, or enjoy our digital offerings, we consider you part of the New York Academy of Medicine Library community.

Friends’ support ensures the ongoing vitality of the Library and its collections. Friends help underwrite the Library’s public programs and outreach activities; the acquisition, conservation, and cataloging of remarkable historical materials; and digitization of our key Library treasures.

As thanks for being a Friend, you will be entitled to discounted prices to special lectures, programs, excursions, and receptions, including private viewings of the collections. Below are a few of the many exciting events we have planned in 2017.

1/11:      Private tour of the Morgan Library Literary Collections

Open to all Friends of the Rare Book Room members; advance registration required.  Just a few spaces left so act quickly!

A special behind-the-scenes exclusive visit to Morgan Library & Museum for a guided tour of the museum’s literary collection and meeting with John Bidwell, Curator of Printed Books and Bindings.


1/28:      “How a Colonial Family Read: The Winthrops and Their Books”

Speaker: Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor of European History, Princeton University

When John Winthrop and his family left England for Massachusetts, they brought books, in quantity, and they went on buying more. This lecture will use evidence in the Winthrops’ copies of their books to show how four generations of male and female Winthrops read, and track the story of an early American family over time.

2/1:        “The Role of Physicians in 19th Century Polar Exploration”

Speaker: Douglas Kondziolka, NYU Vice-Chair for Clinical Research

Douglas Kondziolka collects arctic and antarctic polar exploration materials; this talk will focus on the story of the many physicians, who dared to venture into lands unknown.

3/30:      “Anomaly and Imagination”

Speaker: Rosamond Purcell, artist and photographer

Acclaimed photographer Purcell has been interested in fantastical imagery from early modern books for much of her career. Descriptions and images of conjoined twins, one-eyed giant cyclops, and dog-headed cannibals appear in manuscripts and books. In medical collections, their biological counterparts are preserved as effigies in wax and as skeletons of conjoined twins, giants and dwarfs. This talk will cover ideas about hybrid beings, the illusion of the monstrous and the fluidity of natural forms.


4/13:      The Annual Friends of the Rare Book Room Lecture: “Art in the Service of Medical Education”

Speaker: Rose Holz, historian of medicine and sexuality at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln where she serves as the Associate Director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program and Director of Humanities in Medicine.

Professor Rose Holz examines the life of Dr. Robert L. Dickinson, gynecologist, investigating the hugely influential Birth Series sculptures he created in 1939 with fellow artist Abram Belskie. The Birth Series both shaped modern gynecological education for aspiring practitioners and educated lay individuals in matters of pregnancy and reproduction and gave rise to new understandings of pregnancy radically different from those that held sway in the 1800s.


For more details about Friends programs throughout the year contact frbr@nyam.org.

Happy New Year from the New York Academy of Medicine Library!


Visiting Ellis Island’s Hospital Complex

On June 7, our Friends of the Rare Book Room and ARCHIVE Global: Architecture for Health enjoyed a private visit to the hospital zone on Ellis Island. The private support group Save Ellis Island offers hardhat tours of the hospital complex, which is adjacent to the main reception center operated by the National Park Service. More than 30 people took the ferry from Battery Park across New York Harbor to Ellis Island to learn more about the site and its importance to the history of public health in New York City. Some stayed on for lunch afterward at historic Fraunces Tavern.

Our Save Ellis Island tour guide gives safety instructions before the group enters the hospital zone.

Our Save Ellis Island tour guide gives safety instructions before the group enters the hospital zone.

On the south side of the island, and out of use since 1954, the hospital complex housed would-be immigrants who were not permitted to immediately enter the country. All steerage passengers were inspected—usually for only a few seconds, given their great numbers—and some 1 to 2% were detained for health reasons. Completed in 1909, the 750-bed hospital included wards for infectious diseases, kitchens, massive laundry facilities, an autopsy room, and recreation spaces for patients and staff alike.

The autopsy room.

The autopsy room.

Even in its semi-derelict condition, the complex is one of the few remaining “pavilion” style hospitals in the country. Pavilion hospitals were first built in France in the 18th century, and were enthusiastically endorsed by reformers such as Florence Nightingale in the 19th century. The design emphasized the need for ventilation, with wards built to promote sanitary conditions, provide light, and maximize the circulation of air. Pavilion hospital design fell out of use in the 20th century.

Caged verandas allowed patients access to fresh air while controlling their movement around the complex.

Caged verandas allowed patients access to fresh air while controlling their movement around the complex.

The Ellis Island site, already abandoned and crumbling, was further damaged during hurricane Sandy, and Save Ellis Island is working to stabilize the buildings, while preserving the sometimes eerie atmosphere of the site, now partially overgrown with vegetation. For more information about the complex, and the Save Ellis Island project to bring it back into public view, see: http://www.saveellisisland.org/history/hospital-complex


Wall with a tide mark showing the level of water during Hurricane Sandy.

We are increasingly offering our Friends group exclusive events such as this visit. If you are interested in becoming a Friend, find out more here. Friends who missed out on this sold-out event should e-mail culturalevents@nyam.org to express their interest in another tour at a later date.

What’s Happening at the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health?


Cover image from an undated menu of a hotel cafe outside Lisbon. Click to view brochure.

We are thrilled to share our brochure of 2015 programming with you.

A few of these events are right around the corner. We will present two panels on Sunday at the Food Book Fair: Food and Empire and Cookbooks and History. For more information and for tickets, visit foodbookfair.com.

On April 14 at 6 pm, come to our annual Friends Lecture and hear Nick Wilding, PhD, present “On the Circulation of the Book: The Early Reception of Harvey’s De Motu Cordis.” The lecture is free and open to the public; a reception for Friends of the Rare Book Room will follow.

Download the brochure to find out more about our year-long series “Eating Through Time: Food, Health, and History,” our History of Medicine Lecture Series, and our collaboration with Atlas Obscura, “After Hours: Inside the Rare Book Collection of The New York Academy of Medicine.”

We look forward to welcoming you at our events!

Become a Friend of the Rare Book Room

We are excited to announce the re-launch of our Friends of the Rare Book Room program, with new Friends levels and benefits bringing you access to more events and opportunities for engagement with our world-renowned collections. Our rare book room is home to some of our rarest and most significant holdings, forming the heart of our collections. You can make an appointment to visit the rare book room by e-mailing history@nyam.org or calling 212-822-7313.

NYAM_RBR_106By becoming a Friend of the Rare Book Room you’ll support our mission of preserving and promoting the heritage of medicine and health though our public programs and outreach activities; the acquisition, conservation, and cataloging of remarkable historical materials; and digitization of our key treasures. And you’ll join an engaged group of supporters, passionate about preserving our collections.

We’ll be announcing exciting new additions to our programming throughout the year, including special Friends events. In the meantime, please save the date for the March 31 and April 14:

On March 31 we will welcome Dr. Vivian Nutton, Professor Emeritus of the History of Medicine at University College, London, who will speak on “Vesalius Correcting Vesalius.”

Our annual Friends lecture on April 14 will feature Nick Wilding, our 2013–2014 Klemperer Fellow in the History of Medicine. His lecture, “On the Circulation of the Book: The Early Reception of Harvey’s De motu cordis,” will draw on research done in the rare book room.

Friends’ contributions make a huge difference to us, allowing us to better care for our collections and make them as widely accessible as possible to everyone who wishes to use them. Please consider supporting our efforts!