Ninety Years and Counting

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

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Postcard showing entrance to The New York Academy of Medicine, n.d.

On Saturday, October 15th tours of The New York Academy of Medicine’s building will again be part of Open House New York, the city’s annual celebration of architecture and design.  This year’s event is a notable one for us because our building is ninety years old. On October 30, 1925, after sixteen years of fund-raising, searching for just the right location, and reviewing and approving plans drawn up by the architectural firm York & Sawyer, the trustees of the Academy laid the cornerstone for our present home. Slightly over a year later, on November 18, 1926, after an afternoon dedication ceremony, the building opened to the public.  The election of Honorary Fellows and the delivery of the Wesley M. Carpenter Lecture, by Professor Michael I. Pupin of Columbia University, took place that evening.

The building received quite a bit of attention in the press when it opened. The December 1, 1926, issue of the Medical Journal and Record devoted more than twenty pages to descriptions of the opening ceremonies, including the texts of several of the speeches from the November 17th dinner at the Waldorf Astoria that preceded the formal dedication, Arthur Duel’s account of the history of the Academy’s several homes, and Mabel Webster Brown’s detailed exploration of many of its architectural features.1

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Postcard with exterior view from 103rd Street of The New York Academy of Medicine, n.d.

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Postcard with view of Woerishoffer Hall, the Academy’s third floor reading room, constructed in 1925.

The building is a showcase of the Byzantine and Romanesque revival style popularized by York & Sawyer in collaboration with the interior design firm Barnet Phillips, whose other New York projects with the architects include the Central Savings Bank, the Bowery Savings Bank and the New York Athletic Club, all of which display similar design features.2 The Academy’s new home contained nine floors of library stacks; the main library reading room, Woerishoffer Hall, with its large arched windows looking out to the north and west; the auditorium, Hosack Hall; reception rooms; office spaces; and meeting rooms for the Academy and several other organizations. A carved lunette featuring Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, and his daughter, Hygeia, the goddess of health, fills the archway above the front entrance, flanked by portraits of Hippocrates and Galen. Carved Latin inscriptions, selected by a committee of Academy fellows, fill niches above the front door and some of the windows. Elaborately painted beamed ceilings, depicting animals and plants important to the history of medicine, grace the main lobby area and the third floor reading rooms. The bronze animals and plants inlaid in the marble floor of the entrance lobby, along with the carved figures in the auditorium, add whimsical touches that still attract the attention of visitors today.

Above, a squirrel and a mandrake adorn the floors of our lobby.

In 1928, Architectural Forum, one of the most prominent national architecture magazines, featured the building in its April Architectural Design issue, providing floor plans as well as multiple photographs of the interior and exterior spaces. Matlack Price, in his preliminary comments, complimented the architects on their ability to make the design seem “so new, so fresh, so vital as to seem almost the same stuff as the modernistic trend of today, the difference being that this new revival of Byzantine and Romanesque is far better than most of the modernistic work is, or is likely to be. This structure is among the most interesting of recent buildings.”3

 Although the Academy expected its new building to provide sufficient space for at least twenty years of library growth, by 1930 the trustees were already exploring plans for an expansion. At the end of 1932 the addition that contains the rare book room suite and other office and study spaces rose above the auditorium on the northeast side.

While looking through the archives in preparation for this year’s tours, sets of postcards illustrating a number of the architectural features of the building came to light. We know that these cards could not have been made until after the spring of 1933, when the addition was completed because one of the cards shows the interior of the rare book room (below). The postcards, which are part of this post, show many of the elements of the building that are still visible today.

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Interior of our rare book room, now called the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.  n.d., but after 1933.

References

1Duel, A. B., “The Building of the Academy,” Medical Journal and Record Dec. 1, 1926, pp. 718-721 and Brown, M.W., “Art and Architecture of the Academy of Medicine’s New Home, Medical Journal and Record Dec. 1, 1926, pp. 729-734.

2https://archive.org/stream/SelectionsFromTheWorkOfBarnetPhillipsCompanyArchitecturalDecorators/BarnetPhillipsCompanyCca107588#page/n0/mode/2up  Accessed on October 4, 2016.

 3Price, M., “The New York Academy of Medicine,” Architectural Forum, Part I: Architectural Design, v.XLVIII, no.4, April 1928, pp. 485-503.

Presentations Announced for the Fifth Annual History of Medicine Night: Insights from the Early Modern Period

The New York Academy of Medicine’s Section on History of Medicine will hold the “Fifth Annual History of Medicine Night: Insights from the Early Modern Period” on March 11 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm at NYAM, 1216 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 103rd Street. Register to attend here.
RBR shelfPresenters will address historical topics relating to medicine with a focus on the Early Modern period.  This year’s presenters are:

Barbara Chubak, MD
Urology Resident (PGY-5), Montefiore Medical Center
“Imagining Sex Change in Early Modern Europe”

Jeffrey M. Levine, MD
Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine and Palliative Care
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
“A Fresh Look at the Historiated Initials in the De Humani Corporis Fabrica”

John E. Jacoby, MD, MPH
Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
“On the Life of Dr. Robert Levett: The Philosophy of Primary Care”

Nina Samuel, PhD
Center for Literary and Cultural Research
University of Berlin
“The Art of Hand Surgery”

Michelle Laughran, PhD
Associate Professor of History
Saint Joseph’s College of Maine
“The Medical Renaissance among Three Plagues: Epidemic Disease, Heresy and Calumny in Sixteenth-Century Venice”

Sharon Packer, MD
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
“Epidemic Ergotism, Medieval Mysticism & Future Trends in Palliative Care”

Part two of this lecture series, “History of Medicine Night: 19th– and 20th-Century Stories,” will take place on May 6, 2015.

Who Becomes a Medical Doctor in New York City: Call for Papers

RBR deskThe New York Academy of Medicine’s Section on History of Medicine is pleased to announce “Who Becomes a Medical Doctor in New York City: Then and Now—A Century of Change” to be held on December 11, 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 an abstract with one aspect of how individuals were selected, or excluded from, the study of medicine in New York City over time. These might include, but need not be limited to, decisions based on academic qualification, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, economics, and country of origin. The influence of career expectations for the profession and social and cultural factors motivating individuals to become a medical doctor may also be considered.

Note the following submission requirements:

  • Applications must include an abstract, with a 250-word maximum, and this form.
  • Abstracts must be submitted no later than October 30, 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 committee of History of Medicine Section members and staff of The New York Academy of Medicine.

Abstracts should be submitted electronically to Suhani Parikh at sparikh@nyam.org.  Questions may be directed to Suhani via email or phone (212-419-3544).

Introducing Graphic Medicine

Ian Williams and MK Czerwiec, authors of today’s guest post, co-run the website GraphicMedicine.org. They will present “Graphic Medicine and the Multiplanar Body” at our October 18th festival, Art, Anatomy, and the Body: Vesalius 500.

The 2010 Comics & Medicine gathering before Senate House.

The 2010 Comics & Medicine gathering before Senate House.

In the summer of 2010 a group of scholars, health care professionals, and comics artists gathered in Senate House, London. This brutal-looking art deco building, said to have inspired George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth,” represented Gotham City Courts in the films Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Those gathered, however, were not particularly interested in superheroes. They focused on graphic memoirs of illness, a modern phenomenon born of the counterculture in the 60s and 70s that has gathered momentum over the last 20 years.

Among the 75 delegates from around the world were the authors of this blog entry. The lead organizer of the conference was Ian Williams, a doctor and comics artist, creator of The Bad Doctor (2014, Myriad Editions). MK Czerwiec (pronounced sir-wick), aka Comic Nurse, has been making comics about her work in HIV/AIDS and hospice care since the late 1990s as a way of processing these caregiving experiences. We have now worked together for four years, talking and writing about the interplay between the comics and health care. We make comics, collaboratively and separately, and will give a talk on October 18th at “Art, Anatomy, and the Body: Vesalius 500” about Graphic Medicine, the field we helped pioneer.

The Bad Doctor. Cover by Ian Williams.

The Bad Doctor. Cover by Ian Williams.

MK Czerwiec teaching at Northwestern Feinberg Medical School. Still from BBC story by Katie Watson.

MK Czerwiec teaching at Northwestern Feinberg Medical School. Still from BBC story by Katie Watson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often when we describe Graphic Medicine, people say that comics must make an excellent educational medium for patients, especially those with poor literary skills and marginalized groups such as drug addicts, teenage mothers, or the mentally ill. While comics have certainly been used to reach these audiences, the idea behind this response is freighted with assumptions about comics, their target demographics, and the literacy skills or aesthetic proclivities of the social groups so named.

Stack of medically-themed graphic novels. Photo by Ian Williams.

Stack of medically-themed graphic novels. Photo by Ian Williams.

We regard comics as a sophisticated, rich, and adaptable system through which to explore the complex issues of health care. Our primary interest has been the use of graphic illness narratives to provide new knowledge about the illness experience and commentary on the pervading cultural conceptions of disease and health care. We are also interested in the psychological process of making comics. We have also been teaching using comics—both making them and reading them—in medical schools in the US and UK.

Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin Mary cover by Justin Green

Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin Mary cover by Justin Green

In 1972 Justin Green became the first comics artist to unburden his psychological troubles onto the page, creating Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary. This inspired subsequent generations of artists to articulate their corporeal experiences in words and pictures, a process that Elisabeth El Refaie refers to as “pictorial embodiment.”1 More than 40 years later, the myriad comics titles that appear each year include stories of disease or trauma, known as “graphic pathographies,”2 in which the authors give highly subjective accounts of their own illnesses or caregiving experiences. The production of these works involves the repeated drawing of the author’s or subject’s body over a prolonged period, which may have interesting effects on how the artist perceives the body. The relentless decision-making process forces the artist to examine fears, suffering, anger, disgust, disappointment, and grief and distill the whole into a succinct series of sequential panels through which to transfer the narrative to the reader.

2014 Comics & Medicine poster. Art by Lydia Gregg.

2014 Comics & Medicine poster. Art by Lydia Gregg.

Since the London gathering, we have held international conferences in Chicago, Toronto, Brighton, and Baltimore. The movement is growing and what was initially viewed by some as a novelty interest is gaining respect in academia. As the nature of literacy changes, moving from the textual towards the image, comics is once again in ascendance, gaining new readers who might have previously dismissed the medium.

 

 

 

 

References

1. El Refaie, E. (2012). Autobiographical comics: Life writing in pictures. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

2. Green, M. J., & Myers, K. R. (2010). Graphic medicine: Use of comics in medical education and patient care. BMJ, 340, c863.

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.

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).

A Ceroplast at NYAM

In today’s guest post, the artist Sigrid Sarda tells us how historical collections inform her work. Visitors to our Festival of Medical History & the Arts may have seen her moulages in person, and be sure to visit her blog for information on exhibitions and more of her fabulous work.

Earlier this year, I began researching the collections at the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. I am an artist/ceroplast, which means wax modeler. The resources I discovered at the Center have been of great inspiration to my work.

Sigrid Sarda, "MRSA," 2013. Wax, Human Hair, Life-size.

Sigrid Sarda, “MRSA,” 2013. Wax, Human Hair, Life-size.

First, let me tell you about myself. For over 30 years I was a painter. Due to the death of my father and the psychological aftermath I experienced, I ceased painting. In its place, the obsession of the wax figure came into being. Since I was completely self-taught and only worked in this medium for a few years, it was necessary to learn more about its technique and history. Having always had a fascination with religious icons, the body (particularly skin), diseases, and later on death, as well as incorporating human remains such as teeth, bone, and hair in my work, I realized I needed a better understanding of the aesthetics and techniques of wax used in creating these life-size figures and medical moulages.

While exhibiting a waxwork in New York City, I met up with Lisa O’Sullivan, director of the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health at NYAM, and Arlene Shaner, reference librarian and acting curator for historical collections. After discussing the exhibited piece and my ambitions working in wax Dr. O’Sullivan invited me to explore NYAM’s collections. This was an opportunity not to be missed!

Upon arriving at NYAM, I was directed to the 3rd floor of the massive Romanesque building where Arlene welcomed me. Delightful, funny, and knowledgeable, she made me immediately comfortable in the surroundings of the library and excited to view the books housed in the collection. She checked out my waxwork, we geeked out on ceroplasts, and spoke about other artists whose work dealt with death such as Joyce Cutler-Shaw.

On my second visit, filled with anticipation, I found myself greeted by marvelous books and an actual anatomical wax moulage of a diseased infant. After the initial perusal of my work, Arlene knew what was needed for my research: anatomical images and techniques, and had the books waiting for me in the formidable reading room. As a bonus she brought out the works of M. Gautier D’Agoty, the 18th-century French artist and anatomical illustrator. I pored over both heavily illustrated and non-illustrated books for hours, amassing information for future waxworks. There is truly nothing like the feel of a beautiful book in your hands. The library has become quite the addiction, what with the wonderful staff and superb collection!

Below are images from D’Agoty and various books consulted at NYAM, and above is one of my wax moulages.

“A Passionate Statistician”: Florence Nightingale and the Numbers Game

In conjunction with its exhibit, “Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement,” the Grolier Club is holding a symposium on October 26, 2013, to which all are welcome. The exhibition and symposium explore the contributions of 32 women, one being Florence Nightingale, to science and medicine. The exhibition features NYAM’s copy of one of Nightingale’s statistical charts. In today’s blog post, Natasha McEnroe, director of London’s Florence Nightingale Museum, explains their significance.

Florence Nightingale. Reproduced by courtesy of the Florence Nightingale Museum.

Florence Nightingale. Reproduced by courtesy of the Florence Nightingale Museum.

The Victorians loved nothing better than to measure and classify, trying to discover natural laws through the data they recorded, and Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was no exception in sharing this general enthusiasm. Having gained celebrity status from her nursing work at the infamous Barracks Hospital at Scutari, the British base hospital in the Crimean War (1853-1856), Nightingale returned to England with her health permanently broken down. Determined that the appalling treatment of the soldiers during the war should not be repeated, she spent the rest of her life conducting a political campaign for health reform from her bedroom. One of the ways her campaigning was groundbreaking was in the use of statistics.

Reproduced by courtesy of the Florence Nightingale Museum.

St Thomas’ Hospital, London, home of the Nightingale Training School for nurses. Reproduced courtesy of the Florence Nightingale Museum.

Nightingale’s love of mathematics was apparent from an early age and was an interest  encouraged by her father, who took the responsibility of educating his daughters into his own hands. Her parents’ social circle brought the young Nightingale into contact with many of the most brilliant minds of the age, including Charles Babbage, whose own passion for numbers (and not a little pedantry) is shown in a letter to Alfred Tennyson in response to the poem The Vision of Sin:

‘In your otherwise beautiful poem, one verse reads,
Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

…If this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death. I would suggest that the next version of your poem should read:
Every moment dies a man,
Every moment 1 1/16 is born.
Strictly speaking, the actual figure is so long I cannot get it into a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry.’

Just weeks after her return from the Crimean War in 1856, Nightingale secured a Royal Commission from Queen Victoria investigating the health of the British Army. Nightingale herself was involved in every step of the Commission’s investigations, working with the statistician William Farr to illustrate graphically that more British troops died of disease during the war than in battle. Farr encouraged Nightingale to compare statistics on mortality rates of civilians with that of soldiers, showing that whether at war or at home, soldiers demonstrated a higher mortality rate.  He wrote to Nightingale, “This I know…Numbers teach us whether the world is ill or well governed.”  Nightingale pioneered what is now called evidence-based healthcare and in 1858 she was the first woman elected to the Royal Statistical Society.

Chart from Florence Nightingale’s A contribution to the sanitary history of the British army during the late war with Russia (London, 1859)

Chart from NYAM’s copy of Florence Nightingale’s A contribution to the sanitary history of the British army during the late war with Russia (London, 1859).

A devout woman, Nightingale saw statistics as having a spiritual aspect as well as being the most important science, and believed statistics helped us to understand God’s word. Influenced by the ethos of Victorian vital statistics, her greatest legacy can be seen in improved public health, reformed nursing education, and in her innovative polar area graphs and other work in statistics. In Nightingale, this most eminent of Victorians, we can see the combination of the two great passions of her age—a compulsion to classify and a desire to improve by reform. What made Nightingale remarkable were the personal qualities of fierce intelligence and energy that enabled her to pursue these passions with the immense determination for which she was famed.

A Renaissance Man at Work: Volcher Coiter’s “Externarum et internarum principalium humani corporis” of 1573: Guest post by Morbid Anatomy

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One under-seen and fascinating book to be found in the NYAM rare book collection is Externarum et internarum principalium humani corporis partium tabulae published by Dutch Renaissance man Volcher Coiter (1534–1576) in 1573. Not only was Coiter renowned as an anatomist, surgeon, and physician accomplished in the fields of physiology, ornithology, and embryology; not only did he establish the study of comparative osteology and describe cerebrospinal meningitis before any of his peers; he was also an artist, and signed many of the finely drawn copper engravings in his books, including those you see here.

 

All images are my own, photographed at the New York Academy of Medicine, save the painted portrait of Coiter, which was sourced here. The caption, attributed to Dorothy M. Schullian, reads: “Coiter’s portrait (1575) in oils, attributed to Nicolas Neufchatel and representing him demonstrating the muscles of the arm, with the écorché he had constructed on his left and a shelf of medical classics behind him, is preserved in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, at Nuremberg; there are later portraits at Weimar and Amsterdam.” (source for caption here)

Sources: Lessico Volcher CoiterWikipedia

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more.