History of Medicine at Seidman House

As a Library Summer Scholar, I had the opportunity to explore the field of library sciences. Inspired by my unique fields of study – a history major and biology minor – I was interested in studying the medical texts included within Seidman House’s Rare Book Collection. The following treatises cover a large period of time, and multiple aspects of medicine, to demonstrate the diversity of the field.

Andreas Vesalius

Prior to Vesalius, Aristotle’s theories on the four humors, and Galen’s knowledge of anatomy based on vivisections of animals, was treated as law. As Vesalius studied Galenic medicine and began performing his own dissections on human specimens in Paris and Padua, he noticed a number of inaccuracies.

Seeking to correct these errors, Vesalius performed more dissections and produced multiple detailed illustrations of various human anatomical structures and systems. Jan Stephan van Calcar transferred these drawings into woodblock prints. Together, the images and Vesalius’ detailed descriptions became De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Indeed, Vesalius’ work was so accurate, it is still referenced today.

Seidman House has both a facsimile of the 1555 edition, as well as a modern English translation. For more information about Vesalius and his work, please visit Vesalius at 500 or Transforming Vesalius.

Jacobus Rueff

Among the various fields of medicine, gynecology and obstetrics are some of the most sensitive. Indeed, women’s health concerns were often left to midwives, as a man’s entrance into the woman’s world was considered taboo. Jacobus Rueff sought to change this dynamic, however.

As a surgeon and physician trained in midwifery, Rueff encouraged other physicians to learn obstetrical skills so they could help women in need. Rueff’s De Conceptu et Generatione Hominis explores aspects of midwifery, such as pregnancy complications and cures, and theories on conception.

De Conceptu was published in Europe in the late sixteenth century. Since there was little to no access to female cadavers at this time, the information and woodcut illustrations presented in De Conceptu are largely inaccurate. Nevertheless, Rueff set precedence for advances in women’s health.

For more information about Rueff, please visit the article, “Jacob Rueff (1500-1558) of Zurich and The expert midwife.” The article, “The start of life: a history of obstetrics” can provide more information about obstetrics.

John Parkinson

Long before there were pharmacies around every corner, there were apothecaries that promoted herbal remedies for medical ailments. As an apothecary and botanist to historic figures such as King James I and Charles I, John Parkinson was a respected figure in his field.

In the late 17th century, in particular, Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum was one of the leading treatises on herbal remedies. This tome is known as the last of the herbals – a book concerning the medicinal properties of plants – as florals grew in popularity shortly afterwards.

The title, which translates to The Theater of Plants, is a play-on-words: plants are the actors in a garden’s theater.

John E. Erichsen

As the American Civil War ravaged the United States, advances in medicine and surgery were being made exponentially. When it came to training the surgical and medical staff of the Civil War, John Erichsen’s The Science and Art of Surgery was the most popular text at the time.

The treatise went through over 10 editions, routinely being updated with new information, such as Pasteur and Koch’s germ theory. Other information included: various surgical procedures, gunshot wounds, amputations, and other treatments.

Seidman House has a large collection of medical texts about and/or from the Civil War.

Emil Grunmach

When we think of x-rays, it is easy to get lost in the chemistry and physics involved, thus the history of this medical tool is often forgotten. Emil Grunmach’s Die Diagnostik Mittels der Röntgenstrahlen in der Inneren Medizin, however, can provide such information.

Published in 1914 in Berlin, Germany, Grunmach’s text describes the use of x-rays (röntegenstrahlen) as a method of diagnosis in internal medicine, and includes a number of plates (above) as evidence.

X-rays, or Röntgen radiation, were discovered by German scientist Wilhelm Röntgen on November 8, 1895. Röntgen received the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 for this discovery.

More information about Röntgen can be found here.

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For more information about these treatises, or any of the rare medical texts, please visit Special Collections & University Archives on Allendale Campus at Grand Valley State University.