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.

Astronomische Beschreibung und Nachricht von dem Cometen 1746

Kindermann, Eberhard Christian  (fl. 1740)

Astronomische Beschreibung und Nachricht von dem Cometen 1746.  Und denen Noch Kommenden, Welche in denen Innen Besagten Jahren Erscheinen Werden

Dresden: Gottlob Christian Hilscher, 1746

[4], 14 p.  Engraved frontispiece

Kindermann 1

This rare publication describes in some detail a spectacular comet (allegedly one of the five brightest ever seen) that appeared in the year 1746.  It was first discovered by the Swiss astronomer Phillippe Loys De Chéseaux, and is designated by modern astronomers as C/1746:P1.  Kindermann’s pamphlet, the title of which can be translated as “Astronomical Description and Information Concerning the Comet of 1746,” besides commenting on that celestial body, attempts to show that it is the same comet that appeared earlier in 1682.  In addition, details are given about other periodic comets along with the dates of their expected return.  Kindermann either was unaware of, or chose to ignore, Edmond Halley’s published computations (in 1708) that in reality the comet of 1682 would not appear again until 1758.

Not a great deal is known about Kindermann.  In the 1740s he was the royal astronomer and mathematician to the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich Christian Leopold Johann Georg Franz Xaver von Sachsen.  He was the author of at least two other astronomical books, one of which was a lengthy treatise, Complete Astronomy (1744).  He is probably better known, at least among science fiction aficionados, as the author of Reise in Gedancken durch die Eröffneten Allgemeinen Himmels-Kugeln (1739) that uses an imaginary voyage through space to popularize astronomy, with creative speculations on the inhabitants of other planets.

Kindermann 2

A Martian Discovery?

In the attractive copperplate engraving that Kindermann uses as his frontispiece, he shows a portion of the solar system that includes the orbits of the Earth and its moon, as well as that of Mars and three comets.  What is remarkable—and perhaps an astronomical mystery—is that Kindermann shows Mars with its own single satellite, with the legend, “Path of the Martian moon discovered by the author [Kindermann] on 10 July 1744.”

Kindermann 3

It is quite remarkable because the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, were not officially discovered until 1877.  A telescope powerful enough to detect these two small bodies orbiting close to the planet did not exist in 1744.  This claim of Kindermann was not mentioned in the scientific literature until 1892 when Ralph Copeland’s “On a Pretended Early Discovery of a Satellite of Mars” appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Interestingly, Jonathan Swift in his Gulliver’s Travels (1726) posits the existence of two Martian moons in the chapter, “Voyage to Laputa,” and his speculations about them are astonishingly close to their actual specifications.