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.

A Century of Whimsy

When we think of “rare books” our first thought might be ancient religious texts or old anatomy tomes, and while those kinds of books are on the shelves here, we also have a sizable collection of classic children’s literature. The majority of these classics were published in the century between 1850-1950.

Before big publishing firms became established, books were considered too expensive to create for children. Inexpensive books were not readily available to most consumers until the mid-19th century. The rising middle class, higher literacy rates, and cheap production costs allowed for the industry to experiment with a new demographic.

Alice illustrated by John Tenniel.

In the century that followed, many of the most iconic children’s literature were published. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is credited as one of the first big blockbuster successes of the genre. The novel, originally published in 1865, established motifs that inspired other up-and-coming authors. A child’s journey through a colorful nonsense world full of whimsical characters became a key component to the genre; many of the characters that inhabit these worlds are talking animals or inanimate objects.

Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin-man, The Lion and Toto illustrated by William Wallace Denslow.

Following in Carroll’s footsteps, other authors took their readers on a journey through a fictional world much like Wonderland. L. Frank Baum published his smash hit, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in 1900, this was the first in a series of stories set in the charming Land of Oz. Baum followed the tropes laid out by Carroll which helped to fill his fictional world with color. The first few years of the 1900’s saw a lot of other famous stories published such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

Peter and Wendy cover page illustrated by F. D. Bedford.

In 1906, J.M. Barrie published Peter Pan in Kensington Garden. This children’s story was originally published as chapters within an earlier adult novel by Barrie called The Little White Bird. The chapters featuring Peter Pan as a flying infant were popular enough to be printed as its own standalone children’s book. In the interim between these two publications Barrie went on to write a play called “Peter and Wendy” in 1904, which was published as a book in 1911. The island of Neverland was not originally a part of Peter Pan’s story, but was the setting for the play. Neverland also had many similar characteristics to Wonderland and Oz.

The story of a child who explores a new, whimsical world often mirrors the process of growing up and what trying to make sense of the seemingly nonsensical adult world can feel like.

Books Go To War

Armed Services Editions, 1943-1947

During the Second World War the paperback series known as the Armed Services Editions were distributed free to American soldiers, sailors, and airmen overseas.

Mash1

The idea for the program came from two Army officers and was further developed by the Council on Books in Wartime, an association of publishers, booksellers, and librarians.  This group was able to convince the armed forces, publishers, and printing firms of the positive impact that this initiative would have on the American men in uniform.

Mash2

Not sold or available in the United States, these paperback books introduced thousands of servicemen to the pleasures of reading.  Between 1943 and 1947, almost 123 million copies of 1,322 titles were printed.  All types of literature were available: classics, best-sellers, non-fiction, mysteries, and westerns, among others.

The books displayed here are from the Grand Valley State University Libraries’ collections and loaned by J. Randall Bergers.

Chained Books

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, books were valuable goods in that they were expensive to purchase.  One source mentions that one book was worth as much as a farm.  Being portable, books were easily subject to theft.  To prevent such occurrences, churches and schools developed a system of chaining books to tables, desks and lecterns in such a way that they could be read, but not taken away.

This book still has its sixteenth-century chain of eight links that is connected to a hasp, itself attached to the rear wooden cover.  The book appears to have been owned privately before it ended up as part of the collection of the English parochial library in Ecclesfield, Yorkshire, which probably added the chain. Grand Valley State University Libraries purchased the volume in 2011, and it can be viewed and studied at Special Collections & University Archives.

Suetonius 1491 binding

Suetonius Tranquillus, Gaius. Vitae XII Caesarum. With commentary by Marcus Antonius Sabellicus.
Added texts: Marcus Antonius Sabellicus, Epistola Augus-tino Barbadico and Vita Suetonii. Ausonius, Versus. Sicco Polentonus, De Suetonio.
Milan: Uldericus Scinzenzaler, 19 November 1491.
Folio.  Collation:  a-f8 g-h10 i-m8 n-r6 s8 (-s8 [blank])

Suetonius, a Roman historian, was born ca. AD 70 and died sometime after 130.  He was a contemporary of Tacitus, another Roman historian, and friends with Pliny the Younger.  Suetonius was a prolific writer, but his most famous work is Lives of the Twelve Caesars.  It has always been a popular work, although it concentrates on personalities and ignores the generalities of the times and society, and perhaps relies too much on gossip, scandal, and amusing anecdotes.  No fewer than thirteen editions were printed in the fifteenth century.

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.