Seeing is Believing: Ophthalmology Over the Ages

We have all heard the phrase “an eye for an eye.” The full passage, from The Code of Hammurabi, 2250 B.C.E., reads, “If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye.” Less well known are the other ocular codes, including, “If a physician open an abscess (in the eye) of a man with a bronze lancet and destroy the man’s eye, they shall cut off his fingers.”

Ophthalmology, in a way, thus existed in ancient Babylon, meaning that the field is over 4,000 years old. Indeed, the ancient Egyptians detailed the treatment of cataracts and trachoma in papyri dating to 1650 B.C.E.

Hippocrates, the father of all medicine who lived in Greece in 5th century B.C.E., knew of the optic nerve, though he did not understand its function. He described many treatments for maladies of the eye, including restricted diets, hot footbaths and even cutting incisions into the scalp to excise the “morbid humors” of the eye. Galen, whose influence on Western medicine through the 18th century cannot be overstated, wrote two volumes related to ophthalmology, both of which are lost to history. However, his Anatomy and Physiology of the Eye exists to this day and prevailed for nearly 1,500 years after his death in 210 C.E.

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“Look” Out for Our New Series: Seeing is Believing

As the medievalists among you probably know, #MedievalMondays has drawn to a close. This new blog series, Seeing is Believing, is one of two that will be taking its place. (Stay tuned next month as Caitlin Angelone, our Reference Librarian and Queen of Pamphlets, introduces you to some of our trade ephemera.)

Every other month, I will be scouring our collection for thematically linked material that is interesting to read about but is also interesting to look at. As such, what more fitting topic could be chosen for the inaugural month than the eye, the very vessel of seeing.

Plate 28 from Traité des Maladies des Yeax, by Antoine Pierre Demours, 1762-1836.

Stay tuned to this blog for the introductory post to this month’s topic next Monday 2/2/2018, and follow us on Twitter @CPPHistMedLib where each week this month I will be adding to this brief history of ophthalmology by posting a new image with a link to the full metadata in our Digital Library.

Vale

Over the past 11 months, we have examined the College’s collection of all things medieval: manuscripts, incunabula bound in manuscript waste, and uncatalogued documents.  Features of our medieval materials that I’ve written about include catchwords, ink (here and here), illuminations (here, here, and here), scripts (here, here, here, and here), and parchment.  But what’s the point?  Why study these books, leaves, and documents that are over 500 years old?

 

f. 2r. A tonsured scribe, likely Bede. Bede, Prose Life of Cuthbert; extracts from the Historia Ecclesiastica. Durham, England, 12th c. British Library, Yates Thompson MS 26.

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Medicine at Ground Level: Digitizing State Medical Journals with the Medical Heritage Library

As part of its partnership with the Medical Heritage Library, the Historical Medical Library (HML) of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia has completed a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded initiative Medicine at Ground Level: State Medical Societies, State Medical Journals, and the Development of American Medicine1900-2000. 

The Medical Heritage Library has released 3,907 state medical society journal volumes free of charge for nearly 50 state medical societies, including those for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, through the Internet Archive (http://www.medicalheritage.org/content/state-medical-society-journals/). The journals – collectively held and digitized by Medical Heritage Library founders and principal contributors The College of Physicians of Philadelphia; the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine; The New York Academy of Medicine Library; the Library and Center for Knowledge Management at the University of California at San Francisco; the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health; the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library at Columbia University and Columbia University Libraries; and content contributor the Health Sciences and Human Services Library, University of Maryland, Founding Campus, with supplemental journal content provided by the Brown University Library, the Health Sciences Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library System, and UT Southwestern Medical Center Health Sciences Digital Library and Learning Center –  consist of almost three million pages that can be searched online and downloaded in a variety of formats.

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Making the Medieval Digital

“If [medieval] culture is regarded as a response to the environment then the elements in that environment to which it responded most vigorously were manuscripts.”

– C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Composite Medical Miscellany I. England, 15th century. Call number 10a 215.

The Historical Medical Library, as part of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL), is participating in a CLIR grant to digitize Western medieval and early modern manuscripts held by libraries in the greater Philadelphia area.  The Library is lending thirteen medical manuscripts dating from c. 1220 to 1600 to this project, called Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis (BiblioPhilly).  Our manuscripts will be digitized at the University of Pennsylvania’s Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Images (SCETI) and the digital images hosted through the University of Pennyslvania’s OPenn manuscript portal and dark-archived at Lehigh University.

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