Imperfecta: Fear, wonder, and science

On March 9, 2017, Imperfecta opens in the Mütter Museum, an exhibit curated by the staff of the Historical Medical Library, which will examine in text, image, and specimen how fear, wonder, and science shaped the understanding of abnormal human development.

One facet of this story is how people, laymen and scientists, reacted to new information in a time of discovery and upheaval.  Steve Desch, an astrophysicist from the University of Arizona, said, “Humans have a strong instinct to ignore scientific findings, until those discoveries challenge the stories we tell each other about ourselves.”  This tendency to ignore earth-shattering discoveries that fundamentally change how humans see themselves is a behavior that is as old as human existence itself.  Read more

Special Collections Aren’t For Only Librarians and Archivists

October and November were busy months for the Historical Medical Library! We launched our blog, announced that our collection of anthropodermic (human skin) books is the largest in the United States, held several impromptu pop-up exhibits, and hosted an Archives Month Philly event.

Our pop-up exhibits have been received with enthusiasm and we love surprising Museum visitors with the opportunity to visit the Library and see our collections. The exhibits in October were focused on the concept of “monster” as used as a medical term over the past 500 years, and culminated in our Archives Month Philly event, “The Monstrous, Fabled & Factual: Exploring the Meaning of ‘Monster,’ 1500-1900.” (You can read our previous post about Archives Month here.)  The exhibits in November displayed our “Favorite Things.”

This year was our first time participating in Archives Month Philly. It was fantastic to invite everyone, show off our collections, and talk about them with our peers. We feel like our Library has been “hidden” for so long – especially to the general public – and Archives Month was the perfect opportunity to show people that we exist and have interesting collections!

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Tracing Monsters Across Medicine

-by Wood Institute travel grantee Dr. Shane Miller*

Last summer, I had the pleasure of spending a week at the Mütter Museum and the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia perusing the archive of medical texts and the specimens of human and animal physical abnormalities. The goal of my stay was to examine how the role of the monstrous had changed across time within medical literature.

Our fascination with monsters goes as far back into western history and literature as one cares to look. Early thinkers such as Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen and Pliny, all discussed monsters and strove to fit and explain them within their theories and understanding of the world. Rather than simple products of ignorance or superstition, these texts were sophisticated efforts to try and make sense of first- and second-hand accounts of people and creatures that were strange, terrifying and at first glance, inexplicable.

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On Archives, the Monstrous, and the Medical

amphilly-logoDid you know that October is American Archives Month? Each October since 2006, archives and special collections across the United States throw open their doors and show off the amazing “stuff” (Yes, that IS a technical term!) in their collections while educating the public about what archivists do; why archives are important to society’s past, present, and future; and how these materials are made accessible to anyone who wishes to use them. You can check out some of the great events planned for Archives Month Philly here.

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