About Author: Ed Holtum

Posts by Ed Holtum


Notes from the Rare Book Room “Histoire de medicine”

 Daniel Le Clerc (1652-1728). Histoire de la médecine. Nouvelle ed. Amsterdam: Aux depens de la Compagnie, 1723.

Swiss physician, Daniel Le Clerc was born at Geneva and studied medicine at Montpellier and Paris. He received the M.D. degree at Valencia in 1670 and returned to Geneva to enter private practice. Although successful as a physician, and later as a politician, Le Clerc expended great energy in writing and scholarship. Considered by many authorities to be the father of the history of medicine, Le Clerc is best known for his monumental Histoire de la médicine. The first edition was published in 1696 and, after the second edition had been exhausted, Le Clerc found it expedient to write a third edition, which he updated to the middle of the seventeenth century. Most striking is his inclusion of ten finely executed engravings depicting various personalities associated with medical history.



Not Just Another Pretty Face

Not Just Another Pretty Face

Hardin Library’s newest exhibit traces the history of the dubious attempts to divine personality characteristics by analyzing the size, shape, structure, and composition of the human head.  It was Aristotle who coined the term, “physiognomy” to support his own writings and inclinations on the subject. Since that time the notion that character and personality are somehow imprinted in facial features has received considerable attention through a variety of approaches, nearly all of them unsupported by empirical evidence of any kind and many of them used for such nefarious purposes as racial stereotyping and the outright support of bigotry.  The exhibit is located near the 3rd floor entrance to the library.


Notes from the Rare Book Room “Wrap up the Sword and Call me in the Morning”

But she has taen the broken lance,
And washed it from the clotted gore,
And salved the splinter o’er and o’er.

—Sir Walter Scott: Lay of the Last Minstrel—1805

The notion that wounds can be healed from a distance dates back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years and is retained in some folk remedies today. However, the idea reached its zenith in the form of weapon salve or , Unguentum armariu, the origin of which goes back at least as far as the Swiss physician-iconoclast Paracelsus (1493-1541). The idea was simple: rather than dressing the wound, the physician applies salve to the weapon that caused it while the wound is simply washed and left unattended. Among the many variants of the recipe is the following:

Take skull-mosse, two ounces, mummy, halfe an ounce, mans fat, two ounces, mans blood, halfe an ounce, linseed oyle, two drames, oyle of roses, and bole armoniack, of each one ounce. Mixe them together and make an oybtment: into the which hee puts a stick, depp’d in the blood of the woundd person, and dryed, and bindeth up the wound with a rowler dept every day in the hot urine of the of the wounded person. The annoointing of the weapon hee addes moreover; honey, one ounce, bulls fat, one drame.”

While the treatment appears farcical to the modern mind, there was considerable support among many serious philosophers of the 16th and 17 centuries. Even Francis Bacon (1561—1626), while skeptical, stopped well short of dismissing the idea out of hand.

Robert Fludd

The firmest adherent was Robert Fludd (1574-1637), English physician and mystic who explained that the salve worked as a result of the “mystical anatomy of the blood.”

Some of Fludd’s contemporaries pronounced the salve to be nonsensical while others condemned it as the devil’s work. Later writers, most notably, Oliver Wendell Holmes, have suggested that anointing the weapon rather than the wound simply allowed the tissue the chance to heal naturally.

The weapon salve fell out of favor by the 18th century it but remains as one of the more curious episodes in the history of medicine.


Notes from the Rare Book Room: The Great Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs

In the sixteenth century the same spirit which inspired Vesalius and others in the field of anatomy served also as the inspiration for the study of flora from actual specimens, culminating in what is certainly the most celebrated and probably the most beautiful herbal ever published, Fuchs’ De historia stirpium commentarii Basel, 1542.

Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566) was a German physician, professor of medicine at Tübingen, a practicing pharmacologist, a fervid Hippocratist, and writer of numerous works, the most famous of which is his herbal in which he describes 400 German plants as well as 100 foreign ones. The 512 woodcut illustrations are neatly colored by hand in pleasing tones and include a full-page hand-colored woodcut of Fuchs (see left) as well as portraits of the three illustrators, one of the first instances of such a tribute being paid to artists in a printed book (see lower rightl).

This first edition of this lavish herbal is characterized by spacious design and layout, by fine printing, and by the sheer number of illustrations. Its popularity was immediate and it was issued in many subsequent editions and translations, but the first edition was never equaled.


Notes from the John Martin Rare Book Room: Making the Best of a Bad Situation

 William Beaumont (1785-1853).  Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion, Plattsburgh, 1833.

When U.S. Army Surgeon William Beaumont saw the gaping hole in Alex St. Martin’s side, he had every reason to believe the wound was fatal.  The 28 year old Canadian voyager was accidentally shot in the stomach by a musket ball at close range.  In 1822, on the isolated fur-trading post in Mackinac Island he was given little chance to survive but Beaumont dressed the wound as best he could and his patient held on despite the fist sized fistula that remained on his left side.  “I saw him in twenty-five or thirty minutes after the accident occurred, and on examination, found a portion of the lung, as large as a Turkey’s egg, protruding through the external wound, lacerated and burnt; and immediately below this, another protrusion, which, on further examination, proved to be a portion of the stomach, lacerated through all its coats, and pouring out the food he had taken for his breakfast…”  After 17 days, St. Martin’s digestion was partially restored but the fistula became permanent.  Three years later, now stationed in Fort Niagara with St. Martin employed as his handyman, Beaumont seized upon the opportunity to observe the digestive process as no one had before and, with his patient’s permission,  performed various experiments within this living gastric laboratory.
     Over the next eleven years, Beaumont carried out an assortment of tests, including dangling various kind of foodstuffs  in the digestive cavity and pulling them out at intervals to observe and record the results.  In 1833, Beaumont published his research in his highly regarded, “Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion,” now a medical classic and a book that marks the beginning of the field of gastric physiology.  St. Martin outlived Beaumont by 27 years, the latter dying from a fall in 1853 and the former dying at the age of 86 in Quebec of “natural causes.”  The location of his grave was not revealed until 1962 at which time a plaque was placed nearby, briefly describing his contribution to medical science.


Rare Book Room Open House to Feature Early Works on Childbirth

The John Martin Rare Book Room will hold its annual open house on Thursday, May 14 from 4:30 to 7:30.  The exhibit, “De Partu Hominis; Six Centuries of Obstetrics,” will feature rare books on childbirth from the 15th through the 20th centuries.  The event is open to the public.  The open house will allow visitors to view and page through early atlases and manuals used by midwives and physicians featuring illustrations and descriptions of birthing chairs, forceps, caesarean section, the development of anesthesia, and complications of labor and delivery.  Among the dozens of works to be displayed include William Hunter’s striking 1774 atlas, The anatomy of the human gravid uterus, Oliver Wendell Holmes’ controversial 1842 treatise,  The contagiousness of puerperal fever, and De formato foetu, a set of plates rendered in the Baroque style, published in 1626.  The exhibit is part of a series of public lectures and presentation sponsored by the University of Iowa History of Medicine Society.  The John Martin Rare Book Room is located on the fourth floor of the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences.  For additional information, please contact Ed Holtum, Curator at 335-9154.


Opening Doors Exhibit Celebrates Achievements of African American Surgeons

The Hardin Library is hosting the traveling exhibition “Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Surgeons” through the end of next week (may 15th).  The exhibit celebrates the achievements of these pioneers in medicine by highlighting four contemporary pioneer African American surgeons and educators who exemplify excellence in their fields and believe in continuing the journey of excellence through the education and mentoring of young African Americans pursuing medical careers.  Opening Doors is a collaborative effort between the National Library of Medicine, the largest medical library in the world and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, the largest African American museum on the east coast of the United States. The exhibition is a celebration of the contributions of African American academic surgeons to medicine and medical education.


Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health

The Hardin Library is hosting The National Library of Medicine’s traveling exhibition, “Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health” through April 21.  The exhibition earned a best exhibit blue ribbon at the American Public Health Association (APHA) meeting which featured 550 booths at its 2008 expo. 

The colorful display highlights the revolution taking place in villages and towns around the world as scientists, advocates, governments, and international organizations, take up the challenge to prevent disease and improve quality of life for people in every continent.  For more information, including podcasts, quizzes, and opportunities for involvement in this important enterprise, visit the “Against the Odds” web site at:  http://apps.nlm.nih.gov/againsttheodds


Two New Exhibits at Hardin: Care of Lincoln and Care of Books

Two new exhibits on two very different subjects have been installed near the Hardin Library main entrance.  “His Wound is Mortal – Trauma Care, April 14, 1865” offers a look at the medical measure taken after the shooting of Abraham Lincoln, including excerpts from first-hand reports of the assassination and its aftermath.  The exhibit also raises the issue of whether or not the advances of present day trauma care might have saved the president’s life.


“Book Conservation—A Healing Art” is an introduction to book repair and preservation couched in medical terms.  Organized under categories such as, “anatomy,” “disability,” “therapy,” and “pandemic,” University of Iowa Conservator, Gary Frost provides descriptions and examples of books that need special care and protection to recover from various “illnesses.”  The display includes a cutaway model showing the structure of a book and several real-life examples of works that have been “rehabilitated” after various kinds of trauma.


Notes from the John Martin Rare Book Room — Long Before Google


GREGOR REISCH (ca. 1467-1525). Margarita philosophica. 2nd ed., 1504].

Long before there was Google and Britannica, there was Margarita philosophica, which might be called the first modern encyclopedia. Its twelve divisions cover the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric), the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy), and the natural and moral sciences. Of particular fascination are the many woodcuts which include early music notation, a large folding map of the Eurasian continent and parts of Africa, and astronomical, astrological, and zoological figures.  Several of the plates are of great interest to the history of anatomical and medical  illustration, including a man with dissected thoracic and abdominal cavities; two figures of the eye; a phrenological head showing the brain; a lying-in room showing a woman in childbed with infant and midwife; and a mineral spring bath.

Reisch was a Carthusian prior at Freiburg and confessor to Emperor Maximilian I, as well as assistant to Erasmus. Much more could be said of this immensely fascinating book; the music and the map (often missing from copies of all editions) make extremely interesting studies in themselves. The book was very popular, as attested to by its sixteen editions in the seventeenth century. This edition, the second authorized edition, was preceded by the first edition of 1503 and a “pirated” reprinting of the first edition which appeared the month before this second edition.