Humanity in the Art of Medicine

This month and last there were 3 significant pop up exhibits in the 3rd floor Historical Reading Room. A number of artists from Madison’s renowned Bone Folder’s Guild (BFG) looked at about 50 books from Ebling’s Rare Books & Special Collections. They concentrated on a number of small books from the 16th century, especially interested in those that were slightly deconstructed, since, as book makers they are interested in how earlier book binders and artists had constructed the books. We had examples of velum, leather, marbleized end papers, Coptic stitching, gluing, book plates, worm holes, ink shadows, binder’s waste…they could barely contain their delight in being able to pore over and handle these wonderful representations of 16th and 17th century book arts. The bigger illustrated anatomy books were a delight as well, as they discussed what it meant to be an engraver, a printer, a typesetter, and a book binder during an earlier century.

Following the BFG, a number of 4th year medical students, instigated by Scott Lee, came with a very different sensibility than the Guild. They were looking at anatomy books like Vesalius, Bidloo and Eustachae and cross disciplinary texts on surgery, cholera, TB, public health, obstetrics, dermatology, from the early 1500’s to the early 1900’s. While they were generally taken with the age, construction and illustrations within the books- they were most taken with either the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the illustrations, advice and treatments, and made multiple comments about the phenomenal heritage that represents the history of medical practice. Generally, the anatomical illustrations were lauded for their accuracy, immediacy and beauty, and the interdisciplinary texts were surprising in their modern sensibilities.

The third group were from Professor Josh Calhoun’s “Book Ecology: Then to Now, There to Here,” graduate English seminar, and were looking at books before 1870, that illustrated or described humoral theory and practice. Humoral rational is an ancient Greek theory (pre miasma or germ theory) suggesting that the body is composed of four basic humors such as black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood that were used as a basis to determine the health of an individual. According to this theory, the four humors have to be in balance in order to be healthy. Calhoun’s students poured over many of the same books as the Bone Folders and medical students with an eye to the language being used, the ways humoral theory and practice framed the culture of the doctor and patient, and how such theory informed the literature, like Shakespeare, of that time period. At the end of all these displays we agreed that no matter how the books were being viewed, the constant was the transference of information; historical, humanistic, clinical, and illustrative in the Art (and science) of medicine. If you are interested in a single rare volume, or a display for your like-minded group, contact Micaela,

Pictured: Medical Students, from left to right: Kelly Bruce, Lauren Engler, Kusha Rahgozar, Scott Lee, Alexandra Wick, Scott Grogan.

Pictured: Medical Students, from left to right: Mazdak Bradberry, Scott Lee and Kusha Rahgozar

Pictured: A close up of Tiedemann’s 1822 Tabulae arteriarum corporis humani shown to Prof. Calhoun’s class.

Pictured: Some members of the Bone Folders Guild with 16th-19th century books from Rare Books & Special Collections.

Pictured: Some members of the Bone Folders Guild with the 18th century D’Agoty (Exposition anatomique…)