Dear reader, my Christmas gift to you is this – Hidden treasure: the National Library of Medicine – a fabulous, beautifully illustrated and freely available ebook detailing some of the riches in the collection of the National Library of Medicine in the US, and emanating from the point at which personal interests and my working life collide.
To give you a flavour, among my favourite of the revealed treasures are the Langenburg Manuscript (a 16th century compilation of texts about the health and maintenance of horses), nurse postcards and uniform photograph collections, White’s physiological manikin, Marvels of things created and miraculous aspects of existing things (a 13th century Islamic cosmography), examples of hirsutism from the 1876 edition of the Atlas of skin diseases, Theodosius Purland’s mesmerism scrapbooks, the Numskulls-like wonder of The wonder in us (popular science from 1920s Germany), Chinese public health slides, St. Elizabeths magic lantern slide collection, a 17th and 18th century book of receipts for remedies, and covers and pages from Scope magazine. Plus lots of other weird, wonderful and grotesque medical stuff, and accompanying each item, short essays by scholars, artists, collectors, journalists, or physicians. It’s not an entirely scientific trawl through the history of medicine, but it illuminates a creative energy from across the centuries in which medical science is married to art.
It’s an irony of course that this is an ebook celebrating hard copy words and pictures in all their varied and magnificent forms; books you’d really like to get your (white gloved) hands on. But it is also itself available in hard copy, if a preference for the heft of a book in your hand and the feel of pages as you turn them beats the cost involved. Or you are stuck for a last minute idea for a Christmas present. It’s the kind of book I’d like to receive myself, and I feel somewhat frustrated that among those to whom I routinely give presents, I can’t quite imagine who I’d aim it at. The same goes for the equally enticing Book of barely imagined beings: a 21st century bestiary. But at least I can draw both books to your attention.
Merry Christmas to all my regulars, and to anyone stumbling into this alien domain for the first time.