“Medical Treasures at Emory”, an Exhibition of Intriguing Historical Medical Books and Artifacts, Now Open at Emory University Woodruff Health Sciences Center Library (WHSCL) – a reminder of the days when doctors had a rudimentary understanding of human anatomy, performed surgeries without antiseptics, and used primitive forms of anesthesia for operations and dental care.
An opening reception will be held at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 17, when the American Association for the History of Medicine, in town for a lecture at the Emory Conference Center, visits the exhibit.
âMedical Treasuresâ, on display until October 2013, presents documents from the historical collections of the WHSCL, which include 18e– and 19e– Century works on human anatomy, pathology, surgery, midwifery and alternative medical practices.
Robert Gaynes, MD, professor of medicine (infectious diseases) at Emory University School of Medicine and author of the book “Germ Theory: Medical Pioneers in Infectious Diseases”, curates the exhibit with Matt Miller, a senior resource management specialist at WHSCL who received his PhD in American Studies from Emory’s Higher Institute of Liberal Arts.
âEmory has some really remarkable books and artifacts on the history of medicine, especially the 1800s when modern medicine first started,â Gaynes said.
This is the first major exhibition for WHSCL, says Sandra Franklin, director of the library. âIt’s really exciting for us to give visibility to our treasures,â she says. “Among the materials in our historical collections, we did not realize the importance of what they had. The rarity of some pieces is astonishing.”
Notable artifacts in the exhibit include one of the earliest 19th-century stethoscopes and a Civil War surgeon’s instrument kit, primarily used for amputation. âThey look pretty macabre, especially when you realize that this was the last major military conflict before the use of antiseptics,â Gaynes says. “The surgeries were performed under terribly unclean conditions. Many soldiers died not in combat but from infections.”
Documents related to the discovery of anesthesia are also part of the exhibit, including notes from Crawford W. Long, the Georgian physician for whom Emory Midtown University Hospital was originally named. Notes, from the collection of Emory’s Library of manuscripts, archives and rare books (MARBL), provide evidence that Long had already introduced ether anesthesia before its first documented use at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846.
“It’s pretty exciting. These are important historical notes on the early use of ether anesthesia,” Gaynes says. âThere was a lot of debate in the 19th century that spanned over 20 years, and these documents helped settle that debate. ”
Most of the documents on display are historical medical books. Among these volumes: books on field surgery practices during the Civil War, a book from 1881 that incorporates old medical photographs to show the ravages of syphilis, a copy of “Notes on Nursing: What It is, and What It Is Not “(1865) by Florence Nightingale, and an 1849 obstetrics book by Charles D. Meigs, an obstetrician and professor of obstetrics who opposed obstetric anesthesia and the introduction of hygienic practices during childbirth on the theory that “doctors are men and a man’s hands are clean”.
The last exhibition case is devoted to an important medical book: âde humani corporis fabricaâ (On the structure of the human body), first published by Andreas Vesalius in 1543. It is considered to be the first precise book on the human body. human anatomy; until its inception, changes in medical discoveries moved incredibly slowly and closely followed Galen’s writings in the second century, Gaynes says.
This version, which is part of the WHSCL Historical Collection, is the oldest book kept at MARBL. The Emory volume is considered to be a variation published between the first edition (1543) and the second (1551), and one of the 60 existing copies.
The book, printed on linen pages, features 11 full-page plates of characters “astonishing in their detail,” says Gaynes. An article on display describes how Emory’s librarian Myrtle Tye was able to purchase the book in 1930 with donations she collected during the Great Depression.
âIt is one of the most important books in the history of medicine,â says Gaynes. “It corrected errors in Galen’s theories and brought about changes in modern medicine. It is a privilege to see and display it.”
Some of the rare books on display have been digitized through the Emory Libraries Digitization Program, and visitors will be able to “browse” these treasures, physically preserved under glass, via a kiosk in the exhibition.
Franklin says library staff are happy to share materials from their small historical collection with the Emory community and the general public. Most of the materials have been acquired over the years through donations.
âWe are proud of our historic collection and happy to have been able to preserve and secure the items for all these years until we can display them properly,â Franklin said.
WHSCL is located at 1462 Clifton Rd. The library web page provides links to directions, parking, timetables and maps.