(This is our second blog entry in The Recipes Project’s virtual conversation, “What is a Recipe?” For a bit of background or to read the first article, on a 19th Century recipe manuscript from Lancaster, PA, click here.)
Magia Naturalis, or Natural Magick, written by Giambattista della Porta was first published in 1558 in Naples when the author was fifteen years old. Della Porta was an Italian scholar and playwright known for his expertise and knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, and for having contributed many advances to the fields of agriculture, optics, pharmacology, hydraulics and more.
The edition held at The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is the first English translation published in 1658, 100 years after its initial publication. It contains some of the additions added by della Porta in subsequent editions, most notably, the first published description of the convex lens and camera obscura. Though he did not invent these, his work in perfecting and describing them, and their inclusion in Natural Magick, contributed to the dissemination of this knowledge.
But, you may be asking by now, what does this have to do with recipes? A quick look at almost any page in volume reveals the answer.
What is a recipe? Is it instructions from which one can prepare a meal, a snack, a dessert? Or is it how to mix the best cocktail? Or how to cure acne? Or how to care for a bee sting? What other knowledge does one need to properly take advantage of the advice in a recipe? Recipes found in medical books are no different than ones found in food cookbooks; it’s just that the desired outcome is different than a crowd-pleasing cake.
The Historical Medical Library holds over 20 manuscript recipe (or “receipt”) books, dating from the 17th century up through the early 20th century. The majority of our recipe books are medical in nature, but many include food, drink, and household cleaning recipes as well. I’ve even seen recipes for ink in a couple of our 19th century books.
“If [medieval] culture is regarded as a response to the environment then the elements in that environment to which it responded most vigorously were manuscripts.”
– C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature
The Historical Medical Library, as part of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL), is participating in a CLIR grant to digitize Western medieval and early modern manuscripts held by libraries in the greater Philadelphia area. The Library is lending thirteen medical manuscripts dating from c. 1220 to 1600 to this project, called Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis (BiblioPhilly). Our manuscripts will be digitized at the University of Pennsylvania’s Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Images (SCETI) and the digital images hosted through the University of Pennyslvania’s OPenn manuscript portal and dark-archived at Lehigh University.
The year 2017 marks the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I. In memory of those Fellows of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia who served in times of war, the Historical Medical Library will be creating a geo-referenced digital timeline using the letters and photographs of College Fellow and World War I surgeon George Outerbridge (1881-1967). The collection was donated to the Library in 1972 after they were found by the residents of George Outerbridge’s former home.
The Historical Medical Library, as part of its role with the Medical Heritage Library (MHL), is working on a consortium wide digitization effort, in conjunction with the Internet Archive, to provide scholarly access to the entirety of the State Medical Society Journals published in the 20th century. For an introduction to this project, you can read my previous blog post.
In this post, I would like to explore what I began to discuss at the end of my last post: the application of computer aided text analysis techniques, also referred to as “text mining.” In this second-in-a-series of posts about the MHL project and the possibilities for digital scholarship, I will offer an introduction to some of the core concepts of text mining, as well as some easy-to-use, browser-based tools for getting started without the need for a high level of expertise, or specialized software. There will be a link to some more in-depth resources and processes at the end of this article for people interested in exploring some of these concepts and processes more fully.