Heart’s Ease

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.

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Making the Medieval Digital

“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

Composite Medical Miscellany I. England, 15th century. Call number 10a 215.

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.

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All History is Local: Using Philadelphia Collections in National History Day Projects

I have been involved with National History Day (NHD) since 2001 as both a judge and as a librarian. Judging this competition is exciting – middle and high school students put their heart and soul into projects, some of which are of exceptional caliber. Working with NHD as a librarian can be frustrating – students seem to stick with the same 10 broad topics, all of which can be researched with little more than a few clicks on Google.

I am going to tell students a deep, dark secret held closely by NHD judges: if we, the judges, read another paper, or see another exhibition, about the atomic bomb, or about the Salem witch trials, or about Alice Paul, we might start screaming. The impact of the atomic bomb on international relations, or the impact of the trials on the development of government in New England, or Paul’s impact on women’s suffrage cannot be denied. However, I’ve read a paper each year since 2001 about the atomic bomb, regardless of the annual theme of NHD, papers with bibliographies that are created using nothing but sources that are found online.

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Special Collections Aren’t For Only Librarians and Archivists

October and November were busy months for the Historical Medical Library! We launched our blog, announced that our collection of anthropodermic (human skin) books is the largest in the United States, held several impromptu pop-up exhibits, and hosted an Archives Month Philly event.

Our pop-up exhibits have been received with enthusiasm and we love surprising Museum visitors with the opportunity to visit the Library and see our collections. The exhibits in October were focused on the concept of “monster” as used as a medical term over the past 500 years, and culminated in our Archives Month Philly event, “The Monstrous, Fabled & Factual: Exploring the Meaning of ‘Monster,’ 1500-1900.” (You can read our previous post about Archives Month here.)  The exhibits in November displayed our “Favorite Things.”

This year was our first time participating in Archives Month Philly. It was fantastic to invite everyone, show off our collections, and talk about them with our peers. We feel like our Library has been “hidden” for so long – especially to the general public – and Archives Month was the perfect opportunity to show people that we exist and have interesting collections!

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A Collaboratively Created Corpus: Digitizing the State Medical Society Journals

Starting in March 2015, the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia (HML) embarked on its second large scale digitization project. Under grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arcadia Foundation, and in conjunction with our partners at the Medical Heritage Library (MHL), a digital curation collaborative, we are working to digitize the entirety of State Medical Society Journals published in the US throughout the 20th Century.

The culmination of the project will be over 2.5 million pages of fully searchable digitized content. Patrons will be able to access this material through the MHL, as well as the Internet Archive, whose facilities in Princeton will be doing the digitization. This will be the first time that all of this content will be available in one place, either in print or digitally.

State Medical Society Journals
A selection of State Medical Society Journals on the shelf in our stacks.

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