– by Robert Hicks, Director of the Mütter Museum & the Historical Medical Library
William Maul Measey Chair for the History of Medicine
Special collections libraries occasionally spawn serendipitous discoveries while performing the most tedious tasks. Reference Librarian Caitlin Angelone was performing another bout of purging decades’ old pamphlet boxes of unneeded offprints of medical journal papers when she discovered a yellowed, folded wall poster. Carefully opening it, she discovered a ten-day diet schedule for posting in Union army hospital kitchens during the Civil War. In fact, the fine print at the bottom of the schedule commanded medical officers to conduct an “experimental trial” of the diet plan and report results to Surgeon General William A. Hammond, and scrupulously account for and report related expenses under the hospital fund, dated October 28, 1862.
“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 Battle Creek Sanitarium of Battle Creek, Michigan was a health resort which employed holistic methods based on principles promoted by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Treatments included hydrotherapy, electrotherapy, phototherapy, physical training, exposure to fresh air, enemas, and dietetic plans crafted to lower patient’s libidos in order to live a chaste lifestyle free of sin. It became a destination for both prominent and middle-class American citizens, including celebrities such as J.C. Penney, Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, Warren Harding, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Sojourner Truth. In order to draw so many prominent figures and a wealthy base of clients to its somewhat remote location in Michigan – and to promote the ideas of its founders, the Kellogg brothers – the Sanitarium needed to produce a wide swath of promotional materials, many of which survive today in The Historical Medical Library’s Medical Trade Ephemera collection.
This past June, I experienced what many rare book librarians only dream of – I was accepted at Rare Book School, also know as Summer Camp for Book Nerds. Rare Book School (RBS) was founded in 1983 by Terry Belanger to enhance the study of books across multiple disciplines and fields. Today, RBS offers over 60 courses at multiple locations, with the main hub being at The University of Virginia.
I was accepted into the most competitive class at RBS: The History of the Book, 200-2000 taught by John Buchtel, Head of Special Collections at Georgetown University, and Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress. The course promised a survey of printing methods and the evolution of the book, and the cultural impact of both. The course also provided a strong list of vocabulary words and phrases that all students who wish to stay in the field should know. I received my master’s degree a little more than a year before attending RBS, and in my current position as Reference Librarian, I find myself working with scholars from all over the world, all of whom have multiple perspectives on books. This course seemed promising.
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.