Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Turning the Pages of Historical Medical Texts

At the National Library of Medicine in Washington D.C. there is an electronic kiosk that allows visitors to browse the pages of historical medical textbooks. This Turning the Pages project is available now online for you to browse on your computer.

The interactive books are quite beautiful. For example, you can flip through the pages of Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body). This book is revered as "one of the most influential books in the history of Western medicine."

'It was conceived and written by 28-year-old Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), a professor at the University of Padua. Vesalius was both a gifted dissector and a learned scholar whose great contribution was to apply to anatomy the critical methods developed by the Renaissance humanist scholars."

Below is one of the famous images from Vesalius's series of skeletal men. This one shows a skeleton "contemplating human mortality."

Some features to point out when browsing any of these online books:
  1. Click on a page to advance to the next page. Click on the left page to go back a page.
  2. Unless you can read Latin, I suggest you click on the speaker icon to hear the narrator describe content on the pages you are viewing.
  3. Use the magnifying glass icon to zoom over the text.
  4. Hover the mouse over sections of the page and you can read curatorial notes describing the content.
  5. Click the "T" icon to the left of the page to see the transcript of the audio for that page.
  6. You can also print a page if you wish.

Even if you're not a historical book fanatic, I encourage you to browse these pages. It's a privilege to be able to see the details of a book written in 1543.


Lisa Mix said...

For blog readers here at UCSF, you can see the 1555 edition of Vesalius' work in UCSF Archives & Special Collections and many other historic anatomy works as well.

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