History of Medicine
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Curious? Take a Look
Take a look and find something new. Explore this selection of remarkable materials and the exhibitions that feature them.
Follow where your curiosity leads you!
Illustration of the Infection of a Bullet Wound, 1870
The German born, American artist Robert Kohler (1850-1917) depicts the bone infection that resulted from a gunshot fracture of the femur suffered by American Civil War veteran David Saffern. The osteomyelitis (acute or chronic bone infection) is indicated by the mottled texture of the marrow and green and black hues in this representation of a chromolithograph published in a case study of Saffern's injury in the U.S. Sanitary Commission's Surgical Memoirs of the War of the Rebellion vol. 1 1870-1871. To learn more about veterans of the American Civil War, visit the online exhibition Life and Limb: The toll of the American Civil War.
Private George W. Lemon, 1867
On May 5, 1864, Private George W. Lemon was shot in the leg at the battle of the Wilderness. Following his capture by Confederate soldiers, Private Lemon did not receive treatment for his wounds until freed by Union forces a week later. The soldier suffered repeated infections and poor health as a result of his injuries and subsequent treatment until Surgeon Edwin Bentley amputated the limb. Private Lemon made a full recovery and was fitted with an artificial leg in 1868. This representation of the chromolithograph of Private Lemon appears in Drawings, Photographs and Lithographs Illustrating the Histories of Seven Survivors of the Operation of Amputation at the Hipjoint, During the War of the Rebellion, Together with Abstracts of these Seven Successful Cases, 1867 by George A. Otis. To learn more about this story, visit the online exhibition Life and Limb: The toll of the American Civil War.
Cadaver buried February 7, 1828, and exhumed April 24, 1828, 1831
French artist Jacques Hippolyte van der Burch (1786-1856) represented the effects of putrefactive changes produced in cadavers when exposed to earth, water, air, and fumigation, in a series of chromolithographs that appear in the 1831 treatise on the subject of exhumation and decomposition by Mathieu J. B. Orfila, MD (1787-1853) and Octave Lesueur, MD (1802-1860) titled Traité des exhumations juridiques. [Treatise on legal exhumations, and considerations on the physical transformations undergone by cadavers rotting in the earth, in water, in toilets and in manure], Paris, 1831. To learn more about the history of forensic science, visit the online exhibition Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body.
Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila, ca. 1835
Spanish born, French chemist Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila, MD (1787-1853) was the first 19th-century exponent of forensic medicine, and is often called the "Father of Toxicology." Dr. Orfila worked to make chemical analysis a routine part of forensic investigation. His work included studies of asphyxiation, the decomposition of bodies, and exhumation. This representation of a lithograph portrait shows a decorated and richly adorned Dr. Orphila.To learn more about the history of forensic science, visit the online exhibition Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body.
Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace), 1926
In this representation of a chromolithograph, German artist Fritz Kahn (1888-1968) depicts a modernist visualization of the human digestive and respiratory systems, as an "industrial palace" or chemical plant. Kahn conceived of Der Mensch als Industriepalast in a period when the German chemical industry was the world's most advanced. To learn more about the history of anatomical representations, visit Dream Anatomy.
Elizabeth Blackwell, ca. 1875
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), the first woman in America to receive a medical degree, said she decided to pursue medical training after a close friend who was dying suggested she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman. Dr. Blackwell overcame significant social and financial obstacles to pursue her career and, in 1847, Geneva Medical College accepted her application to study medicine. Dr. Blackwell received her degree on January 23, 1849. To learn more about Elizabeth Blackwell and the history of women in medicine, visit the online exhibition Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians.
Susie King Taylor, 1902
Susie King Taylor's memoir, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops Late 1st S.C. Volunteers, is the only known published recollection of the experiences of an African American nurse during the American Civil War. In a letter to Taylor, reproduced in her book, Lt. Colonel Trowbridge, commander of the regiment, praises Taylor's "unselfish devotion and service through more than three long years of war in which the 33d Regiment bore a conspicuous part in the great conflict for human liberty and the restoration of the Union." To learn more about Susie King Taylor, visit the online exhibition Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine
Go to the Countryside to serve the 500 Million Peasants, 1965
In June 1965, the chairman of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, called for young women and men to train and serve as community health care workers or "barefoot doctors" to those in need. Millions of peasants were living in the countryside far from fully-equipped medical facilities and the nearest health care center could be a three-day-walk away. These young medical workers would spend half of the day farming, and the rest of the time providing health care to those in the area. By the 1970s, over one million people had been trained. Although the delivery of medicine has changed since then, the low cost and wide distribution of health care made possible by the "barefoot doctors" has never been matched. To learn more about "barefoot doctors, visit the online exhibition Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health.
Ignorance = Fear, Silence = Death, 1989
Keith Haring (1958-1990) created memorable and unique art work during a career that achieved international recognition. Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Haring moved to New York City in 1978 and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts. He began creating graffiti art in New York City subway stations in 1980 and within a year had his first solo exhibition. During a brief but intense career that spanned the 1980s, Haring’s work was featured in over 100 solo and group exhibitions. He used a primacy of line and directness of message to express universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, using a primacy of line and directness of message, Haring was able to attract a wide audience and assure the accessibility and staying power of his imagery. Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, and then used his imagery to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, its mandate being to provide funding and use of his works to AIDS organizations and children’s programs. Keith Haring died of AIDS related complications at the age of 31 in 1990. To learn more about Keith Haring and the history and response to HIV/AIDS, visit the online exhibition Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics and Culture
Half-Hours with the Microscope
This illustration from Half-Hours with the Microscope (1860), English naturalist Edwin Lankester’s pocket-sized microscopy guidebook, gives readers a glimpse at cells and organisms too tiny to be seen by the naked eye. Lankester enlisted the help of scientific artist, Tuffen West, to pictorialize his observations under the microscope. In this page, West shows details of plant cells (figures 1-3 and 11-15), animal cells (figures 4-10), and microorganisms like amoebas (figures 16-25). Exploration of the microscopic world helped advance scientific understanding of microbes, which enabled scientists to devise methods of using them for medical and industrial applications. To learn more, visit the online exhibition, From DNA to Beer: Harnessing Nature in Medicine and Industry.
Advertisement for the film Marihuana, 1936
Marihuana: the Devils Weed was a cautionary exploitation film directed and produced by Dwain Esper. A young woman named Burma (Harley Wood) attends a beach party, smokes marijuana for the first time, and has sex with her boyfriend. After the party, a now pregnant Burma goes to work for a drug dealer and eventually becomes a major dealer herself, after giving up her baby for adoption. In the 1930s, stories about drug-induced recklessness and violence in film, as well as efforts to associate the drug with Mexican immigrants, were part of a crusade against cannabis spearheaded by government officials. By the 1960s, the drug was associated with the urban poor, criminals, political radicals, and social misfits known as beatniks. To learn more, visit the online exhibition, Pick Your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures & Medical Prescriptions.