Mapping histories of medicine

A great post by my friend, the Dutch historian of science Marieke Hendriksen, on employing digital humanities techniques.

Marieke Hendriksen

Over the past few months, I have started exploring the many possibilities offered by Digital Humanities technologies. Digital humanities ‘can be described as a set of conceptual and practical approaches to digital engagement with cultural materials’, as this excellent online resource from UCLA puts it. Another excellent resource for historians to learn more about digital tools and techniques is Adam Crymble’s ‘The Programming Historian.’ One of the things I find most fascinating is the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to represent historical data. While keeping in mind that maps are always distorted in some way, entering historical data about events, people, and dates into a GIS application can visualize connections and networks that are otherwise difficult to grasp.

Network visualization of 17th C correspondents discussing anatomy via E-Pistolarium project. Network visualization of 17th C correspondents discussing anatomy via E-Pistolarium project.

For example, the ‘Knowledge circulation in the 17th century’ project in the Netherlands gives insight not only…

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An Eighteenth-Century Sweeney Todd

2 January 2015 A human skeleton was an essential ornament to the early modern dissecting room. Beginning with Vesalius, a number of anatomical textbooks offered instructions for making an articulated skeleton from a dead body, and there was a flourishing clandestine industry in making skeletons and in stealing or otherwise procuring the necessary dead bodies …

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A Sonnet to an Anatomist

Montpellier surgeon Barthélémy Cabrol (1529-1603) first published his Alphabet anatomic in 1594. A series of tables that graphically represented the parts of the body, it was immensely popular, with eleven editions in the seventeenth century as well as translations into Latin and Dutch; the Dutch translation in 1633 was by Descartes’s friend and correspondent Vopiscus …

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Sir Nicholas Gimcrack rides again

In today’s New York Times there is a report on some new experiments on rejuvenation. Blood from young mice, it appears, can reverse signs of aging in old mice. The article cites experiments in the 1950s by Clive McCay (famous for his experiments showing that calorie restriction extends life)  that joined rats together by their …

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Why fierce animals are fierce

The eighteenth-century Dutch physician Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) wrote many books, but among his most famous were his Aphorisms and his Materia medica, both of which were translated and reprinted throughout the century.  They distilled the conventional wisdom of the day and added Boerhaave's own astute observations.  The following observations from Materia medica follow a logic we …

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Playing Chicken

Back in 2012, the US Department of Agriculture proposed new regulations for processing chickens.  These included speeding up the processing line from 140 birds a minute to 175 birds a minute.  At the same time, the number of federal inspectors would be reduced.  This head-scratching equation would supposedly save money and allow inspectors to pay …

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