Monday, September 14, 2015

Five Fascinating Items to Discover in the Rawlinson Rare Book Collection

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Attention all aficionados of medical history and antiquarian books! Did you know that University of Alberta Libraries has its very own rare medical book collection?

The Rawlinson Rare Book Collection is located in the John W. Scott Health Sciences Library. Named for anatomy professor Herbert E. Rawlinson, who taught at the UofA from 1927-1962, the collection features over 1500 volumes of books on a variety of health sciences topics, including Western Canadian medicine, anatomy, midwifery and women’s health, domestic healthcare, epidemics and public health, military medicine, and neurology.

There are a lot of amazing things to see at in the Rawlinson collection. Here are five items that we think are worth making a trip to the Scott to see:

1. Icones Anatomicae  by Andreas Vesalius - Andreas Vesalius was a 16th century physician and is now referred to as the founder of modern anatomy. In an age when human dissection was outlawed, Vesalius broke the rules by teaching anatomy through performing human dissections in a lecture theatre where his pupils could watch. Vesalius published his anatomical findings in his 1543 masterwork De humani corporis fabrica, which featured some of the most famous images in the history of anatomical illustration. Icones Anatomicae, published in 1934, features reprints of these illustrations produced using the 400-year old woodblocks created for the original Fabrica.

2. Corpus of the anatomical studies in the collection of Her Majesty, the Queen, at Windsor Castle by Leonardo da Vinci - Among his myriad of interests, da Vinci was an avid anatomist whose reputation as a great artist garnered him special permission to dissect human corpses. He sketched hundreds of stunning drawings in a number of notebooks that were believed to be lost in the centuries that followed. Many of these notebooks reappeared in the art collection at Windsor Castle. In 1978 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II allowed 998 copies of da Vinci’s anatomical sketches to be made available for the public in this gorgeous three volume set. If you are a fan of da Vinci’s artwork these images are a must see.

3. Description anatomique des parties de la femme (...) by Jan Palfijn and Francois Mauriceau - Both Palfijn and Mauriceau were physicians concerned with obstetrics and female anatomy, and this volume, published in 1708, contains some wonderful foldout illustrations on the subject. What makes this volume unique is the second half, Traité des monstres, de leur causes, de leur nature, & de leur differences. Traité des monstres features numerous illustrations of rare birth defects including a multitude of siamese twins and some more imaginative half-human creatures with the heads or bodies of animals.

4. Plastic surgery of the face : based on selected cases of war injuries of the face including burns by Harold Delf Gillies - Not for the faint of heart, Gilles 1920 book takes a look at facial reconstruction procedures utilized during the First World War. This volume is filled with photos and illustrations from actual cases from this era and is fascinatingly macabre.

5. Speaking of the macabre, let’s not forget the most infamous book in the Rawlinson collection, ​Celsi de medicina libri octo. Published in 1722, this is the book that is purported to be bound in human skin.

Items housed within this collection do not circulate and can only be accessed in the Phyllis Russell Rare Book Room during business hours at the John W. Scott Library. All visitors to the Rawlinson must present their ONEcard, or other government issued identification, to staff at the Scott service desk. Be sure to have the titles, author names, and call numbers of the books you would like to view handy when you come to the service desk. You can find more visit procedures and information on the Rawlinson Collection in our History of Medicine Library Guide.

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