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Month: May, 2012

CPD23, or, “Going Public”

When I started this blog in the Spring, it was really meant just  for me. I’ll admit that I got the idea for blogging from the cheery folks at CPD23, but the idea was that the blog would become a way to keep track of all the little of bits of professional development I’ve been doing. By adding a seminar here and a library-visit there I was hoping to build up a body of entries that I could access from anywhere and would help me remember the names, dates, and purposes of the training I’d been doing. And so far, so good – with the added advantage that by taking time to consider these things afterwards I’ve had the chance to reflect on their themes and to work towards a better understanding of where I want my professional development to go.


But it seems as though the whole time I’ve been filing these blog entries in the internet equivalent of a bottom drawer, I’ve been misunderstanding the real purpose of blogging. And just for those of you who (like me) don’t know – apparently that means sharing experiences and ideas with other folk. Now I’ve gone ahead and signed up to the CPD course it’s time to run headfirst out of my comfort zone and start interacting with other people ‘pon-line.

So, wish me luck. Of course I still don’t expect the contents of this blog to be of interest to anyone other than myself, but it’s time to come out of the closet: Yes, I’m blogging. No, that doesn’t mean I’m a shameless self publicist. What it means is… well, I suppose what it really means is I’m too disorganised to carry a diary.


“Epidemic Print” at Cambridge University Library

10th May 2012

The full title of this masterclass was “Epidemic print: medical incunabula and their readers”. For the class, Peter Jones (Librarian of King’s College, Cambridge) had selected 20 incunabula for us to view, which were grouped thematically around particular topics. After a short introduction he led us through the texts, deftly drawing out themes as he went along. The size of the group was kept small so that we would have a chance to view the books, look through them and ask questions during and after the class.

First up was a group of works demonstrating the link between plague and printing. Of course, epidemic illness was a major problem in large metropolitan centres in the later fifteenth century, and the fear of plague brought with it a desire to obtain medical advice. In each and every town affected by epidemic disease, a printing press was established, although the advice distributed was seldom specific or up-to-date. From plague tracts we moved on to the most common form of medical printing, the medical calendar. Closely related to portable almanacs, these broadsides were designed to be displayed: they were often printed in red and black and illustrated with medical and religious motifs. Calendars contained zodiac-based medical advice, including advice about the best times of the year to be bled, to take medicine and to undergo medical interventions. Ephemeral texts such as these bucked the trend for Latin medical works, and those printed in the local vernacular appealed to a much broader market.

From here we moved on to household medical books and  herbals.  These included the so-called Mainz herbal of 1484, and a Hortus (or Ortus) Sanitatis ,  of which the Wellcome Library has copies .  We then examined academic medical textbooks including  Savonarola’s 1486 Practica medicinae  a venician Articella and the extremely beautiful Fasciculus medicine (pictured).

Peter Jones pointed out that, in the majority of cases, medical books that made it into print weren’t works by living authors, but rather by deceased authors with long established reputations. Before the 1470s no books by living authors were printed at all, whilst many of those shown to us were compiled from fourteenth- and even thirteenth-century manuscript exemplars. Indeed, thirteenth-century texts such as Simon of Genoa’s Clavis sanitationis were still circulating and being used in the later fifteenth century. Above all, surviving copies of medical incunabula show a high degree of annotation by owners, evidencing the practical purpose of these books.

Society of Apothecaries short course

11th – 13th April 2012

One of the unreported battlegrounds in academic librarianship centres around the need to employ practitioners with specialist subject knowledge. A qualified librarian, the theory goes, should be willing and able to answer enquiries on any subject – otherwise what has their lengthy and expensive training been for?  As sensible as this might sound, in my experience it often leaves staff to cobble together a ‘good enough’ level of subject specialism while on the job – often through trial and error and whilst having to maintain an adequate enquiry service for readers. So it was a refreshing change for myself and a colleague to be sent on a short history of medicine course to get us up to speed in this very specialist field.

The course took place over three days  – mornings were spent listening to talks from a selection of great and good  medical historians, while in the afternoons we had the chance to stretch our legs on visits to sites of interest. Highlights were too numerous to list, but it was a treat to see the consummate orator Bill Bynum in full flow as well as Carole Rawcliffe (on Medieval medicine); our own Helen Wakely (on 17th Century domestic medicine) and Simon Chaplin (18th Century anatomy). Richard Barnett gave a neat overview of the problems and pitfalls of studying 20th century medicine and led a lively discussion afterwards. Visits included the Hunterian museum, the beautiful Chelsea Physic Garden and the gruesome Old Operating Theatre at St Thomas’, which some of the medical students enjoyed a little too much for comfort…