Publication Date

May 5, 2010

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) in Bethesda, Maryland has kiosks that implement touch screen technology and animation software, allowing visitors to engage with rare manuscripts much the same way they would if they had the actual manuscript in front of them. NLM explains, “We have refined the original technology by using advanced 3D computer generated imagery, digital image enhancement, animation, illumination models, and software programming to simulate the act of easily flipping through virtual books displayed in a highly photorealistic manner.”

In an effort to extend these manuscripts to a broader audience, the Library created Turning the Pages Online, a digital version of the touchscreen kiosks.

Turning the Pages Online

The site offers the following manuscripts, each containing audio clip narrations that put the content into historical context. Please note that the synopses come directly from the site.

The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus
The Edwin Smith Papyrus, the world’s oldest surviving surgical text, was written in Egyptian hieratic script around the 17th century BCE, but probably based on material from a thousand years earlier. The papyrus is a textbook on trauma surgery, and describes anatomical observations and the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous injuries in exquisite detail.

Edwin Smith papyrus

Hieronymus Brunschwig’s Liber de Arte Distilland
Hieronymus Brunschwig’s Liber de Arte Distillandi, printed in Strasbourg in 1512, is a practical manual on chemical, alchemical, and distillation devices and techniques used to manufacture drug therapies.  It includes instructions on how to distill aqua vitae, potable gold, artificial and natural balsams and how to use distillates to treat illnesses in surgical cases. Check out the gallery of images.

Robert Hooke’s Micrographia
Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was an artist, biologist, physicist, engineer, architect, inventor and much else; a man who rubbed shoulders with many of the great minds of his time, and quarreled with most of them. Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses was Hooke’s masterpiece, an exquisitely illustrated introduction to the microscopic world that lay all around. Check out the gallery of images.

Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium
Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium (Studies on Animals) is considered to be the first modern zoological work. This first attempt to describe many of the animals accurately is illustrated with hand-colored woodcuts drawn from personal observations by Gesner and his colleagues. Check out the gallery of images.

Ambroise Paré’s Oeuvres
Ambroise Paré (1510-1590), a French surgeon from humble beginnings who would revolutionize how surgeons treated wounds. This book, the 1585 edition of his Oeuvres (Collected Works) is both his masterpiece and his monument, gathering together a lifetime’s experience and study. Check out the gallery of images.

Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica
De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) is one of the most influential works 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. Check out the gallery of images.

Johannes de Ketham’s Fasiculo de Medicina
The Fasiculo de medicina is a “bundle” of six independent and quite different medieval medical treatises. The collection, which existed only in two manuscripts (handwritten copies), was first printed in 1491, in the original Latin with the title, Fasciculus medicinae. The book is remarkable as the first illustrated medical work to appear in print. Check out the gallery of images.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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