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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.

American archaeologist Edwin Smith discovered the papyrus in Egypt in the 1860s, and his daughter donated the papyrus to the New-York Historical Society after his death.  It eventually made its way to the Library of the New York Academy of Medicine, and it was recently translated for the first time in over 50 years into English by James P. Allen of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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Elizabeth Blackwell's A Curious Herbal

Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal is notable both for its beautiful illustrations of medicinal plants and for the unusual circumstances of its creation. Blackwell undertook this ambitious project to raise money to pay her husband’s debts and release him from debtor’s prison. She drew, engraved, and colored the illustrations herself, mostly using plant specimens from the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. It was an artistic, scientific and commercial enterprise unprecedented for a woman of her time.

Blackwell Crest
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  Snape thumbnail

Andrew Snape's Anatomy of an Horse

Andrew Snape’s Anatomy of an Horse, printed in London in 1683, is one of the most comprehensive and beautifully illustrated books about the horse published in Britain in the 17th century. Little is actually known about Andrew Snape (1644-1708), who appears to have been the “junior farrier to His Majesty,” King Charles II, and he claims in his preface to be a member of a dynasty of farriers to the king stretching back over two centuries.

snape portrait
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  al-qazwini book


al-Qazwini's Wonders of Creation

The Kitab Aja’ib al-makhluqat wa Gharaib al-Mawjudat, usually known as “The Cosmography” or “The Wonders of Creation,” was compiled in the middle 1200s in what is now Iran or Iraq and is considered one of the most important natural history texts of the medieval Islamic world.  The author Abu Yahya Zakariya ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud-al-Qazwini (ca. 1203-1283 C.E.), known simply as al-Qazwini,  was one of the most noted natural historians, geographers and encyclopedists of the period.

qazwini picture
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  hanaoka seishu thumbnail

Hanaoka Seishu’s Surgical Casebook

“A Surgical Casebook” is a manuscript of hand-painted pictures commissioned by Hanaoka Seishu, a pioneering Japanese surgeon who was the first to use general anesthesia to remove tumors from cancer patients. The colorful, often charming, pictures in this casebook capture the likenesses of the men and women who came to Hanaoka for treatment; and, importantly, they depict, quite graphically, the medical and surgical problem to be treated.

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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.

brunschwig title page

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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.

hooke crest
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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.

gesner portrait

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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.

Paré portrait

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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.

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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.

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