Thursday, August 02, 2007

Shocking new book

Fresh from cataloging, Electricity and medicine: history of their interaction hit my desk this afternoon. The volume is long awaited: when I did my stint as Acquisitions Librarian a few years back, I came across it in the Desiderata file, where it had been filed after our first copy was stolen from our shelves. "Must be fantastic!" I thought, and so, "Must be replaced!" Good ol' Alibris finally to the rescue after all this time.

In their introduction, authors Margaret Rowbottom and Charles Susskind detail the short history of the book itself:
This book originated in an exhibition on Electricity and Medicine mounted by one of the authors (M.R.) at the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in London in 1963 that featured apparatus and books drawn from the Museum's collections. An American visitor who saw the exhibits suggested that a book-length historical account might be based on them and ultimately became a co-author. The collaboration has combined the expertise of a graduate physicist and historian of science and medicine with that of an engineer and historian of technology.
One of the greatest compliments an exhibit can get, I think: "You should do a whole book on that!" That response indicates that not only have you captured the viewer's attention with the display, but that you have chosen to present the material with a hint of incompleteness, the suggestion to the viewer that profitable research projects lay just beyond the cases. We here call it "leaving footprints to the collections." Don't give them everything they want to know; pique their curiosity to a level that will make them want to learn more. Our last exhibit, on A.J. McLean, must also have hit just the right note, since we have since been approached by four separate faculty members who think a longer treatment (whether book or journal article) is now called for.

To make a neat tie back into the Rowbottom and Susskind text, I will note that William Bovie is mentioned on page 162, along with Harvey Cushing, who had a great interest in Bovie's electro-surgical apparatus. McLean, as exhibit viewers may recall, had a particularly dramatic run-in with Bovie when he wrote an article entitled "Some principles and underlying effects produced by the Bovie Electro-Surgical Current Generator." If you're interested in learning more about that incident, we've left some of those footprints online.

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