Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pre-1901 and Post-1901: a tale of two environments

Here in Historical Collections & Archives, we have several book collections. The History of Medicine Collection, as some of you know, contains books published 1901 and earlier, along with a very few later works deemed too valuable for the main collections.

Books published after 1901 are housed with the circulating collections. For materials published prior to 1985, this means off-site storage. A lovely facility located in the floodplain of the Willamette River, it is neither temperature nor humidity controlled, nor is it equipped with cable or wireless Internet access, nor is it site of a restroom. But these features aside, it's a big space filled with treasures from the first three-quarters of the 20th century.

This week, a small group of librarians began the (occasional) task of going through each and every one of these approximately 35,000 volumes to assess condition, verify holdings, and remove potentially damaging materials (mold is a definite no-no in an environmentally uncontrolled space).

I am one of the lucky few on this crew. And I always have my eyes peeled for gems.

Day One discoveries:
I was able to rescue a partial set of Wilhelm Wundt's Völkerpsychologie : eine untersuchung der entwicklungsgesetze von sprache, mythus und sitte, because the first volume OHSU holds was printed in 1900. Elevation to the elect! The two Wundt volumes now sit in the History of Medicine Room next to Samuel Worcester.

I also claimed the pamphlet "The Authentic History of the Development of Nervous Surgery" for our Pacific Northwest Archives Collection. A satirical look at the history of neurosurgery written by Portland's second neurosurgeon John Raaf, M.D. (under the pseudonym "The Rafiniskis"), the pamphlet sheds some interesting light on neurosurgery in the 1950s--and almost no light whatsoever on the actual history of neurosurgery. A typical text-and-image pairing from the booklet:

In his coda, Raaf quotes Hippocrates: "An important phase of medicine is the ability to appraise the literature correctly." Tongue firmly in cheek, he does excuse himself for errors up front in the preface:
Often only fragments of the picture were found so that some reconstruction and retouching have been necessary to the restoration of these pictures. We trust you will be tolerant of our efforts. If we have allowed ourselves to dream and have not in all instances reconstructed with fidelity the clothes of the individual or placed him in his true environment -- well, such are the effects of the weed, marijuana.

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