Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rare books meet translational science ontologists

Last week, colleagues working in the emerging field of translational science ontology visited the HOM Room. Their trip was hosted by OHSU Library's Ontology Development Group.

When a group comes to visit HC&A, I usually select materials from our collections that relate to their interests. With non-historians, my intention is to give historical context to the work they do every day. But what do you select for researchers in a field that - relatively speaking - is brand new? I decided to show of a selection of anatomy atlases, materia medica, and dictionaries from the 17th-19th centuries, all of which show how researchers have sought to represent what was known about medicine and science, and how scientific research translated into medical practice.

Above: Ontology-related rare books on display in the HOM Room

One of the highlights was a 1830s edition of Nicholas Culpeper's Complete Herbal, first published in 1653. Culpeper gathered and cataloged plants that were used for medicinal purposes. The book contains illustrations and descriptions of the plants, along with tables of their pharmaceutical uses.

Above: Title page and frontispiece of Nicholas Culpeper's Complete Herbal.

This copy has hand-colored illustrations. We also found flower specimens pressed between the pages:



Unfortunately, there were no botanists in the group to identify them! We imagined that the book's 19th-century owner came back from a walk with the specimens, looked them up in Culpeper's book, and pressed them for later reference.

Also popular was of William Cheselden's Osteographia, or, The Anatomy of the Bones. When it was first published in 1733, it was the most complete and accurate representation of the human skeleton to date.

Above: Illustration of the skeleton of a child, from Cheselden's Osteographia.

The group spent about half an hour studying, reading aloud, and laughing. It was great to see that researchers on the cutting edge of information science had such a strong connection to the ontological efforts of the past.

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