Friday, January 06, 2012

John Hunter in the classroom

The History of Medicine I course starts up again today, and I'm continuing my series of posts about books I've selected to bring to this class. This term kicks off with the Hunters: John and William. We have a nice variety of works by John Hunter to choose from. I selected this one:

Hunter, John. A Treatise on the Venereal Disease. London: Sold at No. 13, Castle-Street, Leicester-Square, and by Mr. G. Nicol [etc.], 1788.

This is the second edition of Hunter's 1786 study of gonorrhea and syphilis, which he believed were one and the same. Our copy was acquired decades ago through the George E. Burget Memorial Fund. Burget was a faculty member in the medical school during the early 20th century. He donated many of the rare books in our collection, and was a major benefactor and booster of the library. After his death, the Portland Academy of Medicine established a fund for purchasing historical books for the library in his memory. There was also discussion of naming the library's historical collections in his honor.

When possible, I bring a book that can be passed around during the lecture, as well as a rare showpiece. Today the students got to browse through a 1972 facsimile of lecture notes from a 1752 anatomy course given by William Hunter. This also gave me an opportunity to remind them to save their own lecture notes, since they or their instructor might be world-famous someday!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Primary texts on the eugenics movement

While reviewing the holdings of our main library collection, my colleague Jackie Wirz reminded me that we have a fascinating collection of primary texts on the eugenics movement. They include such sensational titles as The Hill Folk: Report on a Rural Community of Hereditary Defectives and "Violent Temper and its Inheritance." I was fascinated to learn that one of these titles, The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeblemindedness, had been debunked in Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man. Among other criticisms, Gould alleged that photographs of the "degenerate" Kallikaks had been altered to make them look more threatening.

Many of these publications were issued by the Eugenics Record Office, a research center founded at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory by the biologist and eugenicist Charles Davenport. We have 29 ERO publications in the library, including several by Davenport. Many are also available online from Google Books.