Friday, June 26, 2015

History of Medicine Collection spotlight: 19th century orthopaedics in action!

Helpful hints for resolving dislocations
Today's rare books spotlight comes courtesy of my search for a good #TypeTuesday post for Instagram: Perusing our oversize shelving for a good "pretty typeface" candidate, I settled upon Dr. Adolph Leopold Richter's 1828 two-volume atlas, Theoretisch-praktisches Handbuch Der Lehre Von Den Brüchen Und Verrenkungen Der Knochen ["Theoretical-practical handbook of the theory of fractures and dislocations of the bone"]



From what I could find on Dr. Richter, he received his doctorate in 1821 from the Friedrich-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, with his dissertation entitled, "De usu cataplasmatum acrium Kerndlii ad bubones syphiliticos curandoshe." He then entered into military service as surgeon for the Prussian army (that's right, this book predates the unification of Germany!). Dr. Richter rose through the ranks, eventually receiving the Red Eagle order of merit for his service. Later in life, he turned to scientific writing and advocated for reform of military medicine, and in the 1860s founded an aid society to care for wounded soldiers. 

In light of Dr. Richter's experience and interest in treating soldiers, the orthopaedic focus of this atlas makes sense. Many developments in orthopaedic surgery arose out of surgeon's experiences during World War I, but even before then, the treatment of the war-wounded certainly entailed addressing musculoskeletal injuries. 

The second volume of the atlas contains lithographs consisting of detailed diagrams of treatments for bone fractures and dislocations, and various devices meant to treat these issues with traction. While largely replaced by other techniques in contemporary orthopaedics, historically traction was an important method for treating broken bones or skeletal issues. 
Traction contraption in Dr. Richter's atlas
As Maija pointed out, many of the lithographs resemble Edward Gorey prints, featuring delicately illustrated gentlemen in various states of treatment and discomfort. In my humble opinion, any of these would be at home in a contemporary get-well-soon card from a local letterpress!


I particularly enjoy this sullen patient, resigned to traction in bed.
Dr. Richter's atlas serves as yet another example of the sometimes-unexpected beauty to be discovered in historical medical texts. Let this post also serve as a reminder to be safe during your summer adventuring, dear readers - lest you end up in a "Gorey" situation!

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