Posts tagged: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Seeing Red, or Another Colorful Holmes Anecdote

By , September 17, 2014
[0003344, Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine]

Frontispiece of B. Joy Jeffries, Color-blindness: its dangers and its detection (Boston, 1883) [0003344]

Boston ophthalmologist, Benjamin Joy Jeffries (1833-1915) was one of the first American physicians to investigate the phenomenon of color blindness, and he began to speak and publish on the subject in the spring of 1877.  This was no academic question but a matter of public safety, following railroad and nautical disasters where green and red signal lights could not be distinguished by color-blind workers.  In 1916, just after Jeffries’ death, his daughter, Marion Jeffries Means, presented the Boston Medical Library with his substantial collection of research and letters from American and European colleagues, including Hugo Magnus (1842-1907) and Frithiof Holmgren (1831-1897)—all related to the subject of color blindness.  The Jeffries collection was recently rehoused and is now available at the Center for the History of Medicine.  A related recent discovery in the library’s artifact collection here is a mid-19th century red lens from a ship’s navigation light, donated by B. Joy Jeffries.  (Ships sailing at night traditionally show a red light on the port, or left-hand, side and a green on the starboard, or right, allowing sailors to determine direction and right-of-way.)

Though more closely related to art than science, one of the most intriguing of the letters in the Jeffries collection was written by Boston’s own Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894).

1878 June 11

Dear Dr. Jeffries:

I have neglected up to this time to thank you for your very interesting pamphlets on color-blindness.  I have double reason to thank you now, for I used a fact drawn from your essay in the following four lines in a poem delivered at Andover last Thursday:

Why should we look one common faith to find
When one in every score is color-blind?
If here on earth they know not red from green,
Will they see better into things unseen?

I suppose you hardly thought that your investigations would be used for so slight a purpose as a practical illustration, but I trust and do not doubt that they will serve a much more important end in keeping away from our railroad-switches those of whom it can be said truly “eyes have they, but they see not.”

Believe me, dear Dr. Jeffries,
Yours very truly,
O. W. Holmes

The poem Holmes mentions is “The School-Boy,” and it was first presented by him on the centennial of the founding of Phillips Academy at Andover, on June 6.  B. Joy Jeffries returned the compliment by using this stanza of Holmes’ poem as the epigraph for his monograph, Color-blindness: its dangers and its detection, which he first published in the following year.

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Art Institute of Boston Photography Exhibit Returning

By , September 26, 2012

Platinum palladium print of the cast of child with tumor, Tommy Matthews, 2011, Courtesy of the Warren Anatomical Museum, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

In May 2012, the Warren Museum and the Center for the History of Medicine exhibited a collection of photographs taken by students of the Art Institute of Boston, entitled A Moment’s Insight (“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” —  Oliver Wendel Holmes). The images were generated from a November 11, 2011 photography workshop on the Harvard Medical School quad that partnered preparations and artifacts from the Museum’s collection with the artists. The students responded to the opportunity by utilizing a variety of new and historical photography techniques. The artifacts photographed included an eagle skeleton prepared by former HMS Dean Holmes, the cast of a seven-fingered hand, and a phrenology life cast of the infamous William Burke.

The October exhibit will once again partner the photographs with their historical subjects in the Lucretia McClure gallery on the Countway’s first floor. A Moment’s Insight will be replacing the summer’s Leading by Teaching: Elizabeth D. Hay and Lynne M. Reid and will give way to the Center’s Civil War programming in November.

 

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Owners and Donors: new rare book exhibit at Countway Library

By , March 20, 2012

Arthur Orton, the Tichborne Claimant, in 1873, Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

Owners and Donors
Building the Rare Book Collection at the Countway Library of Medicine

 

The Countway Library is built from gifts—gifts large and small, made over many years.  It was the generosity of Sanda Countway in 1958 which provided over three million dollars for a building and allowed Harvard Medical School and the Boston Medical Library to ally their collections, forming the largest academic biomedical library in the country.  But aside from stone and mortar, the collections of the Countway reflect a tradition of generosity spanning nearly two hundred years.  Drs. James Jackson, John Collins Warren, and other members of Harvard’s early faculty began to donate books to form a medical library for the students in 1816.  In 1889, just a few years after the formation of the Boston Medical Library, Oliver Wendell Holmes contributed his personal collection of over 900 rare medical works, laying the cornerstone for a remarkable historical collection.

Such generosity is not just a thing of the past, though, and extraordinary gifts continue to complement the already vast array of books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, artwork, artifacts, instruments, and specimens preserved in the collections of the library, archives, and museum here at the Center for the History of Medicine.  Owners and Donors: Building the Rare Book Collection at the Countway Library of Medicine honors just a few of the individual men and women—Drs. Leona Baumgartner, John Warren, Jacob James Longacre, and Richard Van Praagh, and the Kennedy and Ohl families—who have contributed collections or even single items to enhance the rare book collections here at the Countway over the years.   The exhibit also highlights a few of the library’s special collections—some familiar, such as the anatomical library of Friedrich Tiedemann, and some almost unknown, such as the witchcraft books of Christian Deetjen, the Boston Medical Library’s collection of the works of Sir William Osler, and the John Rathbone Oliver Criminological Collection with its remarkable assortment of ephemera concerning the Tichborne Claimant legal case of the 1870s—as well as some of the funds and gifts which continue to allow for new acquisitions, making the rare book holdings of the Countway among the greatest in the world.

Owners and Donors is  on display now through December in the exhibit space on lower level 2 of the Countway, adjoining the Center for the History of Medicine.  For further information, contact the Center at chm@hms.harvard.edu or 617-432-2170.

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December 2: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Medical Education, and the Spirit of Skepticism

By , November 28, 2011

Scott H.Podolsky, M.D., Director, Center for the History of Medicine, will present “Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Spirit of Skepticism,”  at Medical Education Grand Rounds, December 2, 2011, 7:30 to 9:00 AM, MEC 250.

RSVP required.

Oliver Wendell Holmes spent large parts of the nineteenth century as America’s best-known physician and one of its best-selling authors, famous for both his therapeutic skepticism and literary iconoclasm.  He was also dean of Harvard Medical School during a brief but tumultuous period of its development, and HMS’ most beloved lecturer for many more decades.  Dr. Podolsky will discuss the fundamental skepticism that imbued Dr. Holmes’ entwined medical, literary, and philosophical pursuits, and their impact upon medical education and medical thinking at HMS and beyond, both during and after his lifetime.

Dr. Podolsky is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Medicine and a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. Since 2006, he has served as the Director of the Center for the History of Medicine based at the Countway Medical Library. He has co-authored Generation of Diversity: Clonal Selection Theory and the Rise of Molecular Immunology (1997), authored Pneumonia before Antibiotics: Therapeutic Evolution and Evaluation in Twentieth-Century America (2006), and co-edited Oliver Wendell Holmes: Physician and Man of Letters (2009). His current research, concerning the history of antibiotics over the past half-century, looks at evolving interactions among physicians, patients, pharmaceutical companies, governmental agencies, and therapeutic reformers throughout this period.

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Art + Science on the Quad

By , November 9, 2011

Harvard Medical School, 11/08/2011.

The eagle skeleton prepared by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1851 was the subject of intense scrutiny yesterday, when graduate students in photography from the Art Institute of Boston visited HMS to create new art from old. Students were invited to HMS as a part of a new “Art + Science” collaboration developing between HMS Human Resources and the Center for the History of Medicine.

Students used a variety of photographic techniques to capture images of Warren Anatomical Museum artifacts. These included a wet collodian process invented in 1851, just five years after the establishment of the Museum. The wet process requires plates to be prepared just moments before the image is taken and processed immediately. Students brought a wooden camera (with a lens manusfactured in 1858) and a portable darkroom — a wooden box with a drape– of the type that were used by Civil War-era photographers. Interestingly, while the collodian processes were eclipsed by more convenient techniques in the twenteith century, they continued to be used into the 1970s in scientific and medical illustration due to the extremely high resolution and clarity they provide. Student work will be shown on the HMS campus later this year.

The Warren Anatomical Museum originated from John Collins Warren’s (1778-1856) donation of his personal teaching and research collection. Like many of his medical peers, Warren created and collected anatomical and pathological preparations to aid his practice, study, and teaching. Oliver Wendell Holmes donated many carefully crafted specimens to the Museum.

The finished product. Harvard Medical School, 11/08/2011.

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The Scalpel and the Pen: the Life and Work of Oliver Wendell Holmes, M.D.

By , February 24, 2010

The Dinner-Bell Telegram, April 12, 1883Physician, lecturer, poet, novelist, inventor, historian, anatomist, teacher, and humorist, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) has been called “the most successful combination which the world has ever seen of the physician and man of letters.”   This year, the Countway Library’s Center for the History of Medicine celebrates the bicentennial of Holmes’ birth with a new exhibit, The Scalpel and the Pen : the Life and Work of Oliver Wendell Holmes, M.D., touching on all the different sides of the personal and professional career of this Boston original.

The Scalpel and the Pen brings to light rare early medical works from Holmes’ personal library, books and pamphlets, such as a first edition of the best-selling The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table and the first publication of his ground-breaking study on the contagiousness of puerperal fever, broadsides, manuscripts of his poems and lectures, letters, anatomical specimens and microscopes used in his teaching, original artwork, photographs, and several unusual artifacts—many of which Holmes himself describes in his correspondence and publications—including one of his famous chambered nautilus shells and a unique ivory paper knife inscribed with a poem and presented to Holmes by his colleague, physician and novelist, S. Weir Mitchell.

The Countway is on the campus of the Harvard Medical School, at 10 Shattuck Street, in Boston, and The Scalpel and the Pen will be on display in the exhibit areas of the Library  through October 2010.   For additional information, contact Jack Eckert, Public Services Librarian, at 617-432-6207 or jack_eckert@hms.harvard.edu.

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Holmes Bicentennial Event Videos Online

By , February 23, 2010

The Oliver Wendell Holmes Bicentennial Symposium was held on November 17, 2009, at the Countway Library, 10 Shattuck St., Boston.  The symposium was recorded and can be streamed online here:

Stream Part 1
Stream Part 2
Stream Part 3

Featuring:

  • Charles S. Bryan: “The Greatest Brahmin: Overview of a Life”
  • Peter Gibian: “Doctor Holmes: The Life in Conversation”
  • Michael A. Weinstein: “Oliver Wendell Holmes’s Depth Psychology: A Reconstruction”
  • John S. Haller, Jr.: “Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Challenge of Homeopathy: A Reappraisal”
  • Amalie M. Kass: “A Private Pestilence: Holmes and Puerperal Fever”
  • Charles E. Rosenberg: “Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Social Logic of Medical Therapeutics”
  • And introductory remarks by Scott H. Podolsky, Director of the Center for the History of Medicine.
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1809-2009: The Oliver Wendell Holmes bicentennial

By , November 17, 2009

From The Atlantic Monthly

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894) spent parts of the nineteenth century as America’s best-known physician and best-selling author. Sir William Osler praised him as “the most successful combination which the world has ever seen, of the physician and man of letters.” Henry James, Sr., called him “intellectually the most alive man I ever knew.” Today, he is remembered as a physician for his investigation of the contagiousness of puerperal fever (two decades before the advent of the germ theory), his advocacy for therapeutic skepticism and rationalism, and for coining such terms as “anesthesia.” He is celebrated as a literary and cultural figure for such poems as “Old Ironsides” (considered responsible for saving the U.S.S. Constitution), for his early forays into what would be considered a new depth psychology, and for terming Boston the “Hub of the solar system” and describing its “Brahmin” caste.

The Boston Medical Library and the Harvard Medical Library, through the Center for the History of Medicine invite you to discuss the life, the accomplishments, and the continuing relevance of the literary and scientific contributions of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Symposium

November 17, 2009, 1:00 PM- 5:00 PM, reception 5:00-6:30
Location: Countway Library, 10 Shattuck St., Boston

Featuring:

  • Charles S. Bryan: “The Greatest Brahmin: Overview of a Life”
  • Peter Gibian: “Doctor Holmes: The Life in Conversation”
  • Michael A. Weinstein: “Oliver Wendell Holmes’s Depth Psychology: A Reconstruction”
  • John S. Haller, Jr.: “Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Challenge of Homeopathy: A Reappraisal”
  • Amalie M. Kass: “A Private Pestilence: Holmes and Puerperal Fever”
  • Charles E. Rosenberg: “Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Social Logic of Medical Therapeutics”
  • And introductory remarks by Scott H. Podolsky, Director of the Center for the History of Medicine.

In addition to this event will be the opening of an exhibit of Holmes materials from the Center for the History of Medicine’s collections.

This event is free and open to all. Please RSVP[REGISTRATION CLOSED]
Download flyer here (pdf)

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Issues with The Autocrat

By , June 17, 2009

As the Center prepares to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Oliver Wendell Holmes this year, cataloging and research in our Holmes-related holdings are bringing to light a number of treasures and surprises.

Beyond the sphere of poetry, the literary reputation of Holmes rests largely on the  essays and aphorisms which form The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. The essays  originally appeared in issues of The Atlantic Monthly, beginning in November 1857, and The Autocrat first appeared in book form in 1858. Three separate forms of the first issue of the first edition of The Autocrat were printed between November 12 and December 7, 1858, and, reputedly, some 20,000 copies sold during that period—half of them during the first three days following publication.  Examples of all three of these variant issues of the first edition are found here in the collections at the Countway, along with copies of the large-paper format version which was printed for the Christmas market in 1858.  A number of these volumes contain presentation inscriptions from Oliver Wendell Holmes himself.

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