Under the Lid with #BrainAwarenessWeek

For #BrainAwarenessWeek, we go to Georg Bartisch, 16th century surgeon and inventor, and his  Ophthamoduleia (”eye-service”), published in 1583. But in looking so closely at disorders of the eye, Bartisch necessarily became incredibly interested in the brain. The incredible wood cut prints show the delicate internal parts through the use of book-flaps. Layers of paper could be lifted away to reveal more detailed anatomy!

Many books contained such flaps, including the work of Vesalius, often considered the father of anatomy. (An excellent point about flap books may be found here, from the Bodleian). Bartisch performed surgeries on the eyes, and even advised his students on how best to hold patients down for the procedure. (Eye surgery would continue to be a horribly painful affair until 1884, when Austrian ophthalmologist Carl Koller realized that a few drops of topical cocaine solution rendered the eye immobile and numb).

While Bartisch does not focus on brain surgery, he nevertheless saw anatomy of the brain cavity as crucial for understanding disorders of sigh. One of the more interesting features of Bartisch’ text involves the beautifully rendered brain flaps. They could be colorized for greater effect, but the Dittrick’s copy appears as they might have hot of the block press. Stunning detail, rendered plain through innovative “paper” anatomy, Bartisch provided a glimpse “under the lid.”

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Bartisch, George. Ophthalmodouleia, das ist, Augendienst. Newer und wolgegründter Bericht von Ursachen und Erkentnüs aller Gebrechen, Schäden und Mängel der Augen und des Gesichtes. [Dreszden, Matthes Stöckel] 1583

Mixers and Conversations: New Year of Events to kick off!

BBBIt’s almost September, and the Dittrick has launched our latest series of events–with a brand new kind of get-together: Museum Mixers!

Do you love CONVERSATIONS? Those mad-cap history talks and round-tables have been a great hit (see last year’s line up and videos). Well, this year’s line up has a few themes. It’s an election year, right? First on the list is Presidents and Pr-antiseptic Medicine–learn how President Garfield’s death influenced the practice of germ theory. (Hint: the bullet didn’t kill him!) The full list of these events are listed below, four in all! See the line-up! [Register]

BUT! If you can’t get enough Dittrick (and really, who doesn’t want more pre-21st century med/sci/tech?) join us for a brand new type of event: Museum Mixers–a happy-hour-like experience for casual interactions with history… and historical figures. The first will be a joint event between Dittrick and the Botanical Garden’s Hoppy Hour. Come at 5:30 for the beer, stay till 7:00 to meet John George Spenzer, 19th century Forensic specialist as he talks about Beer, Botanicals, and Bathtub Gin! There will be four mixers over the course of our next fall and spring calendar. And best of all, museum members get into all mixers FREE! Not a member? There’s an app for that! [Register]

And of course, we present our annual lectures, too–fabulous events and brilliant speakers. Join us in November for Susan Lederer’s talk about blowing the whistle on patient experimentation: Bombshells and Bioethics: Henry K. Beecher’s Ethics and Clinical Research. Spring lectures include Jessica Hill on law and contraception, and Lisa Rosner on “gaming,” smallpox, and the hunt for traveling germs! Learn more on the Dittrick main site!

Continue reading Mixers and Conversations: New Year of Events to kick off!

Animating Old Photos–the work of Alexey Zakharov

Today, we would like to share a bit of history-wow. It’s a short film titled “The Old New World” by photographer and animator Alexey Zakharov of Moscow, Russia. Zakharov found old photos of New York, Boston, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore from the early 1900s and brought them to life. Read more about the film here, or visit Zakharov’s site.

The Stomach and its Discontents: Digesting the Winter Holidays

photo 1“One of the most uncomfortable beings on earth is a Dyspeptic. To most other invalids there is some hope of a change […] It will neither kill the patient nor depart from him. Hitherto, it has been more hopeless than a sentence of imprisonment for life.” –J.C. Eno, A Treatise on the Stomach and its Trials 1865.

For a number of people, the winter holidays coincide with family meals of increased size and frequency, an unaccustomed embarrassment of riches. (I recall family dinners of my youth wherein an entire table had been commandeered only for desserts, for instance.) But as with all good things, too much is the cause of various complaints–mostly to digestion.

A look at our historical collections might suggest to the casual reader that ailments of the stomach occupied our forebears more than anything else. The variety of tracts, treatises, books, warnings, cures, and quackery are matched only by the strange moralistic tenor of their presentation. The stomach made the man (and woman), apparently, and to be plagued by bad digestion was a more devilish thing, if we take Eno’s suggestion, than dphoto 2eath itself. What was a dyspectic to do?

The suggestions for cure might surprise and alarm you. Eno remained convinced that the secret to good digestion was proper nutrition, and what could be more nutritious than “raw meat jelly”? Milk and eggs were also highly recommended (let’s hope none of the patients were lactose intolerant). [1] Of course, J.C. Eno might not be the very best or most unbiased account. He was, after all, a manufacturer of digestive aids!

Some other useful anecdotes from the collection:

1. Remember to chew! From DIGESTION AND ITS DISORDERS, 1867, F.W. Pavy:

“Defective mastication, arising from a habit of too hastily eating–or bolting the food, or from a faulty condition of the masticatory organs, forms a frequent source of imperfect digestion.”  [2]

2. Always be mindful of those hard to digest items…again, not for the lactose intolerant. Or for the vegetarian, apparently. From ON PAIN AFTER FOOD, 1854, Edward Ballard:

“These observations show that vegetable substances generally are digested less readily than animal, and that inviducal articles, veal and pork are digested most slowly; mutton, beef, and fowl with greater rapidity; turkey, lamb, and young pig and potato still more readily; fish, milk, pearl barley and tapioca more quickly than these; and that gastric digestion was completed in the shortest time in the instances of rice, eggs, salmon, tripe and venison.” [3]

3. Moderation in all things! From THE STOMACH AND ITS TRIALS, 1865, J.C. Eno:

A Judicious Rule–1st, Restrain your appetite, and get always up from table with a desire to eat more; 2d, Do not touch anything that does not agree with your stomach, be it mot agreeable to the palate. As Burton says, ‘Excess of meat breedeth sickness, and gluttony causeth choleric diseases; by surfeiting many perish, but he that dieteth himself prolongeth his life.” [1]

4. Let us not get carried away, though… INDIGESTIONS, 1867, Thomas King Chambers:

“A few years ago, during the prevalence of the attention excited by Mr. Banting’s case [miraculous weight loss], I did indeed hear reports of persons having injured themselves by adopting with over-strictness the system by which that famous man tells us he regained the sight of his toes, forgetting that no similar mountain to his had ever impeded their view… The possible rectification of their circumference is not worth such stoicism, and they stop in good time.” [4]

So Happy New Year to all! May we digest these winter months with as much or more grace as our forebears (all “meat jelly” aside).

By Brandy Schillace, Research Associate, Guest Curator, Dittrick Museum


[1] Eno, J.C. The Stomach and its Trials. London, 1865.

[2] Pavy, F.W. A Treatise on the Function of Digestion; its disorders, and their treatment. London, 1867.

[3] Ballard, Edward. On Pain After Food, London, 1854

[4] Chambers, Thomas King. Indigestions; or Diseases of the Digestive Organs, Functionally Treated., London, 1867.


The Colorful Chemistry of Show Globes

The Colorful (and Dangerous?) History of Show Globes

Many hypotheses swirl around the origins of the pharmacist’s show globe, (see this amazing online exhibit from the Waring Historical Library), but by the late 19th century, these spherical glass containers functioned more as traditional signage. Just as barber poles, the colorful globes alerted people walking by about the goods and services inside. According to American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, “bold, indeed, and reckless would be the druggist who should discard the colored show globe, and not one of you can name druggists who can tell why they have them except for the single reason that others do.” [1]

Whitall, Tatum, & Co, 1897
Whitall, Tatum, & Co, 1897

Continue reading The Colorful Chemistry of Show Globes


Welcome to the final installment of the Dittrick’s special series on student work. Today we feature a guest post from Jonah Raider-Roth on the writings of Charles Knowlton. Want to learn more? Visit the Dittrick Museum’s Skuy Gallery of historical contraception or the website’s early literature page, for more details.

1800-1900Sex and Sensibility: The Writings and Controversy of Charles Knowlton

Scientific understanding is usually hailed as progressive, driving humanity toward some higher knowledge and ability. However, different views of morality occasionally draw a great deal of criticism toward commonplace knowledge and discovery. Charles Knowlton, who found himself at the center of one such conflict, made a name for himself in 1832 publishing a book called Fruits of Philosophy, or the Private Companion of Young Married People, the first widely read book discussing contraception techniques (Langer 679). Although this book was the cause of a great deal of uproar in the American Christian community and ultimately resulted in its author and later publishers being taken to court, it made a huge stride in popularizing contraceptive and birth control practices.

Knowlton’s interest in the working of the human reproductive system probably started with his own reproductive illness. The gonorrhoea dormientium (seminal discharges occurring at night) that he suffered from as a teenager was at the time “regarded by authorities as a grave threat to health and sanity,” and after going to ten physicians for treatment for this disease he became depressed (Reed n.p.). This depression would ultimately be treated by electric shock therapy from mechanic Charles Stuart, one of whose daughters (named Tabitha) Knowlton married at the age of 21. Knowlton would go on to recommend early marriage “as a cure for many of the problems of youth.” (Marden n.p.)

Knowlton’s book presented a straightforward explanation of sex, sexual organs, and various methods of contraception, defending its moral position at length. “If population be not restrained by some great physical calamity,” he wrote, reflecting an idea first made popular by the philosopher Thomas Malthus, “the time will come when the earth cannot support its inhabitants.” (Knowlton n.p.) Defending his writing as scientific knowledge to which every person had a natural right, Knowlton described in great detail the anatomy of the penis and the vagina, as well as the current scientific understanding of menstruation, conception, and pregnancy. Although Knowlton and his contemporaries suspected that it was semen which caused pregnancy, Knowlton did not appear to understand the concept of eggs and fertilization.

Most controversial of all, however, was the section concerning and four different methods of contraception, including withdrawal, early condoms, vaginal sponge inserts, and the injection of spermicidal compounds to “destroy the fecundating property” of semen (Knowlton n.p.). None of these contraceptive practices were new or radical discoveries, but the publication of this list in mainstream media, accompanied by many pages of why these practices were moral and important to society, would soon bring Knowlton plenty of criticism and prosecution.

During its initial print run, Fruits of Philosophy did not sell particularly well. At first Knowlton did not publish it widely at all, giving copies of it only to those close to him, and when it was finally published in 1832, roughly 10,000 copies were sold during the first eight years (Marden n.p.). Knowlton, however, was tried and sentenced to three months in jail by a Massachusetts court for “distributing birth control literature.” (Langer 679)

Knowlton died in 1850, but the real controversy began almost 30 years later, when British publishers Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant republished the book in England. “We republish [this book], in order to text the right of publication,” Bradlaugh and Besant wrote. “We republish this pamphlet, honestly believing that on all questions affecting the happiness of the people… fullest right of free discussion ought to be maintained at all hazards.” (published in Knowlton n.p.) They were arrested in 1877 and convicted for publishing obscene material that would drive the Queen’s subjects to “‘indecent, lewd, filthy, bawdy, and immoral practices.’” (The High Court of Justice qtd. by Langer 685)

Although it took decades for its importance to be acknowledged, Knowlton’s book began a change in the way America thought about contraception. Even today, the debate rages on in the worlds of politics and religion, but Knowlton’s writing and that of others that followed began to show the nation that contraception was not a taboo but in fact normal. It was healthy and could even be helpful to society. Knowlton’s writing is now acknowledged by some scholars as “the most influential of all of the early writings on the subject.” (Langer 680)


Jonah Raider-Roth is an undergraduate student at Case Western Reserve University.


Works Cited

Knowlton, Charles. Fruits of Philosophy; Or, The Private Companion of Young Married People .. London: J. Watson, n.d. Project Gutenberg. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.

Langer, William L. “The Origins of the Birth Control Movement in England in the Early Nineteenth Century.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. Vol. 5, No. 4, The History of the Family, II (Spring, 1975) (pp. 669-686). PDF file. Accessed 16 September 2014.

Marden, Parker G. “A Man Ahead of His Time.” Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. January 1967. Web. Accessed 14 September 2014.

Reed, James. “Knowlton, Charles.” American National Biography Online. February 2000. Web. Accessed 16 September 2014.

The Microscope: A Crucial “Lens” of History

gentlemanPicture for a moment the toxicologist, bending over his microscope to isolate and identify toxins–the biologist seeking new species in creek water–the geneticist parsing the double helix. Think of the physician, the scientist, even the micro-engineers. Now imagine those same specialists without one crucial piece of equipment: the microscope. Where would we be without this so-important “lens”?

The first “light microscope” owes its invention to Zacharias Jansen in the 1590’s, but interest in magnification began much earlier. The Romans explored the properties of glass and how, depending on curve and angle, it could make small objects appear larger. Later developments gave us the magnifying glass and even eye glasses (first made in the 13th century by Salvino D’Armate of Italy). The leap forward began with Jansen and his father, however, two Dutch eye-glass makers. Jansen’s device, which might remind us more of a telescope than a microscope, consisted of 3 sliding tubes fitted on either end with a glass lens. It magnifies 3x when the tubes were compressed, and 9x when fully extended to 18 inches. [1]

Isaac Beeckman provided the earliest known representation of a microscope (in print) in 1631, and members of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome called it the “microscopium” as early as 1625. [2] Early models were not powerful enough to provide science with any considerable advantage. Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), a Dutch cloth-merchant, made his own lenses, and his new lens tube had magnifying power of 270x. He later developed an instrument with a glass phial so that he could view blood circulation in the tail of a fish! [2]

L0043503 Robert Hooke, Micrographia, fleaNothing is so constant as change, and the microscope evolved from simple to compound; Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665) popularized their use. Hooke devised a side-pillar microscope on a solid base for use at a table, and John Marshall provided a stage plate in 1700. [2] Hooke looked at all sorts of objects, and what he saw opened new worlds of possibility. Snow crystals, the thin edge of a razor, or–and more dramatically–the flea. For the first time, a common household pest revealed itself an enormous creature with body hairs–all of which were rendered in detail at 18 inches across. He also pictures a louse, rendering it nearly two feet across when the image is unfolded. Imagine the impact of such a discovery–there were monsters in the house! [1]

Hooke described the flea as “adorn’d with a curiously polish’d suite of sable Armour, neatly jointed. . .” [3] But not everyone was impressed; some ridiculed Hooke for paying attention to “trifling” pursuits: “a Sot, that has spent 2000 £ in Microscopes, to find out the nature of Eels in Vinegar, Mites in Cheese, and the Blue of Plums which he has subtly found out to be living creatures.” [3] And yet, the book was a best seller in it’s day–and remains a curious volume even to the modern eye. Additional improvements, such as stabilizing distortion and aberration, made using the microscope possible Museum_dittrick-howardnot only for the specialist but for the lay-person; by the 19th century, microscopes were used by science, medicine, and an interested public.

Today, the microscope continues to fascinate. What child hasn’t looked on in wonder at salt crystals? Or seen something as inconsequential as dust or a droplet of water come to stunning new life? Here at the Dittrick, the microscope appears center stage in hospital medicine and in forensics, and a history of the microscope (through its evolution) may be explored in the Millikin Room on the 2nd floor. Come see medical and scientific history through its most crucial lens!



[1] “Who invented the microscope?” A Complete History of the Microscope. <http://www.history-of-the-microscope.org/history-of-the-microscope-who-invented-the-microscope.php&gt;

[2] “Microscope, Optical (Early).” Instruments of Science, An Historical Encyclopedia. Eds. Robert Bud, Deborah Jean Warner. London: The Science Museum and SMAH, Smithsonian, Garland Publishing, 1998.

[3] “Robert Hooke.” History. University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkely, CA. <http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/hooke.html&gt;