Friday, February 26, 2010

Safe sex in the 18th century: lecture by Natasha McEnroe and exhibit at the Dittrick

The Handerson Lecture at the Dittrick on March 18 will feature Natasha McEnroe, Grant Museum, University College London. Her talk, entitled “'In armour complete': practising safe sex in 18th-century London,” takes an intimate look at the very private lives of some of 18th -century London's leading literary and society figures. The basis for this work comes from Mrs. McEnroe’s time as past Curator of Dr. Johnson's House, of Boswell and dictionary fame, and co-editor of The Tyranny of Treatment: Samuel Johnson, His Friends and Georgian Medicine (2003).

In addition to Natasha McEnroe’s presentation, the Dittrick staff is preparing an exhibit in our Castele Gallery on “sex and the city” in 18th century Britain. One component of the exhibit will deal with the scientific side of the subject in 18th century London. Specifically, we will present the story of John Hunter and his (self-inflicted) research on sexually transmitted disease. Readers who want a good intro to Hunter’s experimentation with syphilis and gonorrhea are directed to Wendy Moore’s excellent biography, The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery.

18th century condom with ribald scene of nun and priests.

The other portion of the exhibit, being prepared by Dittrick curator emerita Dr. Patsy Gerstner, will present William Hogarth’s morality tale narrative series. Hogarth’s print series are often called ‘novels’ because they each tell a story. Those stories -- The Rake’s Progress (1732-35), The Harlot’s Progress (1730-35), and Marriage A-la-Mode (1743-45) -- offer a biting satire of London life and society, and present a comedic, dramatic, and dark telling of moral and social decline.

Here, in The Harlot’s Progress, young Moll Hackabout, a naïve farm girl, has just arrived in London, and is being drawn in by the notorious madam, Mother Needham.

Hope you can join us on March 18. See the Dittrick website for details.

Jim Edmonson.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A curator’s Paris Journal - Musée des moulages III : the Cleveland connection

In 2000 a curious collection of dermatology images – glass plate negatives (seen in original paper envelopes and cardboard boxes here, at left), photographs, and delicately hand-colored prints -- came to light at the Dittrick. It was literally buried in bookcases in my office, the Corlett Room. Corlett gave these images to the Dittrick more than a half century before, but no one had dealt with them in any fashion.

William Thomas Corlett (1854-1948), served as professor of dermatology (and later syphilogy) at Western Reserve University and at the close of a long career donated his rare books and clinical photos. During the summer of 2007 Dr. Paula Summerly studied this remarkable collection in detail, finding therein an amazing connection between Corlett and colleagues at the Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris. She published her findings in the International Journal of Dermatology and I draw upon her scholarship that reveals the intriguing details.

Corlett studied skin diseases in London and Paris (1879-81, including a stint as dresser at the Hôpital Saint-Louis), and again in 1889 at clinics in Vienna, Berlin, London, and Paris. These experiences proved influential in Corlett’s career. He later turned to colleagues at the Hôpital Saint-Louis when preparing illustrations for his monograph, A Treatize on the Acute, Xanthamata…(1901). Corlett took the clinical photographs himself, and then visited Paris in 1899-1900 seeking the assistance of Felix Méheux (1838-1908). [for more info on Méheux's work, see the website of the French Society of the History of Dermatology -- be forewarned that it may take some navigation to get to the section on historic photography.]

Photos tinted by Felix Méheux, the second with tissue paper overlay and editorial comments by Corlett.

Méheux, outstanding photographer and colorist at the Hôpital Saint-Louis, hand tinted the images to highlight the details and, according to Corlett, “in this way the most delicate shades of color have been given.” Summerly further observes that “Méheux’s coloring style is very reminiscent of that used in creating the three-dimensional wax dermatological moulages displayed at the Musee [des moulages] Hôpital Saint-Louis.” In his published Treatize, Corlett freely acknowledged that the printer had not done justice to the artistry of Méheux. He lamented that “the publishers, to cut down on the expense of production, had employed an inferior firm to reproduce the excellent colored photographs which I had taken so much pains to secure.” How many of us have shared such disappointment in our own illustrated works?

Nevertheless, this story demonstrates the importance, more than a century ago, of international collaborations. And it illuminates hitherto unknown connections between medical history collections in Paris and Cleveland -- who knew?

Jim Edmonson

An additional important note: go the Dittrick's website, and see more Corlett images, and download the pdf of Mary Hunter's fine article on the collections of the hopital Saint-Louis. And be sure to see Joanna Ebenstein's images of the museum on flickr.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A curator’s Paris journal : Musée des moulages - II

Musée des moulages de l'hôpital Saint-Louis 1 avenue Claude-Vellefaux 75475 Paris

As mentioned in my previous post on the Musée des moulages, there is ample interest in moulages in museum collections, as demonstrated by the proliferation of scholarly works, exhibitions, conferences, and web postings. But I don't think that I gave much serious thought to just how these things were created and what issues that process raised. That changed when I read a recent article by Mary Hunter, "'Effroyable réalisme': Wax, Femininity, and Realist Fantsies," that appeared in RACAR-Canadian Art Review in 2008 (Vol. 33, Nos. 1-2: 43-58).

Edouard Dantan, Une Moulage sur Nature. 1887. Gotebords Konstmuseum, Sweden.

Professor Hunter
explored the moulages at the hôpital Saint-Louis, and particularly the physicians who commissioned them and the artists (mouleurs) that crafted the moulages. Many of the moulages depicted syphilis and gonorrhea, and therefore involved taking casts directly from afflicted male and female genitalia. Got my attention now. Hunter writes, “…casting was an invasive and uncomfortable process as it demanded that wet plaster be applied to open sores, rash-covered skin, and the body’s most sensitive openings. The exhaustive touching of bodes is particularly evident in Péan’s collection of moulages of diseased genitalia.” She raises many issues barely hinted at in the presentation at the hôpital Saint-Louis, particularly the relationship between doctors and female patients, including prostitutes. I commend Hunter’s fascinating and enlightening article whole-heartedly; you’ll never look at moulages in the same light again.

For those who can’t visit the hôpital Saint-Louis, there’s hope. The Musée des moulages website provides online access to a portion of the collection. The site hosts a database of digital images of 998 moulages out of a total of 2500. They include moulages of venereal diseases, like the secondary syphilis seen here. To search the moulages, select "recherche avancée" (advanced search) and then "Moulages Hôpital St Louis" in the "Collection" dialog box.

Additionally, there are at least two online inventories of moulages in the works. As noted in Morbid Anatomy last December, at the Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum, Thomas Schnalke and colleagues have started the Archiv für medizinische Wachsbilder (Moulagen) [Archive of medical waxes (moulages)] and offer a version in English. In Brussels, Chloe Pirson of the Musée de Médecine (Université libre de Bruxelles - Belgique), has created Le Centre International de Recherche sur les Modèles Anatomiques (CIRMA). Neither site is fully operational but we’ll revisit them from time to time to monitor their progress.

In my next, and concluding, post on the
Musée des moulages de l'hôpital Saint-Louis, I'll turn to the use of photography to depict dermatological afflictions. Therein lies an intriguing connection between Cleveland and Paris, and between the collections of the Dittrick and the Musée des moulages...

Jim Edmonson

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A curator’s Paris journal : Musée des moulages - I

Once again on the trail of Paris' musées insolites in the medical sphere, we (myself, my wife Christine, and Joanna Ebenstein, of Morbid Anatomy fame) headed to the hôpital Saint-Louis to see the collection of moulages secreted within. It actually lies outside the main 17th century building in a structure dating to 1899. To gain entrance to the Musée you must first seek out the cashier’s office in the hôpital Saint-Louis, and pay the admission fee. Then retrace your steps to the Musée and present the voucher Just follow the signs in the hospital complex grounds.

Original 17th century hospital buildings

Musée des moulages de l'hôpital Saint-Louis 1 avenue Claude-Vellefaux 75475 Paris

Chief among moulage collections depicting the ravages of disease in wax is the Musée des moulages de l'hôpital Saint-Louis, featuring almost 2500 dermatological moulages. Mme. Françoise Durand, conservateur of the Musée des moulages (with the portrait of Pierre François Baretta, master of moulage), graciously greeted us and presented the history of the collection .

The place has a somewhat dark, even forlorn air about it, perhaps exacerbated by ceiling/roofing problems crying for proper repair. To some visitors, the verisimilitude of the moulages might be off-putting; I’ve gotten used to that, having seen similar collections in London, Zurich, Vienna, and Leiden. Others will find the moulages absolutely captivating, from both clinical and artistic standpoints.

However, I’ve always felt that moulage collections called out for better interpretation, to provide context and meaning. Who commissioned these moulages, who made them (and how), and who used them, and how? Such questions were of course addressed by Thomas Schnalke, today of the Charité’s Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum, in his classic, Diseases in Wax: the History of Medical Moulage (1995). Interest in and analyses of moulages continues unabated, as evidenced by recent conferences in Edinburgh, Leiden, and Dresden, -- but that scholarship hasn’t yet figured into the interpretation at the Musée des moulages.

In my next post on the Musée, I will focus in on one scholar’s take on the museum’s collection, and how it made me see the moulages in a completely new light.

Jim Edmonson

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dittrick tagged as hot date destination

Local university students in search of intriguing and non-traditional date venues for Valentine's Day targeted the Dittrick. Specifically, they recommended our recently opened "Virtue, Vice and Contraband: a History of Contraception in America," featuring the Skuy Collection. Brittany Schmeigel writes in Kentwired (Kent State University), that the exhibition is, "Not only educational, but also a good way to heat things up on the date."

Jim Edmonson

See original image here

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy (belated) birthday to Charles Darwin (and me)

Greetings from the road (Philadelphia).

I'm away from the Dittrick but didn't want the 12th to pass without marking the birthday of Charles Darwin (and Abe Lincoln, and me, too). We've seen celebrations this past year of the anniversaries of Darwin's birth (200th) and the appearance of the On the origin of species (1859). On campus here at Case these endeavors have been coordinated through the Institute for the Science of Origins.

The Dittrick has played a part in exhibitions and events, most notably because of our exceptionally strong holdings in Darwiniana assembled by Dr. Robert Stecher, Cleveland rheumatologist and bibliophile. The Stecher collection includes a comprehensive collection of Darwin imprints, as well as 180 letters of Charles Darwin correspondence. See our website for details.

More of my curator's Paris travel blog next week.

Jim Edmonson

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A curator's Paris journal : Librairie Alain Brieux

International networking with medical museums has been important to the Dittrick since Howard Dittrick first visited Henry Wellcome’s curator, C. J. S. Thompson, in London in 1928. I’ve been active in the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences (EAMHMS) since 1984, and that’s been a key venue for learning what’s happening in our field. I now serve on the Association’s governing council and that took me to Paris last fall. I set aside time to seek out some museums of medicine and science that I hadn’t yet seen. I thought I’d offer a series of postings on these off-the-beaten-track places, which you won’t find in Fodor’s, Frommer’s, or Rick Steves’ Europe through the back door. So here goes…

Librairie Alain Brieux 48, rue Jacob - 75006 Paris

Any visit to Paris today by collectors or curators would be incomplete without a visit to the Librairie Alain Brieux, the premier rare book shop that features medical antiques as well. Located in Saint Germain-des-Prés, just a stone’s throw from the Sorbonne’s medical school, Brieux’s shop resembles a museum with its collection on sale. While there Dara Asken Teste showed us a c.1750 anatomical atlas featuring color plates by Gautier d’Agoty (price only $85,000).

Not too long ago, the Dittrick bought from Alain Brieux a 1902 lithograph of a striking dissection scene, Une Fin À l’École Pratique [An End At the Practical School] by Camille Félix Bellanger (1853-1923). I first saw this work in the Brieux window after hours on a Saturday night, and it really surprised me. I thought that I had just about seen most images depicting dissection over the years, but Bellanger’s work was totally unknown and fresh. A phone call once back in the States secured this beautiful lithograph for the Dittrick, happily. Read more about it in the Spring 2008 Newsletter of the Cleveland Medical Library Association.

Tout à l'heure

Jim Edmonson

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rare 18th century obstetric manikin comes to the Dittrick

Few medical artifacts can be more intriguing and iconic than the obstetric manikin recently acquired by the Dittrick. Dating to the late 18th century, it served to train midwives in the mysteries of childbirth and delivery. It is modeled upon “la machine” of Madame du Coudray, the renowned midwife to Louis XV of France.

Last September I saw the original and best- preserved “machine” of du Coudray in the Musée Flaubert in Rouen, France. The Rouen manikin has all the bells and whistles, including large and small fetus, placenta, and even twins. Ours, in comparison, is a bare-bones model, but it still a very compelling artifact. We are indebted to the generosity of Trustees of the Cleveland Medical Library Association for their support of its acquisition.

I recently wrote to Nina Gelbart, author of The King’s Midwife -- a History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray, seeking her perspective on the Dittrick manikin. Professor Gelbart wrote back that “you've acquired something very rare, probably the only one in the US, and about which much can be said that is extremely important for medical history.” Additionally, the manikin is accompanied by Madame du Coudray’s Abrégé de l'art des accouchements [Summary of the art of childbirth] (1769), which features color plates of delivery technique.

We’ve invited Professor Gelbart to come to the Dittrick in the Fall and present her views on du Coudray, the use of her “machine” and text, and what it all tells us about midwifery and the rise of obstetrics in the 18th century. We’ll keep you posted on the details.

Jim Edmonson

For more on selected Dittrick artifacts and their intriguing stories, visit our website.

Photos courtesy of Laura Travis

Friday, February 5, 2010

Condom exhibit features material from the Skuy Collection at the Dittrick

The Museum of Sex just opened a new exhibition, RUBBERS: the Life, History & Struggle of the Condom. This exhibition, curated by Sarah Jacobs and designed by Mark Snyder, takes an irreverent yet in-depth look at the history of the condom from a single object to its role a multidisciplinary artifact.

As their publicity states: “Influencing everything from science to art to politic
s and religion, the condom, which has remained at the epicenter of debate since its inception, rose from its humble beginnings to become a barometer of morality and a savior in the fight against HIV/AIDS.” For details visit

The Dittrick lent objects (see at right) from the Skuy Collection to this exhibition, which had its grand opening just last night. Joanna Ebenstein, my friend and blog mentor (Morbid Anatomy) attended and I'll look forward to hearing more about it from her.
I certainly plan to see it the next time I'm in NYC.

Jim Edmonson

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Collecting and curating today for tomorrow's medical museum

Amphitheatre in the Medical Museion, Copenhagen.

The EAMHMS (European Association of Museums of the History of the Medical Sciences) will meet September 16-18 in Copenhagen to address the challenges posed by contemporary developments in medical science and technology. The official site for the conference, just now up and running, raises these issues: “How do museums today handle the material and visual heritage of contemporary medical and health science and technology? How do curators wield the increasing amount and kinds of intangible scientific and digital objects? Which intellectual, conceptual, and practical questions does this challenge give rise to?”

Conference host Thomas Söderqvist and his team at the Medical Museion have been grappling with such questions over the past five years, and are thus well-positioned to take the lead in helping the rest of us come to terms with such challenges. Simply put, we need to collect today for tomorrow, and to give some thought to that process. Much of what we will be collecting will be “black box” technology, without the charm of ivory-handled instruments or the artful grace of anatomical models. But we needn’t let that put us off the task, and I hope to derive a lot of inspiration in Copenhagen this coming September.

Hope to see you there!

Jim Edmonson

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Medicina nei Secoli focuses upon medical museums

The international journal Medicina nei Secoli (Medicine in the Centuries) just published an issue focusing upon the educational role of medical museums around the world, from Hong Kong to London, and from Johannesburg to Uppsala. This issue of Medicina nei Secoli (Vol. 21, No. 1, 2009) features twenty-three essays, with particularly interesting contributions by Thomas Schnalke (Charité, Berlin), Almut Grüner (Thackray Museum, Leeds), Maggie Reilly and Stuart McDonald (Hunterian Museum, Glasgow), and Chloé Pirson (Musée de la medécine, Brussels). (You can download and read the Dittrick essay on our website.) All in all, this publication deserves wide circulation within the medical museum community. Copies may be had by contacting the editor, Luciana R. Angeletti at or by writing to Sezione di Storia della Medicine Viale dell’Universita 34/A 000185 Roma, Italia or faxing to 39 (06) 4451721

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dissection images on Facebook?

John Warner forwarded an intriguing article by Jill Laster in the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing the use of Facebook to share images from the dissection lab. As with photos created by medical students a century ago, some are not so flattering to the judgment of students, or to the dignity of the cadaver. The article explores many of the issues that John Warner and I addressed in Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, 1880-1930 (Blast Books, 2009). Ms. Laster references the book directly and quotes John, and features an image from the Dittrick’s collection of dissection images. Nice to see the book finding relevance in this discussion, even as anatomy and dissection wane in the medical school curriculum...

Jim Edmonson

Medical illustration collection comes to the Dittrick

In December the H. F. Aitken collection of biomedical art came to the Dittrick and we are in the midst of cataloging and researching this notable body of medical art. The Aitken collection comprises some 2000+ sketches, drawings, paintings, prints, and books from the estate of Hamlet Frederick Aitken (1872 - 1939), an artist and medical illustrator from Massachusetts.

Aitken’s artwork had been packed away in two steamer trunks after his death and consigned to the attic at the family home in Lexington, Massachusetts. John Gilman, now retired from the publishing field, unearthed his grandfather’s material in 2004 and at once appreciated its importance. Aitken collaborated with distinguished surgeons, including Harvey Cushing, and taught medical illustration at Harvard. When John called in Spring 2008 to inquire if the Dittrick might be interested in the Aitken collection, we responded with an enthusiastic Yes!

Needless to say, we are thrilled with this acquisition and look forward to sharing the Aitken collection in exhibitions, web-based presentations, and research projects that will bring the Dittrick and the CIA Biomedical art program into closer collaboration. Maggie Pierce, a CIA student intern, is seen here working with H. F. Aitken drawings. Maggie will be with us through the summer as an intern helping to put the collection in good order.

More later...

Jim Edmonson