Books

Turning the Pages Online: Beautiful images from rare medical books

Foxglove

Foxglove

The image featured on the cover of the July newsletter, a tomato or “love apple,” is from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal, an 18th century book composed almost entirely of  illustrations of medicinal plants. Blackwell, who was trained in drawing, produced A Curious Herbal in an effort to obtain her husband’s release from a London debtor’s prison.  She engraved and colored the illustrations, drawn from plants growing in the Chelsea Physic Garden, and released them in weekly editions between 1737 and 1739. Each weekly release contained four plates and a page of text. The book became quite popular among the physicians and apothecaries of London, and she was able to raise enough money to secure her husband’s release.

The images shown here are from Turning the Pages Online, a project of the National Library of Medicine that makes digitized images of rare and remarkable texts in the history of the biomedical sciences accessible from desktop computers and digital devices.  Click on the images at right to access a larger view.

St. John's Wort

St. John’s Wort

Viewers of the Turning the Pages Online website are able to ‘touch and turn’ the pages, zoom in for greater detail, and read or listen to explanations of the text, sometimes in the form of curators’ notes.

Other book that are available for viewing at the Turning the Pages website include:

Robert Hooke’s Micrographia

Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium

Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Johannes de Ketham’s Fasiculo de Medicina

Physical copies of several of these books, including Hooke, and Vesalius, are held in the collection of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.

Susan Hunnicutt, Special Projects Librarian