History of Medicine

Shakespeare and the Four Humors: Exhibit opens Wednesday in the Briscoe Library


This image of the sanguine personality type was created by Henry Peacham in 1612. In Shakespeare’s day, sanguine personality was believed to be associated with the predominance of blood in relation to the three other bodily humors– yellow bile or choler, black bile or melancholer, and phlegm. Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Dr. Mark Bayer, guest speaker

February 13, 6:00 p.m.

Howe Conference Room, Briscoe Library

William Shakespeare’s (1564–1616) characters are timeless, yet he described human personality in the language of his age.  The theory of  the four bodily humors—blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm–  extends across Shakespeare‘s works, and is connected with the belief that emotional states have physical causes.  In Elizabethan England the four bodily humors were thought to engender the passions of anger, grief, hope, and fear— emotions that drive much of the action in Shakespeare‘s plays.

There’s the Humor of It: Shakespeare and the Four Humors is a  traveling exhibit produced by the National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health and the Folger Shakespeare Library to explore the inner logic of humoral theory as well as its connections to modern medical thought and practices.

The exhibit will open in the Briscoe Library at 6:00 p.m. on the evening of February 13 with a guest presentation by Dr. Mark Bayer, a member of the faculty in the Department of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio.  Dr. Bayer will speak on the topic, Why the Four Humours Make Sense: Shakespeare and the Four Humours.

The exhibit will remain on display through March 22.

In another event planned in conjunction with the exhibit,  Dr. Charleen Moore of the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology will speak on the topic,  A Balancing Act: Medical Practices and the Four Humors in the Renaissance. Her presentation will take place at noon on Wednesday, February 27th.

Both presentations are programs of the Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, and will take place in the Howe Conference Room on the 5th floor of the Briscoe Library.


Special Collections receives preservation assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Dr. Graham Watts was a founding member of the Bexar County Medical Society.

Dr. F.M. Hicks practiced surgery in San Antonio from 1888 to 1929 and was one of the first Texans to be elected to the American College of Surgery.

In January the Special Collections of the UT Health Science Center Libraries received a $5,547 Preservation Assistance grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).  Special Collections houses the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, a collection of rare and historical books on the history of the health sciences; and the University Archives, a collection of historical papers and audiovisuals documenting the history of the university and of physicians and other health care professionals practicing in San Antonio and Central and South Texas in the 1800’s and 1900’s.   The books and archives are housed in several different locations on the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th floors of the Briscoe Library.

The NEH grant will pay for a preservation/conservation assessment of the collections by a professional materials conservator, who will help draft a long-range plan for the care of the collections.  The conservator , Rebecca Elder, will visit the Special Collections to assess policies, practices, and conditions affecting the care and preservation of the collections.  She will make recommendations for improving the storage or re-housing of collections, prioritize future preservation action on aging materials, and suggest appropriate preservation supplies.

The grant will also pay for the purchase of environmental monitoring equipment, allowing library staff to track environmental conditions in the various collection locations, and to adjust temperature, humidity, and dew point to create the best preservation conditions possible.

Anna Beyer, a University of North Texas Library and Information Science student, will work as an intern in Special Collections during Spring 2011.  She will help with the preservation needs identified by the consultant and record and analyze environmental data information.

Anne Comeaux, Assistant Library Director for Digital and Special Collections

Summer reading: Siddhartha Mukherjee to speak at Trinity University on August 28

The Emperor of All MaladiesSiddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, will speak at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 28 in Laurie Auditorium at Trinity University.  The event, part of Trinity’s Reading TUgether summer reading program, is free and open the public.

The Emperor of all Maladies was a 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, and the recipient of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. In it Mukherjee reflects on his experiences as a hematology and oncology fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, while at the same time constructing a history of cancer research and treatment.   The Pulitzer jury, in awarding the prize, called it “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal”.

More information about the August 28 program at Trinity University can be found on the Trinity University website.

Susan Hunnicutt, Special Projects Librarian



The Father of Ophthalmology

George Bartisch, a German physician, was born in 1535 in Königsbrück, a village near Dresden, Germany. He could not afford medical school, so apprenticed at the age of 13 to a barber surgeon in Dresden. This was followed by two additional apprenticeships to an oculist and a lithotomist. He acquired medical experience and became a successful wound surgeon, lithotomist, oculist and teacher of surgical anatomy. Bartisch became well known and eventually was appointed court oculist for Duke Augustus I of Saxony, settling in Dresden.

Bartisch is called the Father of Ophthalmology because he was the earliest person to write an ophthalmologic text-book in the German language and the first in history to totally remove an eye from a living human subject. In 1583 he published Ophthalmodouleia, both the first systematic work on ocular disease and ophthalmic surgery as well as the first ophthalmic atlas with its 92 full page woodcuts, many of which Bartisch drew himself. Some of the illustrations had flaps that could be lifted to provide a dissection layer by layer. They illustrate ocular diseases, surgical methods, and instruments. The explanations of each disease in this work are followed by a discussion of herbal remedies and prescriptions and surgical options for treatment.

The P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, located on the 5th floor of the Briscoe Library owns the first edition of Ophthalmodouleia. More information on George Bartisch may be found in the Treasures of the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library blog.

To visit the Nixon Library, contact Anne Comeaux, Assistant Director for Special Collections, at comeaux@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2428, or Mellisa DeThorne, Archival Assistant, at dethorne@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2470.


Book review by Mark J. Mannis of Ophthalmodouleia, That is the Service of the Eye, 1996 English translation by Donal Blanchard, MD. American Journal of Ophthalmology 1997, 123:146-147. http://www.history-ophthalmology.com/BartischREVIEW.html

“Georg Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia.” The College of Optometrist webpage at http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/collections/rare_historical_books_collection/Bartisch.cfm

Shastid,, Thomas Hall. George Bartisch,” The American Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Ophthalmology, Volume 2, pp. 888-895. Chicago: Cleveland Press, 1913.


Images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries.

The History of Medicine in Poetry – HOM Society Meeting in April

In honor of Poetry Month, the History of Medicine Society of the Friends of the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library will be meeting in the Howe Conference Room on April 23, 2014, beginning at 6:00 pm to discuss the history of medicine in poetry.  UTHSCSA faculty and students will be doing readings of selected poems and members can discuss their own original poems.

In conjunction with the meeting, an exhibit on The History of Medicine in Poetry will be displayed in the 3rd floor exhibit area of the library starting April 1.


Popular 17th century poem describing the plague doctor's costume.

Popular 17th century poem describing the plague doctor’s costume.  See the exhibit for an English translation.

Copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel [i.e Dr. Beak], a plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, with a satirical macaronic poem (‘Vos Creditis, als eine Fabel, / quod scribitur vom Doctor Schnabel’) in octosyllabic rhyming couplets.  Date: 1656.  Courtesy of Internet Archive.

Treasures of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library

Students examine early anatomical texts in the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.

Some of the most historically significant of the early illustrated anatomical works -- by artist-anatomists such as Vesalius (1514-1564), Albinus (1697-1770), Paolo Mascagni (1755-1815), William Hunter (1718-1783) and John Hunter (1728-1793) – can be found in the collection of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.

The P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library began as the private collection of San Antonio physician Pat Ireland Nixon.  Born in Guadalupe County in 1883, Dr. Nixon studied at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he developed an interest in the history of medicine, as well as a love of rare medical texts, which he collected.  When Dr. Nixon moved to San Antonio in 1912 to open his practice, he sought out other physicians and organized a journal club, which eventually evolved into the Bexar County Medical Library Association (BCMLA).  Over the years the collection of the association grew to contain more than 15,000 volumes.

In 1970, the Bexar County Medical Society donated the rare books from the collection of the BCMLA to the new medical school in San Antonio — then called The University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, but later becoming part of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.  In 1983 the collection was officially named the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.   At that time it was moved to its present location, on the fifth floor of the Briscoe Library.

Today, as one of the sites of an annual art and anatomy workshop, as well as of a course in the history of anatomy, the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library supports the teaching mission of both The University of Texas at San Antonio and the The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.  The library reading room is open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.  In addition to many historically significant volumes in the fields of anatomy, surgery, psychiatry and ophthalmology, the collection of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library also includes works of local importance, including Dr. Rudolph Menger’s Texas Nature Observations and Reminiscences (1913).  A Century of Medicine in San Antonio (1936) and The Medical Story of Early Texas (1946), both by Pat Ireland Nixon, are held in the library’s collection.

Membership in the Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library is open to anyone who is interested in the history of the health sciences.    Dues are $10/year for students, $25 for individual members, and $50 for patrons. Membership in the Friends and gifts to the library  help to assure that we will be able to maintain, build and promote the use of the collection, both on the campus of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and in the academic communities of the surrounding area.

For more information about membership in the Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, or about any of its programs, please contact Susan Hunnicutt, Special Projects Librarian, at (210) 567-2406, or email Hunnicutt@uthscsa.edu. Information about membership can also be found on the library’s website.

Turning the Pages Online: Beautiful images from rare medical books



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

Upcoming events: Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library

Wonder Bugs vs. Super Drugs: Dr. Jose A. Cadena Zuluaga to speak

Thursday, September 19 at noon

Howe Conference Room, Briscoe Library 5th Floor

Jose A. Cadena Zuluaga, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine and Medical Director, Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology for the South Texas Veterans’ Health Care System, will talk about the struggle to preserve the utility of our antibiotic arsenal.

Dr. Cadena’s lecture is the first in a three part noon lecture series organized by Gregory M. Anstead, M.D., Ph.D., current president of the Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.


History of Medicine Society: Ron Philo, Ph.D., will talk about the anatomical art of Leonardo DaVinci

Wednesday, September 25, 6:00 p.m.

Howe Conference Room, Briscoe Library 5th Floor

The History of Medicine Society is a newly-formed interest group within the Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library. The student-led History of Medicine Society meets monthly to discuss the historical development of medicine and the health sciences, and the impact of medicine on society.  Membership is open to everyone who is interested in the history of the health professions.

Ron Philo, Ph.D., retired Senior Lecturer, will speak about The Anatomical Drawings of Leonardo DaVinci at the group’s first fall meeting on September 25.

More than 100 individuals from the campus and the community attended meetings of the History of Medicine Society in 2012-2013.


BasilPruittSave the date: Basil A. Pruitt, Jr., M.D. to speak at Annual Meeting of the Friends 

Thursday, November 7, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Old San Francisco Steak House

Basil A. Pruitt, Jr., M.D., F.A.C.S., F.A.C.M., will be the guest speaker at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library. The evening’s program, to be held at the Old San Francisco Steak House, will explore a significant chapter in San Antonio’s history, reviewing the treatment innovations developed at the Army Burn Center that have revolutionized care and improved the survival of even massively burned patients.
Dr. Pruitt received his M.D. degree in 1957 from the Tufts University School of Medicine. He was drafted in 1959. Assigned to the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research (ISR) at Fort Sam Houston, he completed his residency at Brooke Army Medical Center in 1964 and went on to serve 31 years with the ISR. For 27 of those years, he was its commander and director.

Nixon Dinner InformationComplete information about the Annual Dinner and Presentation, and other activities of the Friends, can be found in the organization’s newsletter:

Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library – Newsletter 2013

Friends of the Nixon Library – Membership and Dinner Reservation Form

Susan Hunnicutt, Special Projects Librarian


Upcoming lecture: Doctors and Dollars May Not Always Be Enough

Dr. Fernando Guerra, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the UT Health Science Center, and recently retired Director of Health for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, will be the speaker at the 41st Annual Meeting, Dinner and Presentation of the Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.  The event will take place Monday, November 7, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Airport Hotel.

The topic of Dr. Guerra’s presentation, “Doctors and Dollars May Not Always Be Enough!” will provide the occasion for him to reflect on the health care system, its institutions, professionals, personnel, technology and investments, as well as measurable progress in the delivery of health care over the past forty years. Dr. Guerra will also consider ongoing challenges and opportunities, especially in light of the Affordable Health Care Act.  How is it possible to fill the gaps when doctors and dollars may not be enough?

The Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library invite all those interested in the history of medicine   to an enjoyable evening of good food and conversation.

The cost of attendance is $40/person.  Advance registration is required.  Student attendance is $30 and includes Friends membership.  Opportunities to sponsor student attendees at the dinner are available.

Please RSVP by October 31, 2011:  The registration form should be mailed to Briscoe Library – MSC 7940 UTHSCSA 7703 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio, TX 78229-9674.  For more information, contact Susan Hunnicutt, Special Projects Librarian: Hunnicutt@uthscsa.edu.

Visit the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library: Get acquainted with the book as artifact

Bartisch, Georg, Ophthalmodouleia:das ist, Augendienst. 1583.

Hold the book in your hands, feel its weight, turn its pages, admire its binding and the texture of the paper, breathe in the musty smell of age, delight in the illustrations, read the inscriptions and learn of its provenance.

Only this way, first-hand, can you truly appreciate a great book.

Visit the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library and get to know some of the finest books in the history of medicine, nursing, dentistry and the sciences.

For more information, contact Pennie Borchers, Special Collections Librarian, at Borchers@uthscsa.edu.