Friday, October 7, 2011

Zodiac Man

If you perceive of the body as a microcosm of all of creation, you had better pay attention to the universe when you are treating a patient. The medieval sensibility closely linked the stars and the humors of the body. This famous, hand-colored illustration of "zodiac man" comes from a 1500 printing of Joannes de Ketham's Fasciculus Medicinae. Originally printed nine years earlier, it is thought to be the first medical textbook in the era of print.

The text surrounding zodiac man gives practical, and crucial, advice to physicians about the proper timing for medical procedures. Treating maladies of the head would be very dangerous when the sun is in Aries because of the sign's anatomical association.

The concepts linking the zodiac with health persisted long after more modern medical practices came into fashion. In his 1740 Poor Richard's Alamanck, Benjamin Franklin repeats the iconic medical chart as a handy guide for medical diagnosis and treatment.

To see Ketham, ask for Incunabula 74, and for the 18th-century survival of medieval medicine, ask for Rare PS749.A2 1740. You can also see the National Library of Medicine copy of Ketham online.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Salesrooms in Every City

For the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, the Singer Manufacturing Company produced a set of souvenir cards featuring photographs that were "taken on the spot in various countries and provinces and colored there to correctly represent the native costumes."  The cards were billed as "national costume studies, reliable and perfect in every detail."  On the reverse of each card was a snapshot description of the country (or region) sketching the geography, religion, and history of the area.  The omnipresent sewing machine in each image and the phrase "Salesrooms in Every City in the World," were a not-so subtle sales pitch to prospective buyers.

The 1893 World's Fair was ostensibly held in commemoration of Columbus' arrival in the new world and Singer's cards were a clever marketing tie-in to that theme.  Though European countries far outnumber their non-western counterparts (Spain is featured on no less than seven of the thirty-five cards), Singer did include cards for China, Japan, Tunis, India, Algeria, Ceylon, Burmah, Manilla and Zululand.  As one would expect, these regions were closely associated with European colonial power and the descriptions of these regions emphasize the "civilizing influence" of the western world and extolls Singer's part in that endeavor.  In India, Singer was already "helping the people of India toward a better civilization for nearly twenty years."

Ask for Rare Book GT 595 .C68 1892 to see all of the cards.