Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fleas

Yesterday we were giving a presentation to The Dartmouth Institute's Health Professions Educators' Summer Symposium on various plagues that are nicely documented here in Rauner. It was a room filled with death and despair: one section was devoted to a small pox outbreak that hit Hanover in 1777, another to the cholera pandemic of the 1830s, and another on the bubonic plague that devastated London in 1665. The London plague (alluded to in an earlier post) brings to mind Monty Python, of course, but also fleas. And fleas reminded us of one of our favorite books, Robert Hooke's Micrographia (London: J. Martyn and J. Allestry, 1665).

Micrographia was the first detailed account of life under a microscope. Hooke's meticulous descriptions and illustrations revealed a wondrous new world to behold. But it was the irony of the publication date that was a wonder yesterday. The book came out in September of 1665, right when London was in the throes of the Plague. Little did the original readers know that the marvelously illustrated creature made so utterly foreign by the microscope was the source of all of their current sufferings.

To see Micrographia, ask for Rare QH271.H79.

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