Medical Students Essay Awards 2015

Pam and Rolando Del Maestro with Steph A. Pang (holding medal), Zhuyin Xu, and Christian Dabrowski. Photo: Owen Egan.

Pam and Rolando Del Maestro with Steph A. Pang (holding medal), Zhuyin Xu, and Christian Dabrowski. Photo: Owen Egan.

We are happy to announce that the winning essays from this year’s Pam and Rolando Del Maestro William Osler Medical Students Essay Awards are now available on our website, along with reflective pieces written by the students on their research experience.

First place went to Steph A. Pang for her essay entitled, “Man and his Health Pavilion: An Architectural Reinterpretation of the Patient-Doctor Relationship.” She was mentored by Prof. Annmarie Adams of the McGill School of Architecture and the Osler’s Library’s Board of Curators. She was presented with the Osler Library Board of Curators’ Medal during the Osler Banquet hosted by the McGill Osler Society on November 4.

Second place was awarded to Zhuyin Xu for her essay, “Diffusion of Medical Innovations: Minimally Invasive Surgery in China,” written under the mentorship of Prof. Thomas Schlich of the Department of Social Studies of Medicine.

Third place went to Christian Dabrowski for his essay, “Between Commitment and Contentment: the Story of Norman Bethune in Montreal.” He was mentored by Dr. Nicholas Whitfield of the Department of Social Studies of Medicine.

Congratulations to this year’s winners!

The Pam and Rolando William Osler Medical Students Essay Contest gives undergraduate medical students the opportunity to explore any theme of interest to them in the history, social studies, sociology, ethics, and humanities of the health sciences. It also provides them with the chance to be mentored by an expert in their topic drawn from the Library’s Board of Curators or elsewhere to complete their project, and to use the rich resources of the Osler Library and other libraries at McGill.To find out more about the contest, please visit our informational page.

Accepting applications: Dr. Edward H. Bensley Osler Library Research Travel Grant

The Osler Library of the History of Medicine of McGill University offers a travel grant designed to assist researchers who need to travel and establish temporary residence in Montreal in order to use the resources of the Library.  The Library has the largest collection of rare and secondary material in medical history in Canada, including medieval and modern manuscripts, archives of such notables as Sir William Osler, Wilder Penfield, Norman Bethune, and Maude Abbott, medical ephemera, and 2,500 medical prints. Monographic, serials, and ephemera holdings are listed in the McGill Library Catalogue. The Dr. Edward H. Bensley Osler Library Research Travel Grant is available to historians, physicians, graduate and post-doctoral students, and those interested in the arts and humanities of medical history whose project requires them to travel to Montreal to consult material in the Osler Library. Each year up to $4,000 in awards will be made to one or more individuals who require a minimum of 2 weeks to carry out their research in the calendar year in which the grant is awarded.

To apply, please fill out the form located on our website. Applications for research to be carried out during the 2016 calendar year should be received by December 31, 2015. The applications are considered by a committee which gives preference to specific and clearly described projects.

The Osler Library Research Travel Grant is endowed through the generosity of graduates of the Class of Medicine of 1936, and a $100,000 gift from the Pope-Jackson Fund.  The grant recognises Dr. E.H. Bensley’s place in the history of the library. A former dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Bensley’s later life was devoted to the history of medicine. He was affiliated with the Department of the History of Medicine (fore-runner of the present Department of Social Studies of Medicine) and taught the history of medicine to second year medical students. He also edited the Osler Library Newsletter and wrote extensively. His last book, “McGill Medical Luminaries,” was the first title to appear in the Osler Library Studies in the History of Medicine series. He was named Honourary Osler Librarian in 1979.


“In Flanders fields” at the Osler Library

In celebration of the centennial of this famous World War I poem, we are reposting this blog entry from Remembrance Day 2013. The two contemporary copies of John McCrae’s “In Flanders fields,” one written by the poet himself, housed in our collection will be on view tomorrow at the Osler Library, 3rd floor, McIntyre Medical Building, 3655 Promenade-Sir-William-Osler. Please keep an eye out as well for a special Global News segment tomorrow featuring this important document of Canadian history.

“In Flanders fields the poppies grow / Between the crosses, row on row”

John McCrae’s poem remains one of the most influential pieces of Canadian literature and gives us our most enduring World War I imagery: the red poppies.

Born in Guelph, Ontario, McCrae was a career soldier and practicing physician.FlandersFields Before the war, he worked at the Montreal General and the Royal Victoria Hospital, and taught at McGill. Although McCrae was a trained physician, he joined an army fighting unit at the outbreak of the First World War. There, he experienced some of the first chemical weapons attacks during the second battle of Ypres in Belgium. The story goes that McCrae penned his poem after the burial of a close friend and medical school colleague, when he noticed the poppies growing over the graves. This manuscript, written in McCrae’s hand, was left to the Osler Library among the literary archives of fellow physician and McGillian John Andrew Macphail. In this manuscript, McCrae ends the first line with the word “grow.” This is a change from the published version, in which the line finishes “blow.” McCrae wrote out this copy of the poem in a 1916 letter to a friend, Carleton Noyes, modestly mentioning that this piece had achieved some notoriety.

Photo of John McCrae with his dog, from the Osler Library Prints Collection, OPF000110

Photo of John McCrae with his dog, from the Osler Library Prints Collection, OPF000110

The library also has a second early copy of the poem. It is found in the diary of Clare Gass, which recounts her experiences as a nurse with the Canadian Army Medical Corps in France and England in 1915 and 1916. Gass was born in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, on 18 March 1887. She left home for Montreal to train as a nurse at the Montreal General Hospital School of Nursing from 1909 to 1912, working afterwards as a private nurse. After a brief training period in Quebec, she left for Europe in May of 1915 as a Lieutenant nursing sister with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill). In her diary, “In Flanders Field” is copied out in an entry dated October 30th— nearly six weeks before the poem’s first publication in the magazine Punch on December 8, 1915. After that, it quickly became the most popular piece of poetry of the age and its central image an enduring symbol of loss.

Join us on Osler Day!

CoatOfArmsPlease join the library on this year’s Osler Day, Wednesday, November 4th, for a presentation of essays by the three finalists chosen as part of the Pam and Rolando Del Maestro William Osler Medical Students Essay Awards. The presentations will be held at 11:30 in the McIntyre Medical Building, room 1034.

The following students will be presenting their research:

Christian Dabrowski, “Between Commitment and Contentment: the Story of Norman Bethune in Montreal.”

Steph A. Pang, “Man and his Health Pavilion: An Architectural Reinterpretation of the Patient-Doctor Relationship.”

Zhu Yin Xu, “Diffusion of Medical Innovations: Minimally Invasive Surgery in China.”

History of biology in the Osler Library

The history of natural history and biology is heavily represented in the collection of the Osler Library, not just because of their important place in the history of medicine, but also in the life story of the library’s founder.

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson. William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson.
William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

William Osler (1849-1919) grew up in Bond Head, Ontario, surrounded by books. His father’s theological library had around 1,500 items. The young Osler had his first glimpse of a scientific library when he left home to attend Trinity College School (located today in Port Hope, Ontario). The Warden of the school, Reverend W.A. Johnson (1816-1889), according to Osler, “a good friend, botanist, a practical palaeontologist, an ardent microscopist,” inspired Osler with a passion for natural history.

While studying Anglican divinity at Trinity College, Toronto, Osler spent two years living with James Bovell, the Chair of Natural Theology at Trinity College and a member of the Toronto School of Medicine faculty, assisting him in his work. He would often go out to collect various samples of algae and other specimens to fix onto slides for Bovell. His first publication, “Christmas and the Microscope” (1869) demonstrated his love for and proficiency at microscopy. Osler transferred from Trinity College to the Toronto School of Medicine, and then ultimately to the Medical Faculty at McGill University to pursue the greater clinical opportunities available to medical students in Montreal.

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson. William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson.
William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

Osler’s affinity for natural history flourished during his stay at McGill. Through another mentor, Dr. Palmer Howard, Dean of the McGill Faculty of Medicine, Sir William was introduced to some of the foundational works in the field of life sciences, including those of Laennec, Stokes, and Graves. Osler’s thesis was based on the preparation of gross and microscopic slides from twenty autopsies. After graduation, he considered the India Medical Service, but opted to remain in Montreal, so as to pursue his work in microscopy. He was offered the Chair of Botany at McGill because of this expertise, but turned the position down in favour of a lectureship in Physiology. He became Chair of Clinical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1884, where he was a member of the Biology Club. His bibliophilia was inspired by places such as the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. Osler moved to the Johns Hopkins University in 1889, where in 1893 he played an instrumental role in the creation of the Johns Hopkins Medical School and teaching hospital.  He was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University in 1905. At Oxford he served equally as a curator of the Bodleian Library and was heavily involved in the work of the Bibliographical Society of London. In Oxford, he had the leisure time to devote himself to his passion for book collecting, designing a library that would contain the most significant works produced in the history of medicine and science.

Come see a selection of works of natural history and biology in a special exhibition up now in the Osler Room of the Osler Library.


Sanitizing Style: a new exhibition at the Osler Library

No longer with a trailing skirt

           She sweeps the sidewalks bare.

Collecting germs, collecting dirt,

              All swaddled up for fair.

The cities now hire men adept

           At sweeping what those long skirts swept.

                                                               (From The Toronto Star, Oct. 9, 1925)

By the time of the publication of these lines, germ theory had pervaded every aspect of daily life in the Western world. Discovered in the latter half of the19th century, the theory, elaborated by scientists such as Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, led to numerous changes in everyday living. A new exhibition at the Osler Library highlights one such example. Following the discovery of the Tuberculosis baterium, public health advocates rallied to create treatment and prevention programmes, including public health campaigns and anti-spitting legislation. They recognized the danger posed by tuberculosis-infected sputum on the streets swept up by the trailing skirts that fashionable women of the day favoured. Curated by Cynthia Tang, with rare books specialist Anna Dysert and costume curator Catherine Bradley, this exhibition explores the legitimacy that germ theory lent to the late 19th century movement to reform women’s dress, bringing together books, images, artifacts, and clothing pieces from collections across McGill.

The exhibition Sanitizing Style: Germ Theory and Fashion at the Turn of the Century is on now at the Osler Library through November 2015. Stay tuned for a curator’s talk and exhibition walkthrough to be scheduled for October!


Taking a closer look at the Fabrica


Image 1: Author Portrait from the Fabrica

Andreas Vesalius was born on the last hour of the last day of 1514 in Brussels to a family that had seen four generations of physicians before him. Of particular notoriety, his grandfather was the personal physician to the Emperor Maximilian. At an early age Andreas’s mother sent him to attend university in the neighboring city of Louvain, where he went on to develop an affinity for ancient languages and human anatomy. The few human dissections Vesalius witnessed at Louvain were his first exposure to the value of using cadavers to learn about the human body. He began his own anatomical studies by dissecting the bodies of mice, moles, rats, dogs and cats – the only readily available tissues he could practice with at the time. Vesalius travelled to Paris in 1533 to obtain a proper medical education from the world-renowned University of Paris, which had already established itself as a center for medical education. One of his mentors was Jacobus Sylvius, who is known for being the first professor of medicine in France to use a human cadaver for anatomical lessons. While his lectures were indeed well attended, he professed a kind of blind faith for the works of Galen. Whenever a body part in his demonstrations deviated from the ancient’s writings, he would simply say that the human body has changed since Galen’s time. Vesalius eventually came to the conclusion that the only way his knowledge could rival that of the Alexandrian teachers, those pioneers into the world of human dissection, would be if he also took human dissection into his own hands. He began by studying human bones taken from cemeteries around Paris. Eventually his knowledge of the skeletal system became so complete that he was said to be able to identify a bone while completely blind-folded. This ultimately won him the respect of the entire faculty and he, too, began to teach.

After some years of lecturing in Louvain and then Padua, Vesalius began his 3 years of tireless effort to compile the masterpiece De humani corporis fabrica libri septum. The first edition of the work, published in 1543, is upheld as the cornerstone of modern anatomy and holds a coveted place in the history of medicine. It has been said that in 1543, with the publishing of the Fabrica, a revolution of sorts occurred. While it was indeed the most accurate, best illustrated, and complete anatomical treatise that had even been produced, it also mostly rejected the teachings of Galen that had been accepted as medical fact for the thirteen centuries prior. The beautiful composition of De humani corporis fabrica libri septum was a huge step forward for both anatomists and artists, alike. This copy of the Fabrica, now housed in the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, was printed on the press of Johannes Oporinus of Basel in 1543 (when Vesalius was only 28 years old). While Johannes was also at the center of other noteworthy publications, such as the first Latin edition of the Koran in 1542/43, the Fabrica now certainly stands out as the most famous. Prior to Vesalius, human dissection was only conducted within universities by a professor who read aloud a Latin text (which at this time was almost always Galen) while a barber-surgeon handled the cadaver to show the body part being discussed. The purpose was not to verify these ancient writings, but rather to demonstrate their unquestioned knowledge. Medical illustration at the time was not based in a naturalistic representation of anatomy, but stylized schematic diagrams that correlated with the text rather than what was witnessed. When Vesalius published the Fabrica and scholars began to understand how he developed it, these tendencies began to radically change.

The illustrations of the Fabrica were so ground-breaking that plagiarized versions began to emerge in Western Europe almost immediately after the first print. Works appeared from various authors between the years of 1553 – 1564 that out-right copied the illustrations from Fabrica and substituted Vesalius’s text with words of their own. The publication of the first two editions of Fabrica didn’t go without controversy in terms of their contents. Sylvius, Andreas’s Galenist mentor from the University of Paris, had gathered a camp of supporters that drastically opposed Vesalius’s radical departure from the words of the ancients. These scholars claimed that Vesalius was effectively falsifying Galen’s words and regularly criticized him for his departures from the lessons of the ancients. After the publishing of the Fabrica, Vesalius continued to delve deeper into his own anatomical understandings by continuing with his human dissections until the end of his days (apart from a consultant physician job meant to support himself). However, the exact events of these last days are shrouded in mystery. Rumor has it that when Vesalius was conducting dissections in Spain, he opened the chest of one individual to only find that the heart was still beating. What he thought to be a dissection suddenly became a vivisection, which was entirely illegal to perform on a human being. Supposedly he was sentenced to death by the inquisition, but the king commuted his sentence on the grounds that he make a trip to Jerusalem to expiate his sins. While the journey to the Holy Land was accomplished safely, Vesalius fell ill on the return trip and died on the island of Zante (present day Zakynthos) on October 15th, 1564. He was survived by his wife and daughter but, due to the location where he died, he was buried in an unmarked grave rather than be returned.


Image 2: A page from the Fabrica

Despite his inglorious death, his De humani corporis fabrica libri septum has allowed Vesalius’s name to live in infamy. The Fabrica holds a special place of significance in the history of science since illustrations and scientific text had never been brought together before in such a way. The use of the printed book as a medium for scientific knowledge in terms of both text and illustrations was considered to be ground-breaking at the time. Dr. Cushing, who published a biography about William Osler, also published a biography about Vesalius in 1943 to commemorate the 400 years since the creation of the 1st edition of the Fabrica. To be in possession of an original copy of the Fabrica is certainly a privilege, considering any surviving copies of the 1st edition prints are not extremely plentiful in contemporary times. Brown University’s John Lay Library is known to have received a copy which is bound in tanned human skin. Two other copies have been sold at auctions, one of which sold for $412,994 and the other – the only fully colored copy known to exist – for $1,652,500. Luckily William Osler came across many 1st edition copies of the Fabrica as they were plentiful around the turn of the twentieth century. In the Bibliotheca Osleriana, Osler explained that it would be a regular occurrence to see these masterpieces with price tags ranging from £10 to £20. Interestingly enough, Sir William didn’t entirely credit the emergence of modern anatomy to Vesalius. Rather, he gave that credit to the Alexandrians in making the claim that Vesalius “remade” their teachings. Osler explained that during his career 6 copies had come through his hands and were given away to various libraries. The importance he ascribed to a 1st edition Fabrica is simple: it is the manifestation of a moment when the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge underwent a critical turning point. In speaking about this copy of the Fabrica, Sir William wrote the following: “I am glad to be able to send this beautiful copy of the first edition to the library of my old school, in which anatomy has always been studied in the Vesalian spirit— with accuracy and thoroughness. William Osier. Rome, March 9th, 1909.”



Ball, James M. Andreas Vesalius, the Reformer of Anatomy. Saint Louis: Medical Science Press, 1910. Print.

Christie’s. Sale 8002, Lot 70. 23 November 2011.

Christie’s. Sale 8854, Lot 213. 18 March 1998.

Fulton, John F. Vesalius four centuries later: Medicine in the eighteenth century. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press. Print.

Hansen, Kelli. William Osler, W.J. Calvert, and MU’s Vesalius. University of Missouri. 2014. Online.

Oldfield, Philip. Vesalius at 500. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. Print.

Osler, William. Bibliotheca Osleriana: A Catalogue of Books Illustrating the History of Medicine and Science. Montreal [Que.: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1969. Internet resource.



Announcing the recipients of the Dimitrije Pivnicki Award

Dr. Dimitrije Pivnicki

Photo of Dr. Pivnicki courtesy of Dr. Beverlea Tallant

The Osler Library is very pleased to announce that we have selected two researchers to recieve the Dimitrije Pivnicki Award in Neuro History and History of Psychiatry to support their research with our collections. This year’s recipients are Shana Cooperstein and Dr. Boleslav Lichterman.

Shana Cooperstein is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. Her doctoral research is on the nature of artistic pedagogy in France in the 19th century. In particular, she investigates methods of artistic training at a crucial historical moment in which the applications of drawing education underwent reform and greatly expanded to domains outside of the art world through their appeal to cognitive development. Her work at the Osler Library will provide the medical context for analyzing the neuroscientific assumptions underlying artistic curricula from the period.

Dr. Boleslav Lichterman is a historian of medical history at the IM Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University in Russia. His research at the Osler Library will aim to provide an overview of logistics and different strategies of management of head injuries during World War I and the subsequent impact on the development of neurosurgery as a specialty field. In particular, he will work with the archival collection of Edward Archibald (1872-1945), known as “Canada’s first neurosurgeon.”

Congratulations to our 2015-2016 recipients! The award was established in 2012 by the family and friends of Dr. Dimitrije Pivnicki (1918-2007), who practiced and taught psychiatry at the Allen Memorial Institute of McGill University from 1956 to 1996. With degrees in law and medicine, he had a wide and eclectic interest in classic and modern languages and literature, and a keen appreciation of the history of neuropsychiatry. To find out more about the award, please visit our website.


Announcing the Mary Louise Nickerson Fellowship recipients

Mary Louise NickersonThe Osler Library congratulates Eric Oosenbrug and Dr. Patricia Rosselet, the recipients of the Mary Louise Nickerson Fellowship in Neuro History for 2015-2016.

Dr. Patricia Rosselet is an MD/PhD in Life Sciences at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois and the Institut Universitaire d’Histoire de la Médecine et de la Santé Publique at the Université de Lausanne in Switzerland. Her dissertation is entitled, “Diagnosis by Imaging: the Case of Textbooks of Diseases of the Nervous System (1850-1920).” A specialist in the history of medical imagery and 19th-20th century history of medicine and neuroscience, she will be working on a project at the Osler Library involving the study of 20th century neurological textbooks to trace a paradigmatic shift in the images accompanying neuroscientific texts, from anatomical plates and patient photographs to computerized images of the brain.

Eric Oosenbrug is a PhD candidate in the History and Theory of Psychology program in the Department of Psychology at York University in Toronto. His dissertation research focuses on the development of pain research during the mid-20th century in Montreal. His work at the Osler Library will center around the role of McGill and the Montreal Neurological Institute in the development of pain research and theory in the 1960s, and particularly in the work of Wilder Penfield, Joseph Stratford, Donald O. Hebb, and Ronald Melzack.

Congratulations to our 2015-2016 recipients! For more information about the Nickerson Fellowship, please visit our website. The Mary Louise Nickerson Fellowship was established in 2011 by Granville H. Nickerson, MDCM, in honour and in memory of his wife, who was an inspiration to many of Dr. Nickerson’s classmates of McGill Medicine Class of 1945, an acknowledged scholar, and an enthusiastic promoter of the arts.