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.


Impact of Technological Change on the Surgical Profession

impact_workshop_croppedA two-day workshop entitled “The Impact of Technological Change on the Surgical Profession: Past, Present, Future” will be held next week, Wednesday, May 6th, and Thursday, May 7th, at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research at the Jewish General Hospital. Organized by the McGill University Department of Social Studies of Medicine, the workshop will feature talks by physicians, historians of medicine, and social scientists on the role of technology in past, current, and future developments in the field of surgery.

Talks will include:

Lawrence Rosenberg, McGill University: “Change: Technological, Economic, Sociocultural, and Professional – Why It Matters.”

Thomas Schlich, McGill University: “What is a Surgeon? Changing Models of the Division of Labor in the History of Medicine from Artisanal Surgery to Minimally Invasive Surgery.”

Peter Kernahan, University of Minnesota: “Defining Boundaries: Professional Organizations as Mediators of Technological Change.”

Rachel Prentice, Cornell University: “’It Ain’t What it Used To Be With Doctor as King': Techniques of Control in North American Operating Rooms.”

Roger Kneebone, Imperial College, London: “Backwards Through the Keyhole: Re-Enacting the Surgical Past.”

Nicholas Whitfield and Marc Jacques Dubois, McGill University: “The Versatility of Minimally-Invasive Surgery.”

Cynthia Tang, McGill University: “Competing Treatments and Disease Definitions: Medical vs. Surgical in the Case of Cholelithiasis.”

Léo Mignot, University of Bordeaux: “Medical Innovation and Boundary-Work: Turf Wars Between Interventional Radiology and Surgery.”

David Jones, Harvard University: “The Re-emergence of Minimally Invasive Bypass Surgery: Controversies and Mysteries.”

You can find the full programme here.

Garrison-Morton 5th ed. now freely available as database

A very important resource for the history of medicine, Morton’s Medical Bibliography (also known as “Garrison-Morton”), is now available as a database at historyofmedicine.com. Garrison-Morton is a standard reference work for the history of medicine, biology, and dentistry, originally composed of a bibliography of classic works of medicine by the American historian and librarian of medicine Fielding H. Garrison (1870-1935) in 1933. Continue reading

Dr. Rolando Del Maestro to Give McGovern Award Lecture

American Osler Society MeetingDr. Rolando Del Maestro, Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the Osler Library, has been honoured with the John P. McGovern Award Lectureship by the American Osler Society at the 45th Annual Meeting to be held in Baltimore from April 26 to April 29. The Lectureship was established in 1986 in honour of physician and historian of medicine Dr. John P. McGovern through the generosity of the John P. McGovern Foundation. The Lectureship is awarded yearly to a significant contributor to the field of medical humanities and the Oslerian legacy. Dr. Del Maestro is the first to receive the Lectureship from McGill University and one of only a few Canadians to be awarded the distinction. His lecture, entitled “Leonardo da Vinci and the Search for the Soul,” will be given on Monday, April 27th, and will focus on both the historical and present concepts related to neurological cognitive integration.


Here is a list of all of the recipients of the John P. McGovern Award Lectureships since its inception in 1986:

McGovern Award Award

Reprints of past John P. McGovern Award Lectures can be found in the pamphlets collection of the Osler Library. A complete listing can be found here. A collection of 18 past McGovern lectures was published in 2004 by Lawrence D. Longo: Our lords, the sick: McGovern Lectures in the history of medicine and medical humanism.

The American Osler Society was founded in the 1960s as for the purpose of bringing together members of the medical and allied professions who are, by their common inspiration, dedicated to memorialise and perpetuate the just and charitable life, the intellectual resourcefulness, and the ethical example of Sir William Osler. Since January 9, 1981, the Osler Library has been the official repository for the archives of the American Osler Society, a full description of which can be found here.




On the Surface/Skin deep: Interview with the curators

On the Surface Skin Deep posterSylie Boisjoli and Shana Cooperstein are doctoral students in art history in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill. They are the guest curators of our current exhibition, On the Surface/Skin Deep. They agreed to answer a couple questions about the exhibition and their work.

AD: First, could you each tell me a little bit about your research interests, and current work?

SB: I’m currently working on my PhD thesis in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies and am the course supervisor for the Museum Internship class, which aims to accompany and enhance students’ internships at museums or galleries. During my MA in art history, which I also did at McGill, I conducted extensive primary research at the Osler Library for my major research paper on late nineteenth-century French artists’ visualisations of the development of serum therapy treatments against diphtheria. My PhD work has now shifted to investigate the emergence of the notion of prehistoric time in France within wider nineteenth-century scientific and philosophical debates around Darwinian evolutionary theories on the progress and mutability of the human species. By examining the social, political, and intellectual conditions in which the idea of prehistory developed, I analyze how representations of prehistoric people and places normalized the belief that time was a dynamic force that could drive forward or limit France’s progress as a nation. My work thus explores the increased public interest in representations and conceptions of prehistoric time in relation to the wider nineteenth-century impulse for reading the past and the passage of time in/on the body. My dissertation also considers the notion of prehistory as an indicator of, and participant in, a significant shift in how French society understood its national history. The fascination with prehistory was certainly not restricted to a few specialists in the human sciences. Instead, my research investigates ways in which artists, writers, and scientists disseminated their visions of the past across the French public sphere.

SC: After receiving a Master of Arts in art history at Temple University, I began pursuing a doctorate in art history at McGill University. My personal trajectory has led me to develop an interest in theories of representation, standardization, and the intersection of art and science. Bridging these areas of inquiry, my dissertation situates nineteenth-century French drawing pedagogy at the nexus of art, industrial design and the theories of knowledge. Specifically, I explore the institutionalization and reorganization of drawing in public pedagogical programs, design schools, and at the École des Beaux-Arts. In the past, I have had the opportunity to intern at various institutions, such as The Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Carnegie Museum of Art. I also have authored an article in Leonardo titled: “Imagery and Astronomy: The Visual Antecedents Informing Non-Reproductive Depictions of the Orion Nebula.”

AD: What led you to choose the topic of the exhibition? How did you go about exploring the topic and selecting materials?

SB: One of the most striking images in the Osler Library’s collection is the “The Flayed Angel” from an eighteenth-century medical atlas by French anatomist and printmaker Jacques Fabien Gautier D’Agoty (c.1716-1785). In this richly coloured mezzotint, a woman’s back skin is peeled away to reveal the inner anatomy of her spine and the musculature of her back. The idea of slicing and paring a portion of the body’s outer boundary led us to question how skin has been conceived as the interface between the body’s depths and surface. Although D’Agoty’s fascinating picture was at the starting point of our thinking process, eighteenth-century mezzotints and prints will (unfortunately!) have to wait for another exhibition. As specialists in nineteenth-century French art and because we knew we could display wonderful wax moulages of skin diseases from the Maude Abbott Medical Museum, we wanted to work within the scope of that century. Moreover, it’s a time when dermatology emerged as a specialized branch of medicine concerned with visualizing and diagnosing skin. Once we began to explore the vast and varied nineteenth-century materials on skin from the Osler collection, it became clear that images had played a significant role in disseminating ideas on what doctors and beauty specialists considered to be normal and healthy skin ―and thus how to diagnose skin diseases and other epidermal conditions. Indeed the authors of many of the medical texts on display in the exhibition stated that medical images were indispensable to teaching doctors how to correctly scrutinize the surface of the body. I was especially interested in why several doctors included the superficial alteration of skin pigmentation in their treatises on skin diseases. In Élie Chatelain’s Précis iconographique des maladies de la peau from 1893, the doctor provided little in the way of an explanation for the cause of vitiligo, and even less for its treatment. Yet Chatelain included a hand-painted photograph that highlights the difference between a male patient’s skin colour and patches of depleted pigment that emerged on his arms, shoulders, torso, and groin. Because of, and due to, the emphasis put on the visible aspects of skin diseases, we hope that visitors at the Osler Library will see how images were part of a medical discourse that considered changes in skin colour, for example, to be a pathological feature. By examining the medical images on display, we hope to raise larger questions about the place of medical discourse in debates about race, class, and gender in nineteenth-century society.

SC: Originally, the exhibition was scheduled to open a year ago to coincide with a guest lecture by Dr. Mechthild Fend, an art historian interested in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century representations of the body, titled “Body to Body: The Dermatological Wax Moulage as Indexical Image.” Although we were unable to move forward with the project until the Osler reopened this year, Dr. Hunter encouraged us to build from Dr. Fend’s scholarship. In doing so, we explored how art historians can profit from medical collections by analyzing depictions of skin from a humanistic perspective.
First and foremost, the availability of material at the Osler guided the scope and trajectory of the exhibition. After agreeing on the representation of epidermis in modernity as the unifying thematic of the display, I began to think about how artists depicted skin. Rather than represent individual abnormalities or eccentricities, artists historically idealized features. With this in mind, I began consulting medical atlases, scientific texts, and cosmetic handbooks with an eye toward issues of beauty and idealization, aging, and birthmarks. Tying together these themes was the ways in which abstract notions of comeliness and what constitutes comeliness shaped the representational strategies used to display “superficial” medical features. I was curious about how physicians attempted to rationalize imperfections, such as wrinkles and birthmarks, as well as how scientific “facts” lent supposedly scientific support to cosmetic “knowledge.” Likewise, I was interested in how the rationalization of imperfection often defied the well-known expression: “beauty is only skin deep.” For instance, the physiognomic study of wrinkles connected the appearance of skin to the deepest recesses of the mind.

AD: Could you describe your curatorial vision or approach to the exhibition? What have you hoped to achieve?

SB: As art historians, a consideration of how skin has been depicted in paintings that are then reproduced in beauty manuals, how skin and the diseases, blemishes, or creases that can mark it have been moulded into wax, photographed or drawn, led us to question how skin has been historically conceived. This is also why we chose to look at a diverse range of materials: treatises on hygiene, beauty manuals, as well as atlases and guides for professional medical practitioners. We believe that this allows us to explore the wider historical and social contexts in which medical knowledge on skin developed. We also hope that visitors will be able to explore the historical roots for the ongoing pressure and pursuit to have smooth and evenly pigmented skin.

SC: As previously mentioned, the broader aim of this exhibition was to convey how art historians can use medical collections. Personally, I hoped to convey the importance of interdisciplinary research to an audience with diverse backgrounds without compromising the complexity of academic scholarship. Several art historians use interdisciplinary research to highlight how other disciplines, such as medicine, shaped artistic production. I sought–and in my dissertation will continue–to do the reverse. I aim to establish how art shapes the way other disciplines have understood and continue to understand their practice. In the case of early dermatology, the most obvious manifestation of this is that physicians often hired illustrators trained in the fine arts and with particular conventions to represent case studies.

AD: What sorts of other exhibition experiences have you had or been involved in? Have you found there to be particular considerations or challenges involved in working with rare books?

SB: During my undergraduate degree in History at the University of Winnipeg I had the opportunity to intern as a curatorial assistant at the Buhler Gallery, a unique gallery located in the Saint-Boniface Hospital that aims to provide a restful and contemplative space for visitors. While interning there I helped to curate an exhibition of two Winnipeg painters, Arthur Adamson and George Swinton, entitled Marking the Message. Before starting my MA at McGill I also worked as an Art Handler Technician at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. As far as organizing and installing exhibitions, I’m used to dealing with paintings and sculptures in conventional gallery spaces. Installing the exhibition at the Osler Library presented the special challenge of how to best display the images in delicate books. On the one hand, I’m used to handling the material at the Osler Library because of extensive research on a variety of nineteenth-century topics such as serum therapy, vaccination, diphtheria, rabies, breast feeding, and theories of degeneration. For an exhibition, however, we needed to consider how to best keep the books safely open for the duration of the exhibition. This is where the expertise of the staff was a necessary part of the process (thank you Anna, Bozena, Lily, and Chris!).

SC: I have been privileged to conduct research as an intern at several museums including The Museum of Modern Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the University Art Gallery at the University of Pittsburgh, and at the American Jewish Museum of Pittsburgh. These experiences offered invaluable insight into the nature of curatorial research and exhibition planning, as well as how to handle art objects. Building from my work as an intern, I’ve also been privileged to curate two exhibitions at Parsons The New School for Design titled Cultural Constructs (July 15-August 1, 2013) and (Sub)contracted (July 14-July 28, 2012). Each show featured work by candidates and recent recipients of a Master of Fine Arts in photography at Tyler School of Art, Temple University. Cultural Constructs explored the representational conventions associated with cultural heritage in the contemporary moment. This show questioned the ideological assumptions determining which architectural structures, monuments, and landscapes embody or define a culture and its history. Distinct from this exhibition, (Sub)Contracted tied together the work by five artists who adopt the visual conventions associated with photography’s earliest utilitarian uses. By documenting sculptures and capturing aerial landscape photographs, for instance, their work recalls photography’s first status as a “hand-maiden” to the fine arts and sciences. Working with rare books posed new and exciting challenges for me. Because so many of the texts housed by the Osler are illustrated, the collection offers an overwhelming amount of images from which to work! Along with this, rare books pose curatorial problems in so far as they need to be exhibited in cases. Showcases qualify the physical proximity between viewers and the objects, limiting the viewer’s ability to see the images clearly. This, coupled with the fact that it was impossible to adopt exhibition practices traditionally used in art museums to highlight formal properties or details, such as changing the wall color, curators using this space are required to think creatively about how to exhibit these materials. For instance, in the section on birthmarks, the addition of a bright red cloth highlighted the intricate colors used to represent angiomas and vascular naevus. Rare books also confound the pervasive method of organizing art works chronologically in exhibitions. Because so many of the books are reprinted in different editions over the course of several years, it proved to be easiest to think about the representation of skin thematically as opposed to chronologically. Admittedly, I felt self-conscious about the curatorial process because I am a teaching assistant to a course in which students were required to examine how exhibition practices, such as the way works are organized and hung on the wall, shape the viewer’s interpretation of the show! In many respects, we tried to highlight the “look” or aesthetic of older libraries.

Thank you, Shana and Sylvie! On the Surface/Skin Deep will run through July in the Osler Library exhibition space on the 3rd floor of the McIntyre Medical Building, 3655 Promenade-Sir-William-Osler.

Archives of Dr. Charles Scriver now open

Photo from McGill’s Alumni Online Community.

An important new collection for contemporary history of medicine is now open for consultation in the McGill University Archives. The papers of Montreal pediatrician and geneticist Dr. Charles R. Scriver were donated to the Archives in 2013 and serve as a record of his 50-year career in biogenetics. His over 600 publications extend from the metabolic aspects of genetic disease in infants to bioinformatics and population genetics. Dr. Scriver’s research in the scientific community is thus situated at the nexus of genetics and pediatrics.

Dr. Scriver received his primary education at the Lower College of Canada, earned his Bachelor of Arts cum laude (1951) and M.D.C.M. (1955) at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine, and underwent clinical training at McGill and Harvard University (1955-58). From 1961 to 1966, Scriver was an appointed Markle Scholar within the Department of Pediatrics, a position which poised him to accept a full professorship of Pediatrics beginning in 1969. During this time, Dr. Scriver helped found the DeBelle Laboratory, a biochemical genetics lab under the Montreal Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Scriver’s work on vitamin D’s impact on newborn metabolic disorders (particularly rickets) during this period led to more stringent screening processes for phenylketonuria (PKU) and hypothyroidism in infants, and to the breakthrough introduction of vitamin D in Quebec grocery store milk. He is currently the Alva Professor Emeritus of Human Genetics in the McGill Faculty of Medicine and is honored in the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.

Please contact the McGill University Archives for more information or to consult the archives.

Further reading:

Christopher Canning, George Weisz, Andrea Tone, and Alberto Cambrosio, “Medical Genetics at McGill: The History of a Pioneering Research Group,” Canadian Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 30, no. 1 (2013): 31-54.

George Fedak and Nam-Soo Kim. “Canadian Pioneers. Dr. Charles Robert Scriver“. Genome 51, no. 5 (May 2008): iii–iv.


2014 Osler Essay Contest Winners

Osler Library Board of Curators' medal

Osler Library Board of Curators’ medal

The three winning essays from the 2014 round of the Osler Society and Osler Library Board of Curators Essay Contest have now been made available on our website. There was a tie for first place this year between Julian Z. Xue and Gabriel Devlin. In the essay “On Sir William Osler’s Relationship with Death,” Julian Xue (MDCM 2014) examines Osler’s personal experience of loss and argues that these encounters with death moulded his views both philosophically and practically. Gabriel Devlin (MDCM 2017) contrasts the patient-doctor relationship in North American and Southern Europe, finding that while medical paternalism was tempered in North America in the mid-20th century due to public scandals involving medical experimentation and the anti-paternalism of equal rights movements, it continues to shape doctor-patient interactions around the Mediterranean. Third place in the contest was awarded to David Benrimoh for his essay “The Zeroth Law of Medicine,” which investigates the role of physicians and the American Medical Association as an largely oppositional force in the move towards universal health care coverage in the United States. Congratulations to the winners!

The Osler Society and Osler Library Board of Curators Essay Contest was founded in 2013 to promote student research in the history, social studies, sociology, ethics, and humanities of the health sciences. Participants select a topic and are then mentored by an expert drawn from the Osler Library’s Board of Curators or elsewhere to complete their project, drawing on the rich resources of the library. The three top finalists present their essays on Osler Day in November. Prizes are awarded t of $250 for third place, $500 for second place, and $1,000 for the winning essay. The first-place winner is also awarded the Osler Library Board of Curators’ medal.

Interested in participating in this year’s contest? We are currently accepting proposals, due May 1st. Find more details here.