How to Sell a Dissertation, Or: The Hand as a Proxy for the Brain

Guest post by Tabea Cornel, recipient of the 2017 Mary Louise Nickerson Award in Neuro History. Tabea Cornel is a PhD student in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation focuses on handedness research within the brain and mind sciences in Europe and North America, particularly theories of the origin, prevalence, and pathological nature of left-handedness.

When asked about my dissertation topic as an early ABD (“all but dissertation”), I used to tell people that I work on the history of handedness research. A very common response was: “Handedness in what sense? Does it have something to do with molecules?” I usually explained that I’m researching manual preference, and that my project has nothing to do with chirality or any other fancy physical phenomenon.

After half a year of explaining what I mean by “handedness,” I came up with a more efficient strategy for answering the dissertation question. I started waving my hands in the air whenever I said “handedness.” This was somewhat effective. My conversation partners usually understood that I write a history of left- and right-handedness, but this also made them give me a look that said: “Oh my, what a boring thing to do.”

Having learned my lesson from these encounters, I now introduce the underlying argument of my research before I mention the actual topic. The extended version of my elevator pitch goes somewhat like this: My project investigates scientific classifications of human subpopulations. I particularly attend to the ways in which traditions, stereotypes, and social inequities inform research in the human sciences and the extent to which these conceptions produce “scientific” explanations for alleged human hierarchies.

Enter handedness: The lens through which I look at the phenomenon of hierarchical classifications is manual preference. This may seem an unexpected route to take, but research on handedness is a very fruitful avenue for tracing continuities within the human sciences in the past 150 years. More precisely, the project paints a picture of the longue durée of the mind, brain, and neuro-sciences. Since French anatomist and anthropologist P. Paul Broca (1824–1880) declared in 1865 that humans are right-handed because they are left-brained, researchers have used handedness as a proxy for the brain, mind, and character. On both sides of the Atlantic, scientists have linked anatomical, genetic, or hormonal explanations of the causes of handedness with age-old racist, sexist, and able-ist ideas of what makes one group of humans different from another one.

This framing gets many of my conversation partners (almost) as excited about my work as I am.

Several items at the Osler Library illustrate the distinct status of the hand even before 1865, when Broca advanced his theories about the connection between brain asymmetry and manual laterality. Scottish anatomist and neurologist Charles Bell’s (1774–1842) The Hand, for instance, provided a vivid portrait of the hand as an exclusively human organ. He wrote:

We ought to define the hand as belonging exclusively to man—corresponding in sensibility and motion with that ingenuity which converts the being who is the weakest in natural defence [sic], to the ruler over animate and inanimate nature.[1]

Bell was very clear about this instance of human exceptionality in the quoted edition from 1833. But for the 1865 edition, the publisher added a drawing on the page following this paragraph. It shows a monkey that is reaching for something outside of the image, probably a branch of a tree or a piece of fruit. Only in case it had not become entirely clear in the text, this drawing empowered the reader to visually grasp the difference between their own hand and the allegedly primitive paws of an ape.[2]

After having explained the system of bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels in intricate detail, Bell concluded that the hand, or the human body more generally, could not have developed accidentally. Bell clearly believed in a hierarchical divine creation, a “Great Chain of Being,” with white male humans all the way at the top.[3]

Bell’s faith in a purposeful design of the human species also underlay his argument that the superiority of the human hand derived not from its anatomical condition, but from its close association with the human intellect:

In discussing this subject of the progressive improvement of organized beings, it is affirmed that the last created of all, man, is not superior in organization to the others, and that if deprived of intellectual power he is inferior to the brutes. … Man is superior in organization to the brutes,—superior in strength—in that constitutional property which enables him to fulfil his destinies by extending his race in every climate, and living on every variety of nutriment. Gather together the most powerful brutes, from the artic [sic] circle or torrid zone, to some central point—they will die, diseases will be generated, and will destroy them. With respect to the superiority of man being in his mind, and not merely in the provisions of his body, it is no doubt true;—but as we proceed, we shall find how the Hand supplies all instruments, and by its correspondence with the intellect gives him universal dominion.[4]

A further drawing was added to the 1865 edition in the interest of enforcing said hierarchies amongst different human groups even more. The reader looks at a scantily dressed dark-skinned male with a dagger hanging from his neck. This person is crawling on the floor under a white male’s bed and reaches for valuables on the night stand.[5]

The fact that the aforementioned monkey and the apparent thief reach for something with their left hands implicitly reiterates the inferiority of these two creatures. Other illustrations in the 1865 volume present right-handed actions, no matter if they display the function of bones and muscles or more complete (parts of) light-skinned humans.

Because of the presumed close association between the hand and the mind, the moral valency of actions of the hand implied a hierarchy of individual beings and groups of beings. The idea of the “Great Chain of Being” is mirrored in the grasping of the left monkey paw, the attempted theft of the black left hand, and all other ostensibly decent and accomplished uses of white right hands shown in further illustrations in the volume.

The English physiologist and anatomist George M. Humphry (1820–1896) echoed the close association between the mind and the hand in his treatise on The Human Foot and the Human Hand. He insisted that “The Hand [Is] the Organ of the Will” and that “the hand becomes an organ of expression and an index of character” because the mind works through the hand.[6]

Other sources at the Osler Library bear witness of much more heterodox approaches to the mind as a window into human character. Take the 78-page monograph The Hand Phrenologically Considered. The anonymous author provided a manual for how to perform a phrenological reading of a person’s hands to determine their character, abilities, and experiences. (The traditional phrenological approach would have been to palpate an individual’s skull.)

In line with my argument that practitioners used the hand to advance theories about the character, mind, and brain of human subpopulations, the author of The Hand Phrenologically Considered suggested that the “Form of Extremities Differs in Individuals of the Same Species” by age, sex, race, class, and ethnicity.[7]

In a similar vein, the Carter Medicine Company employed the promise of phrenological assessments of the hand in the interest of financial gain. In a little pamphlet, Mysteries of Our Hands and Faces, Carter Medicine provided instructions for the phrenological reading of hands as well as parts of the face (forehead, eyes, nose, etc.). The Company offered these instructions in conjunction with directions for how to use their liver pills most effectively.

Even more eclectic is a little hand-shaped advertisement for the Worcester Salt Company. Under the slogan “Your fortune is in your own hands,” the pamphlet offered a short introduction into palmistry to all potential buyers of Worcester Salt.[8] The advertisement makes intelligible the wide-spread fascination for heterodox sciences that connected the mind and the hand in the late 19th century, decades after Broca had advanced his anatomical theory.

Other examples of holdings at the Osler Library that put the hand into the focus of human classification practices abound. The French poet Joseph L.J. Leclercq (1865–1901), for instance, published a historically-oriented work about palmistry. Concretely, he provided examples for and distinguished between “[c]hirologie, chirographie[,] chirognonomie,” “chiroscopie, chirosophie, palmisophie, [and] chiropsie.”[9] Who knew that there were so many different approaches to turning the hand into a proxy for the mind?

Last but not least, I want to mention Hungarian writer Pál Tábori’s (1908–1974) much more recent monograph The Book of the Hand. Tábori, who had a deep interest in psychical phenomena, connected in his work palmistry with idioms and superstitions about the hand, as well as with considerations of manual gestures, the sense of touch, dactyloscopy (the reading of fingerprints), handwriting and graphology, and the condition of having lost a hand and/or using an artificial hand.[10]

Tábori’s work intrigues by its sheer breadth of hand-related phenomena, some of which we would consider apt research topics for establishment science, and others that are clearly heterodox. As I learned during my four weeks at the Osler Library, the desire to access the hidden brain through the manifest hand brought these approaches together.


[1] Charles Bell, The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments, as Evincing Design, Bridgewater Treatises on the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God as Manifested in the Creation 4 (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1833), 26.

[2] Charles Bell, The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments, as Evincing Design, 7th ed., Bridgewater Treatises on the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God as Manifested in the Creation 4 (London: Bell & Daldy, 1865), 13.

[3] Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2009).

[4] Bell, The Hand, 39–40.

[5] Bell, The Hand, 29.

[6] George Murray Humphry, The Human Foot and the Human Hand (Cambridge: Macmillan and Co., 1861), 156–61.

[7] N.N., The Hand Phrenologically Considered: Being a Glimpse at the Relation of the Mind with the Organisation of the Body (London: Chapman and Hall, 1848), 51–57.

[8] Worcester Salt Company, “How to Read the Lines of the Hand” (New York, 1894).

[9] Joseph Louis Julien Leclercq, Le caractère et la main: Histoire et documents (Paris: F. Juven, [1900]), 1–2.

[10] Pál Tábori, The Book of the Hand: A Compendium of Fact and Legend Since the Dawn of History (Philadelphia: Chilton Company, 1962).

Exhibition Vernissage │ Materia Medica

Wednesday, December 13, 2017, 17:30-19:30. Please come to a vernissage at the Osler Library to celebrate the opening of our newest exhibit.

RSVP required. To RSVP please click here.

McIntyre Medical Building Osler Library of the History of Medicine, 3rd floor, 3655 promenade Sir William Osler, Montreal, QC, H3G 1Y6, CA

Trace, late 14th century, “to make a plan or diagram”, from Old French, 12th century, trasser “delineate, score, trace, follow, pursue”.

Materia Medica is an exhibition of recent work by Montreal artist Loren Williams. Invited by the Osler Library of the History of Medicine to create a body of work on the theme of Montreal’s medical history, and recipient of the Michele Larose – Osler Library Artist-in-Residence Programme for 2017, the artist combines artifacts from the Osler collection with collected and created traces of Montreal’s medical past.

The work in this exhibition draws inspiration from books and artifacts in the Osler Library as well as a wide variety of other sources. In particular, early maps of the city offer a form of time travel, indicating the location of the first hospitals and their large gardens used for food and medicinal plants. Three hundred year old streets such as rue de l’Hopital and rue des Soeurs Grises still exist in Montreal today, drawing direct lines to Montreal’s medical history, as do streets named Jeanne Mance, Marguerite d’Youville and Penfield.

Interested in these traces that reference Montreal’s medical heritage, Loren Williams has created a body of images that form a shadow archive. Images of medicinal plants used by the First Peoples and early settlers in Montreal were created using a 19th century camera-less photographic process called Cyanotype. The blue coloured images reveal the shadowy forms and details of the plants. They are like paper X-rays, made from a simple photographic process that uses UV rays, ie. sunlight, to expose the image, and water to develop it, sun and water­­ being the same basic ingredients required by plants.

Over the course of a year, the artist followed charted streets and routes that link Montreal’s past and present. Using epidemiological maps, she explored the sites and neighbourhoods of the city’s devastating outbreaks of Typhus, Cholera, Small Pox and Tuberculosis. Other plans of the city led her to sites of hospitals, asylums and the longest duel in Canadian history over the building of a new hospital.

Like the collected plants that echo an early botanical pharmacy, Loren Williams also collected and created other traces of medical history. X-rays and teeth molds reveal the body’s structures, fractures and medical interventions. First aid kits and their compartments double as garden plans for medicinal plants, while hospital architecture is represented in the form of postcards the shape of library index cards.

These works, presented with artifacts from the Osler Library collection, bring together images and objects from the realm of science, art and everyday life, offering an eclectic, less rational, interconnected perspective of Montreal’s medical history.

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We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.
Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 153 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.


Loren Williams is a visual artist working predominantly in photography. The passage of time, natural history, museums and obsolete photographic technologies are the inspiration and vocabulary of her practice. Frequently there is a connection between the artwork and the site where it is presented.

Originally from the Kootenays in British Columbia, Loren Williams moved to Montreal in 1993 and received her BFA honours in photography at Concordia University. She has received awards and grants from the federal and provincial art councils and has exhibited her work nationally.

Loren Williams extends much gratitude to Michele Larose, the Osler Library for the History of Medicine, and the Canada Council for the Arts for their generous contribution to this residency and exhibition project.

Research Awards & Travel Grants 2018

Are you a historian, physician, graduate or post-doctoral student interested in conducting research at the Osler Library? Do you know that the Osler Library gives out awards and travel grants to local and international researchers each year? We are currently accepting applications for the following:

  • Dr. Edward H. Bensley Osler Library Research Travel Grant – Awarded to those whose project requires traveling to Montreal to consult material in the Osler Library. Each year up to $4000 in awards will be made available to one or more individuals who require a minimum of 2 weeks to carry out their research. This research must fall within the calendar year in which the grant is awarded. Applications for the 2018 grant must be received by December 31, 2017.
  • Mary Louise Nickerson Award in Neuro History – Awarded to one or more scholars who are interested in carrying out research utilizing the Neuro History Archival and Artifact Collections – the centre-piece of which is the Penfield Archive in the Osler Library – and other available resources at the Osler Library, the Montreal Neurological Institute, and the McGill University Archives. Applications for the 2018 award must be received by December 31, 2017.

Additional information on terms, requirements, how to apply, previous winners, and general information about the library can be found here. We welcome all further enquiries at osler.library@mcgill.ca or 514-398-4475, ext. 09873.

Feel free to share this notice with your own networks, listservs, and social media outlets to help us spread the word about these fantastic opportunities!

Medical Students Essay Awards 2017

Congratulations to this year’s Pam and Rolando Del Maestro William Osler Medical Students’ Essay Award winners! The essays are now available on our website.

Osler Library Board of Curators’ medal

This year saw a tie for first place: Clare Forgarty for the essay “Sanitation, Sanity, and (Moral) Suitability: The History of the Medical Inadmissibility of Immigrants into Canada (1840s-1950s)” and André Lametti for the essay “Ars uero longa: Teaching Hippocrates in Medieval Italy”. They were presented with their Osler Library Board of Curators’ medals during the Osler Banquet hosted by the McGill Osler Society on November 1st. Second place was awarded to Philippe-Antoine Bilodeau for the essay “A Tale of Two Brains: Cortical Localization and the Neuron Doctrine in the 19th and 20th Century”. Philippe-Antoine presented his paper via Skype while doing his rural family medicine rotation in South Africa.

Thank you so much to all the students, mentors, judges, and sponsors who supported the contest. We look forward to next year’s presentations.

Osler Day 2017

Please join the library on this year’s Osler Day, Wednesday, November 1st, 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 a.m in the Wellcome Camera of the Osler Library, McIntyre Medical Building3rd Floor. The winner will be announced at the Osler Banquet.

William Osler at His Desk at 1 West Franklin Street, Baltimore (Osler Library, Cushing Collection, CUS_046-025_P)

The following students will be presenting their research:

Philippe-Antoine Bilodeau – “A Tale of Two Brains: Cortical Localization and the Neuron Doctrine in the 19th and 20th Century” (Mentor: Professor Thomas Schlich)

Clare Fogarty – “Sanitation, Sanity, and (Moral) Suitability: The History of the Medical Inadmissibility of Immigrants into Canada (1840s-1950s)” (Mentor: Professor David Wright)

André Lametti – “Ars uero longa: Teaching Hippocrates in Medieval Italy” (Mentor: Professor Faith Wallis)

Faculty, students, and friends are all welcome to attend and show their support for this year’s finalists. Our special thanks to Pam and Rolando Del Maestro, the Medical Students’ Osler Society, and the Board of Curators of the Osler Library.

Rare Books Restored In Honour of Christopher Lyons

Christoper Lyons (right) accepting two rare books restored in his honour from Board of Curators member and William Feindel Professor Emeritus, Dr. Rolando Del Maestro.

As a surprise precursor to Dr. Rolando Del Maestro’s neuro-oncology talk last week, Osler Librarian Christopher Lyons was presented with two rare books, recently restored in his honour, in recognition of his excellent stewardship of the Osler Library from 2012-2016.

 

The staff at the Osler Library, the Osler Board of Curators, and the McGill Osler Society, wish Chris the very best in his new appointment as Head of Rare Books & Special Collections at McGill – another unit of McGill ROAAr (Rare Books, Osler, Art, and Archives).

 

Congratulations, Chris!

 

Medical Anatomy : or, Illustrations of the Relative Position and Movements of the Internal Organs | Francis Sibson | London : John Churchill & Sons, 1869 | 4 leaves, 88 columns, XXI leaves of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 53cm

Ornate W.O. inscription to Christopher Lyons.

The restoration work was completed by Montreal conservator Terry Rutherford. In addition to work on the spines, leaves, and colour plates, both of these books are now housed in custom clamshell archival boxes, with an ornate ‘W.O.’ inscription to Christopher Lyons.

The Sibson atlas (above) has prize binding, with gilt lettering, from 1872 when it was awarded to McGill medical student Francis John Shepherd for the best primary examination for M.D.C.M. degree. Shepherd (1851-1929) is known as one of McGill’s ‘Medical Luminaries’, a highly-regarded anatomist, surgeon, dermatologist, and Dean of the McGill Medical Faculty from 1908-1914. Shepherd was also a prominent Canadian art historian and critic, who served as President of the Montreal Art Association (predecessor of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts).

This presentation copy of Sir William Osler’s The Principles and Practice of Medicine (below) once belonged to Dr. Thomas McCrae (1870-1935), brother of “In Flanders Fields” author John McCrae (1872-1918). Dr. T. McCrae was a close friend and colleague of William Osler at John Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore.

The Principles and Practice of Medicine: Designed for the Use of Practitioners and Students of Medicine | William Osler | New York : D. Appleton and Company, 1905 | xvii, [1], 1143, [1] pages : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm

Interested in rare book restoration and conservation in honour of someone you know? Want to learn more about the Osler Library’s “Adopt-a-Book” Programme? Email osler.library@mcgill.ca for more information.

ROAAr: Rare Books, Osler, Art, and Archives

 

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-3-05-51-pmMcGill’s new amalgam of Rare Books & Special Collections, Osler Library, Visual Art Collection, and the University Archives (collectively known as ROAAr) launched their first issue of a new newsletter series this December.

Published quarterly (Spring 2017 next), the ROAAr newsletter features four articles that showcase and discuss unique treasures of each rare unit.

Anyone who is interested in joining the ROAAr newsletter mailing list is encouraged to email info.library@mcgill.ca.

History is on every shelf at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine. Located on the third floor of McGill’s McIntyre Medical Building, the Osler houses Canada’s finest treasure trove of rare medical books, artifacts and archives. What began as a home for Sir William Osler’s personal library of 8,000 rare and historic works has grown to more than 100,000 titles that trace the beginnings of medicine in Canada and abroad to the present day.

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Snapshots of Osler at the bedside: Inspection, Palpation, Auscultation, Contemplation, c. 1895, Osler Library Photo Collection.

These rare collections have made the Osler a premier destination for students, researchers and bibliophiles from across Canada and around the world. This fall, the Osler played host to a visiting group from the Grolier Club – the oldest existing bibliophilic club in North America. Osler Librarian Chris Lyons led the distinguished guests on a tour through silent sanctuaries in the Wellcome Camera and the Osler Room, and gave them a hands-on look at many of the unique medical and historical gems within the Osler collection, such as a 1698 first edition of William Cowper’s Anatomy of Humane Bodies.

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The Grolier Club visits the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, 2016. Photo credit: Lauren Goldman

Capping off their trip, the eager Grolier Club members were treated to guided tours and presentations by the three other units under the McGill Library’s new ROAAr (Rare Books & Special Collections, Osler, Art, and Archives) umbrella.

To the delight of the guests, the Head of Rare Books Richard Virr showcased some of the Library’s oldest and most unique treasures, University Archivist Lori Podolsky helped them delve deep into McGill’s nearly 200-year history, and Coordinator Vanessa Di Francesco displayed many of the stunning works within the Visual Arts Collection. As they departed after their multi-day visit, the Grolier Club members were unanimous in their appreciation for their hosts, a testament to the treasures in the Osler collection and the combined and collaborative strength of ROAAr as a whole. The experience provided a fantastic model for hosting future visitors.

It was a busy autumn for Osler visits and curated exhibits – both within the library’s own gallery space and around Montreal. Our “pop-up” exhibitions this fall included 200 Years of the Stethoscope, celebrating two centuries of auscultation at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress (CCC), History of MS at the Montreal Neurological Institute’s annual MS Xchange, and in October, it was our pleasure to welcome two history classes from Marianopolis College (CEGEP) for a total of four visits – a powerful pedagogical experience for all.

For those discovering the Osler Library of the History of Medicine for the first time, we invite you to explore our online resources and website for more information. Contact or visit us anytime – there is much to be discovered!

Homecoming

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McGill Faculty of Medicine reunion programme and pin from October 8, 1926 with songbook inside. Part of the Osler Library Archive Collections.

Events, talks, and tours are happening all weekend long from October 27-30 at the Faulty of Medicine in celebration of McGill Homecoming 2016.

This year’s reunion welcomes milestone anniversaries for MDCM graduate years ending in 1 and 6.

Full events listing for alumni can be found here, and further information here.

Open Doors at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine (free event) is happening Friday 1:30-2:30pm, and Open Doors at the Maude Abbott Medical Museum (free event) is Friday 3:00-5:00pm. Rediscover the library’s treasure trove of rarebooks and medical atlases, and also take in one of the best historical collections of anatomical and pathological materials in North America.

Wishing the alumni an enjoyable and memory-filled weekend as they journey back to their McGill roots!

Osler Day 2016

Osler Library Board of Curators' medal

Osler Library Board of Curators’ medal

Come join us this Wednesday, October 26th for Osler Day 2016!

The Pam and Rolando Del Maestro William Osler Medical Students Essay Contest has selected three  finalists who will each have the opportunity to present before the judges panel from 11:30-1:00pm in the Jonathan C. Meakins Auditorium, McIntyre Medical Building 5th Floor, 3655 Promenade Sir William Osler.

The 2016 finalists are:

“Being placed at the Douglas Mental Health Institute for the family medicine shadowing program in first year was quite the adventure for me. Over time, I became increasingly interested in the history of mental health institutions like the Douglas, mental health care policies and more broadly, the history of psychiatry as a medical field.”

 

“As medical students, we are exposed to plenty of dogmas. Yet, medical dogma, like everything else in the world is susceptible to error. In accepting this, I sought to elucidate the origins of the formerly accepted belief that newborns did not feel pain”

Faculty, students, and friends are all welcome to attend and show their support for this year’s finalists. More details about the contest can be found here. Our special thanks to the Medical Students’ Osler Society, the Board of Curators of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, and Pam and Rolando Del Maestro for their continued dedication with this celebrated annual event.

julio-biv__03_2In the evening, at 6:00pm in the Charles F. Martin Amphitheatre, the 39th Annual Osler Lectureship welcomes distinguished guest lecturer Dr. Julio SG Montaner, OC, OBC, MD, DSc (hon), FRCPC, FCCP, FACP, FRSC.

Director, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, St. Paul’s Hospital, Providence Healthcare; Professor and Head, UBC-Division of AIDS, UBC and St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation Chair in AIDS Research; UNAIDS Special Advisor on HIV Therapeutics.

Dr. Montaner played a key role in establishing the efficacy of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) and since then has established the role of ‘Treatment as Prevention’ using HAART to simultaneously decrease progression to AIDS and death, as well as HIV transmission.

From Treatment to Prevention: Rethinking our Approach to Contagious Diseases

In 1996, medical researchers in British Columbia discovered that combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) significantly improved the quality and length of the lives of patients with HIV/AIDS, but only after the province began providing cART for free did researchers discover something equally profound: cART also prevented HIV transmission. This talk examines the journey from treatment to prevention and the implications for how we fight contagious diseases at local and global levels.

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Aequanimitas

Version 2Aequanimitas — a term that derives from late-15th century Latin — means imperturbability, or one who is incapable of being upset, or agitated; one who is calm, and not easily excited.

William Osler’s Valedictory address entitled Aequanimitas was first presented at the University of Pennsylvania, May 1st, 1889. In this short speech, Osler advised imperturbability as one of two essential qualities of the physician and of the surgeon. He defined this quality as a coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances, calmness amid storm, clearness of judgement in moments of peril, immobility, and impassiveness. The second quality he spoke of, equanimity, was described as being the mental and physical equivalent of the first.

It has been said that ‘in patience ye shall win your souls,’ and what is this patience but an equanimity which enables you to rise superior to the trials of life? Sowing as you shall do beside all waters, I can but wish that you may reap the promised blessings of quietness and of assurance forever, until

Within this life,

Though lifted o’er its strife;

you may, in the growing winters, glean a little of that wisdom which is pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

For those interested in reading the full address and others made by Sir William Osler, we have several regular loan copies and various translations listed in the Classic Catalogue, in addition to rare and archived materials that are part of the Osler Library Archives collection.