Remembering H. Rocke Robertson (1912-1998)

H. Rocke Robertson at the Montreal General Hospital, 1960. McGill University Archives, photographic collection, PU044121.

H. Rocke Robertson was a distinguished surgeon and the first McGill graduate to become Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill University. An enthusiastic supporter of the Osler Library, Dr. Robertson was an instrumental force behind the Osler Library’s move from the Strathcona Building to its current location in the McIntyre Medical Building in the 1960s.

In 1972, he organized the Friends of the Osler Library whose financial support allows the Library to continue to buy material, preserve its rich collection, and make it available to others. After the opening of the Francis Wing in 1978, a rare books room was named in Dr. Robertson’s honour; since the Library’s most recent reconfiguration, the entire area surrounding the Osler Room is now named in his honour, containing the Library’s manuscripts, archival materials, and post-1840 rare materials, all of which are identified with the location code “Osler – Robertson”  in the online catalogue.

The H. Rocke Robertson Room at the Osler Library.

Thanks to Dr. Robertson’s initiative, his graduating class in Medicine of 1936 presented a generous endowment fund to the Osler Library as their 50th anniversary gift, which now pays for most of the Library’s new acquisitions of rare books, and finances the Osler Library Fellowships. As Prof. Faith Wallis wrote in her reminiscence of Dr. Robertson: “In this way, Medicine ’36 made possible for the 21st century what Osler’s bequest made possible for the 20th: the acquisition of new resources for the history of medicine, and the provision of means for their scholarly use.” (Wallis 1998: 2)

Illustration from Lorenz Heister: Institutions de chirurgie […]. Paris: P. Fr. Didot le jeune, 1771.

Dr. Robertson also contributed to the Osler Library’s collection of books, giving rare medical books, such as Lorenz Heister’s magnificently illustrated Institutions de chirurgie (1771), as well as an extraordinarily fine copy, with all plates intact, of the complete Diderot-d’Alembert Encyclopédie (1751-1780), one of the most influential publications of the Enlightenment.

Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une Société de gens de lettres. Mis en ordre & publié par M. Diderot […] & quant à la partie mathématique par M. D’Alembert […]. Paris: Briasson [et al.], 1751. Title Page of the first volume.

Among the numerous contributors to the Encyclopédie were, besides Diderot himself, Buffon, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu. Entries on medical topics were under the direct supervision of Diderot, who, for instance, co-signed the article on anatomy. Many articles on anatomy, medicine, and surgery were written by Antoine Louis, one of the most eminent surgeons of his time, who later collected his contributions to the Encyclopédie in his own two-volume Dictionnaire de chirurgie (1772).

“Gift of: H. Rocke Robertson” on the front endpapers of the first volume of the Encyclopédie.

Several rare books from H. Rocke Robertson’s collection can also be found at McGill’s Rare Books & Special Collections, including rare editions of works by John Dryden, Oliver Goldsmith, and Samuel Johnson, as well as the 1686 edition of Thomas Browne’s collected works, whose Religio Medici was William Osler’s favourite book.

The H. Rocke Robertson Fonds are held at the McGill University Archives.

H. Rocke Robertson died 20 years ago on February 8, 1998.


Lough, John. Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D’Alembert. London: Oxford University Press, 1968. [Osler Library AE 1 L887es 1968]

Pound, Richard W. Rocke Robertson: Surgeon and Shepherd of Change. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008. [eBook] [Osler Library WZ 100 R6493p 2008]

Roberton, H. Rocke. “W.O. and the O.E.D.” Osler Library Newsletter 88 (October 1991): 1-3. [PDF]

Wallis, Faith. “The Encyclopédie in the Osler Library.” Osler Library Newsletter 62 (October 1989): 1-2. [PDF]

Wallis, Faith. “H. Rocke Robertson: A Personal Reminiscence.” Osler Library Newsletter 88 (June 1998): 1-2. [PDF]

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).

Futurs étudiants de médecine, bienvenue à McGill!

Article par Sophie Ientile

Fondée en 1829, la faculté de médecine fut la première faculté créée à l’Université McGill et la plus ancienne faculté de médecine du Canada. Depuis, elle n’a cessé de se développer, recevant toujours plus d’étudiants. Afin de les accueillir au mieux, la faculté publie chaque année, depuis le milieu du 19e siècle, un petit fascicule d’information à l’intention des futurs étudiants.

La bibliothèque Osler a conservé précieusement ces livrets, les Annual announcements of the Medical Faculty of McGill College, de 1852 à 1986. Ils constituent une riche source d’information sur l’organisation des études de médecine et la vie étudiante du milieu du 19e siècle à la fin du 20e siècle à McGill.

Ces livrets viennent d’être numérisés par la bibliothèque et sont désormais tous disponibles en ligne. [McGill / Internet Archive]. C’est donc l’occasion de mettre en lumière ici cette collection atypique.


Liste des étudiants et des diplômés, 1851-1852 & Calendrier, 1899-1900

De taille très variable, chaque livret précise les conditions d’admission et les frais d’inscription à la faculté et le calendrier universitaire. On y trouve aussi des plans de la faculté et des photographies, notamment des hôpitaux partenaires.

Le Royal Victoria Hospital, 1899-1900

L’Hôpital général de Montréal, 1899-1900

Certaines années, la liste des étudiants et des diplômés de la faculté est publiée, ainsi que la liste des médailles et des prix reçus au sein de la faculté (sur l’exemplaire de 1872 par exemple, on  voit que William Osler, alors étudiant à McGill, a été lauréat du « Special Prize for thesis » cette année-là).

C’est également une ressource intéressante pour connaître le contenu des cours à McGill, puisque chaque fascicule présente le programme détaillé des cours en médecine et des sujets d’examen (en latin, littérature anglaise, algèbre, français, histoire anglaise, chimie…). On y trouve aussi de nombreuses autres informations d’ordre pratique, comme les noms des membres de la faculté, les sociétés étudiantes existantes, les  solutions d’hébergement proposées aux étudiants…

Enfin, ces documents permettent de reconstituer l’histoire de la faculté de médecine et du campus de McGill à travers plusieurs plans et photographies.


Sujet d’examen de latin, 1899-1900 & Plan du campus de McGill, 1946-1947

Faculté de médecine de McGill, 1899-1900

Ces Annual announcements of the Medical Faculty of McGill College, désormais disponibles en ligne, sont donc une mine d’information pour les chercheurs, ou plus largement pour toute personne que l’histoire de McGill intéresse. N’hésitez pas à les consulter!


Annual Announcements of the Medical Faculty of McGill College, McGill University, 1852-1986, disponible en ligne [McGill / Internet Archive].

Cruess R. L., “Brief History of Medicine at McGill”, disponible en ligne.

Frost S. B., McGill University: For the Advancement of Learning, Volume I, 1801-1895, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1980.

Frost S. B., McGill University: For the Advancement of Learning, Volume II, 1895-1971, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1984.

Hanaway J., Cruess R., McGill Medicine: The First Half Century, 1829-1885, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996.

Hanaway J., Cruess R., Darragh J., McGill Medicine: The Second Half Century, 1885-1936, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006.

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.


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 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.

Vernissage for a new exhibition by 2016 Larose-Osler-Artist-in-Residence Dr. Lucy Lyons, Impossible Pathologies: Re-fragmenting the Archive

Thursday, October 12, 2017, 17:30-19:00. Please come to a vernissage at the Osler Library to celebrate the opening of our newest exhibit.


During the 2016-2017 academic year, Dr. Lucy Lyons spent time in the Osler Library archives studying the illustrations made by the English physician and medical writer, Robert Hooper. Inspired by Hooper’s method of cutting out parts of his drawings like the analogue version of Photoshop, Lyons created her own fantastic collaged composites. This composite method was then transferred into studies of the collections in the Maude Abbott Medical Museum to create new, impossible pathologies. This exhibition is an exploration of the beauty of the fragment which is synonymous with pathology. If pathology is the fractured, broken, diseased, deformed fragment of the human body, this work explores the further fracturing, breaking and then re-assembling of parts.

Dr. Lucy Lyons received her PhD from Sheffield Hallam University. Her practice focuses on drawing within medical museums and working collaboratively to explore the beauty of collections. She is especially interested in the hidden, the overlooked, insignificant or in-between. This residency will allow her to push and explore her own practice and develop work in new ways whilst bringing new audiences to the collections.

The Michele Larose – Osler Library Artist-in-Residence award, is given annually to one or more deserving candidates with a degree in Studio Arts or a related field and/or a history of exhibiting artistic work in professional venues.

Exhibition | The Gendered Cultures of Beer and Cheese: the Regulation of Human and Microbial Bodies on the Home and Industrial Scales, 1616–2017

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

Illustration showing what healthy and worn-out yeast cells look like when viewed through a microscope. Illustration from Pasteur’s Études sur la Bière (Studies on Beer), 1876.

Vernissage: Friday, September 29, 6–8 pm at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine.

Welcome to “The Gendered Cultures of Beer and Cheese: the Regulation of Human and Microbial Bodies on the Home and Industrial Scales.” This exhibition, comprised of medical texts, cookbooks, training manuals, and industry documents, showcases the ways in which advice about best fermentation practices has changed over time. As you visit the exhibition, we hope you will consider the following questions: How is the language employed around ideas of public health, food, and alcohol production gendered and classed? Are ideas about “what is safe” and “what is dangerous” regarding fermentation practices restricted to scientific understanding? To what degree are these ideas socially embedded concepts?

The materials for this exhibit come from McGill University’s Osler Library of the History of Medicine; Rare Books and Special Collections; the Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering; the MacDonald Campus Library; the Blackader-Lauterman Collection of Architecture and Art; and the private collection of Alex Ketchum.

This exhibit has been made possible by the generous support of McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine; the Institute of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies; the Department of History and Classical Studies; the Department of English; and the Office of the Vice Principal’s Research and Innovation Grant.

We are pleased to offer this exhibit as part of this fall’s conference, “Leavening the Conversation: Food, Feminism, and Fermentation.” The event will be taking place on McGill’s campus from September 29 to October 1st. In addition to the above sponsors, the larger event is also sponsored by Le Réseau québécois en études féministes of L’Université du Québec à Montréal, Concordia University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University’s Centre for Sensory Studies, and the University of Alabama’s Department of Gender and Race Studies.

For more information, please visit:

Curated by Alex Ketchum, PhD candidate, Department of History and Classical Studies

For Osler Library of the History of Medicine’s opening hours, please click here.

Excision of Middle English Medical Recipes in Osler Library, Bibliotheca Osleriana 7591

Guest post by Patrick Outhwaite. Patrick is a PhD candidate at McGill University in the department of English under the supervision of Professor Michael Van Dussen. He holds an MSt in Medieval Studies from the University of Oxford, and an MA in Medieval English from King’s College London. In 2015-16 he was a placement student at the Wellcome Library. His research interests include the interplay between medieval theology and medicine, as well as palaeography.

La version française suit

One of the most intriguing manuscripts of the Osler Library is Bibliotheca Osleriana 7591, a collection of Middle English medical recipes from the early sixteenth century. The recipes are from the Practica phisicalia composed by John of Burgundy (c. 1338–90), who was best known for his plague treatises. In his most famous tract, De epidemia, he identifies himself as ‘John with the beard’, practitioner of the art of medicine from Liège. As is typical of recipe collections of the period, John of Burgundy’s Practica covers treatments for the entire body, arranged from head to foot. The recipes treated everything from ‘the ffistula’ (p. 1) to ‘a charme for the tothake’ (p. 140).

The Osler copy of the Practica phisicalia is a relatively small and cheap production written in a fluid cursive script. It is likely that the manuscript, or perhaps the scribe, was from the northern part of England, as the text contains northern dialectical features. The codex survives in a good condition, although it has been rebound in a modern binding, and a few pages have been damaged.

The codex does not only contain the Practica, as it also contains lists and lyrics on the practical uses of particular ingredients. On page 20 there is a list of the uses of ‘Wateris’ added by the hand of the main text into the bottom margin. This list comments, for example, that: ‘Water of calamynt is good for the stomake’ and ‘Water of violette is good to hele aman & for the peynes & for the lyver.’ Osler 7591 also contains a poem entitled ‘Ematites is the stones name’ (p. 100a) in 24 lines of iambic tetrameter.

These lyrics explain the uses of Hematite, a red iron ore. This page features an annotation hand that updates the spelling of certain words in the poem and provides comments. On the following page (p. 100b) the annotator explains that the lyrics are ‘a specimen of the poetry in those / Days; bring the virtues of the lapis / Hamatitis set forth in stylish verse.’ The fluid cursive secretary hand of the annotations match a signature at the beginning of the codex: ‘Ed. Cooper 1726.’ Cooper comments at other points throughout the manuscript, such as on page 61 where he explains that he owns a small octavo insert that he believes to have been composed by the same scribe.

One of the most peculiar aspects of Osler 7591, is that its section on male genitalia has been excised from the manuscript. Two leaves are missing that contained almost all of the recipe ‘Ffor swellyng of ballokes’ (only the title and five lines survive) and the entirety of the recipe ‘Ffor ache in mannes lendes [loins or genitalia]’. We can be sure that two leaves are missing because the quire (gathering) in which these recipes are partially contained (quire six of ten) is the only quire of six in the entire manuscript (the rest of the quires are made up of eight leaves each). Also, remnants of the excised pages are visible, as the remaining stubs show clear signs of excision with clean lines that result from cutting.

Adding to this, the recipes concerning the penis and testicles that do survive in Osler 7591 are the only recipes in the entire manuscript that feature manicules (pointing hands) drawing attention to their titles. This suggests that they were at some point considered notable. Perhaps the two missing leaves were removed by a reader for ease of access in continued consultation. Equally, the leaves may have been excised as an act of censorship, because the owner of the manuscript did not appreciate the attention that they received.

Osler 7591 shares an interesting parallel with London, Wellcome MS. 406, another copy of John of Burgundy`s Practica phisicalia. The same section of the text has been censored in this manuscript. Instead of removing pages, an annotator in Wellcome MS. 406 has crossed through offensive words in the titles of two recipes. The first case of censorship appears on folio 35 verso, in a recipe entitled: ‘For swellyng of a mannys veretrum’. The second censored recipe, on folio 36 recto, is entitled: ‘For scalding of a mannys veretrum’. In each title the Latin word ‘veretrum’ has been added by the annotator. This Latin replaces the Middle English term for penis, ‘pyntell’, which has been thoroughly crossed out in each case. One can only infer that the exchange of Middle English for Latin was done in the interest of taste, as the word ‘pyntell’ had vulgar, colloquial connotations that were not shared by ‘veretrum’. The censorship of Wellcome MS. 406 allowed readers educated in Latin to comprehend the treatments, but others would have been ignorant of what the recipes concerned.

The Osler and Wellcome manuscripts examined here reflect a trend in the early modern period where owners of medieval manuscripts became increasingly concerned with obscuring references to reproductive organs. Owners considered such content to be indecent and did not want readers to see the information. Whether through excising leaves or Latin glosses, the interventions in these manuscripts provide a clue as to how such codices were treated by post-medieval readers.

Excision de Moyen-Anglais Recettes Médicinales dans la bibliothèque Osler, Bibliotheca Osleriana 7591

L’un des manuscrits les plus intrigants de la bibliothèque Osler est Bibliotheca Osleriana 7591, une collection de recettes médicinales du Moyen-Anglais du début du XVIe siècle. Les recettes proviennent de la Practica phisicalia composée par Jean de Bourgogne (c. 1338-90), connue pour ses traités de peste. Dans son écriture le plus célèbre, De epidemia, il s’identifie comme « Jean avec la barbe », praticien de l’art de la médecine de Liège. Comme ç’est typique pour livres des recettes de la période, la Practica de Jean de Bourgogne couvre les traitements pour l’ensemble du corps, disposés de la tête aux pieds. Les recettes traitent tout de ‘the ffistula’ (p. 1) à ‘a charme for the tothake’ (p. 140).

La copie d’Osler de la Practica phisicalia est une production relativement petite et peu coûteuse, écrite dans un script cursive fluide. Il est probable que le manuscrit, ou peut-être le scribe, provenait du nord de l’Angleterre, car le texte contient des caractéristiques dialectiques du Nord. Le codex survit en bon état, bien qu’il ait été placé dans une liaison moderne, et quelques pages ont sont endommagées.

Le codex ne contient pas seulement le Practica, mais il contient également des listes et des paroles sur les utilisations pratiques d’ingrédients particuliers. À la page 20, il existe une liste des utilisations de ‘Wateris’ ajoutées par le scribe du texte principal dans la marge inférieure. Cette liste commente, par exemple, que: ‘Water of calamynt is good for the stomake’ et ‘Water of violette is good to hele aman & for the peynes & for the lyver.’ Osler 7591 contient également un poème intitulé ‘Ematites is the stones name’ (p. 100a) en 24 lignes de tétramètre iambique.

Ces paroles expliquent les utilisations de Hematite, un minerai de fer rouge. Cette page comporte une touche de notation qui met à jour l’orthographe de certains mots dans le poème et fournit des commentaires. Sur la page suivante (p. 100b), l’annotator explique que les paroles sont : ‘a specimen of the poetry in those / Days; bring the virtues of the lapis / Hamatitis set forth in stylish verse.’ Las écriture secrétaire fluide et cursive des annotations correspond à une signature au début du codex: ‘Ed. Cooper 1726.’ Il a commenté à d’autres points tout au long du manuscrit, comme à la page 61 où il explique qu’il possède un petit ‘octavo insert’ qu’il croit avoir été composé par le même scribe.

L’un des aspects les plus étranges d’Osler 7591 est que sa section sur les organes génitaux masculins a été retirée du manuscrit. Il manque deux feuilles qui contiennent presque toute la recette : ‘Ffor swellyng of ballokes’ (seulement le titre et cinq lignes restent) et la totalité de la recette : ‘Ffor ache in mannes lendes [longes ou organes génitaux]’. Nous pouvons être sûrs que ces deux feuilles sont manquantes parce que le quire dans lequel ces recettes sont partiellement contenues (quire six de dix) est le seul nombre de six dans le manuscrit entier. En outre, les restes des pages excisées sont visibles, car les bouts restants montrent des signes clairs d’excision avec des lignes propres résultant de la coupe.

En ajoutant à cela, les recettes concernant le pénis et les testicules qui survivent à Osler 7591 sont les seules recettes dans le manuscrit entier qui présentent des manicules (les mains que point) qu’attirent l’attention sur leurs titres. Cela suggère qu’ils étaient à un moment donné considérés comme notables. Peut-être que les deux feuilles manquantes ont été retirées par un lecteur pour faciliter l’accès en consultation continue. De même, les feuilles peuvent avoir été excisées comme un acte de censure, parce que le propriétaire du manuscrit n’a pas apprécié l’attention qu’ils ont reçue.

Osler 7591 partage un parallèle intéressant avec Londres, Wellcome Ms. 406, une autre copie de La Practica phisicalia de Jean de Bourgogne. La même section du texte a été censurée dans ce manuscrit. Au lieu de supprimer des pages, un annotateur dans Wellcome MS. 406 a tracé une ligne à travers des mots offensifs dans les titres de deux recettes. Le premier cas de censure apparaît sur le folio 35 verso, dans une recette intitulée: ‘For swellyng of a mannys veretrum’. La deuxième recette censurée, sur le folio 36 recto, est intitulée: ‘For scalding of a mannys veretrum’. Dans chaque titre, le mot Latin ‘veretrum’ a été ajouté par l’annotateur. Ce mot Latin remplace le Moyen-Anglais terme pour le pénis, ‘pyntell’, qui a été complètement éliminé dans chaque cas. On peut déduire que l’échange de l’Moyen-Anglais pour le Latin a été fait dans l’intérêt du goût, car le mot « pyntell » avait des connotations vulgaires qui n’étaient pas partagées par « veretrum ». La censure de Wellcome MS. 406 a permis aux lecteurs du livre, éduqués en latin de comprendre les traitements, mais d’autres auraient ignorant de quoi les recettes concernées.

Les manuscrits Osler et Wellcome ont examiné ici sont représentatif d’un trend dans le début de l’époque moderne, où les propriétaires des manuscrits médiévaux étaient de plus en plus préoccupés par des obscurcir références aux organes reproducteurs. Les propriétaires considéraient que ce contenu était indécent et ne voulait pas que les lecteurs puissent voir l’information. Que ce soit par les excisions, ou les gloses Latin, les interventions dans ces manuscrits fournissent un indice quant à la façon dont ils ont été lus.