Tufts Libraries: Medical Tools and Dental Poems

The Hirsh Health Sciences Library isn’t just books and journals—check out the bloodletting scarificators
very old book from 1556 being held open to its title page
The oldest item in the Hirsh Health Sciences Library, “Actuarii, operum,” from 1556.
April 12, 2019

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Ray Bradbury once said in an interview, “Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.” For a series on libraries at the university, we’ve asked the librarians at Tufts’ many libraries to tell us about their collections—their most unusual items and best-kept secrets. Read about Tisch Library, Ginn Library, the SMFA Library, the Webster Family Library, Digital Collections and Archives, and the Lilly Music Library, too.

At the Hirsh Health Sciences Library in Boston, librarians did a deep dive into the collection to fill us in—plus, we learn about the Glickman Library in the Department of Periodontology.

Focus of collection. The Hirsh Health Sciences Library aims to support the health sciences curriculum of students on the Boston campus. The library still has books and journals in medicine and dentistry from the days of the founding of the School of Medicine (125 years ago) and of the School of Dental Medicine (150 years ago), but now relies mostly on its electronic resources.

Oldest item in the collection. Actuarii, operum. This pair of small tomes, collecting the writings of Byzantine physician Joannis Zacharias Actuarius, dates to 1556. If you’re up on your Latin, you can read the author’s take on “the functions and disturbances of the soul-spirit.” The soul, he believed, originated in the liver. Zacharias also studied and wrote about uroscopy, the diagnosis of disease by inspecting urine. His work On the Urines was an influential book in the Middle Ages. He also wrote about pin worms, colic, and lead poisoning.

Most requested/checked out item in collection. Atlas of Human Anatomy by Frank H. Netter was checked out 234 in fiscal year 2018. Netter, born in 1906, studied art before going to medical school and becoming a physician. He eventually gave up his practice to devote himself to medical illustration, creating more than 20,000 paintings. With this reference, anyone can differentiate between the gluteus maximus and the lateral epicondyle. Anatomy continues to be the library’s most popular subject, and the library now has databases that allow our students to navigate through the layers of the human body in 3D.

Most unusual item in collection. Dentologia: a poem on the diseases of the teeth and their proper remedies, by Solyman Brown, can be found in the Hirsh Special Collections. Brown, an American dentist who lived from 1790 to 1876, was instrumental in the formation of the first dental journal, the first national dental society, and the first dental school. He was also a poet, and this epic poem, written in 1833, was praised at the time for “investing the sober form of scientific truth in the eloquent and glowing language of poetic fancy.”

A stanza from the poetry book “Dentologia” by Solyman Brown.

Best-kept secret in the collection. Bloodletting scarificators (c. 1700-1800s). The practice of bloodletting dates back to antiquity. Thankfully, bloodletting modernized in the eighteenth century, with the creation of spring-loaded devices that would quickly and easily cut the skin to release the blood. It still didn’t cure anyone, but it may have been less painful. These scarificators, including a device with multiple blades that delivered parallel cuts, were a gift from Sherwood Gorbach, School of Medicine emeritus professor.

From the collection of bloodletting scarificators on display at the Hirsh Health Sciences Library.

Most interesting new addition to the collection. Hey, Kiddo is a graphic memoir by author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka. His mother is an addict, he doesn’t know his father, but his art gives him a way to sort through the darkness in his head. It’s part of the Graphic Medicine Collection, a new section in the library devoted to graphic novels that tackle health-care issues as diverse as Alzheimer’s disease, childhood trauma, and eating disorders. You’ll also find Cancer Vixen, an often-humorous memoir that follows author Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s eleven-month battle with breast cancer, and Lucille, which explores the life of a young anorexic woman and her difficult relationships though Ludovic Debeurme’s elegant line drawings.

And then there is the Glickman Library located in the Department of Periodontology on the 12th floor of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. Equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment , it serves a dual role as a seminar room for the department and the home of current text books related to the field of periodontology as well as memorabilia.

The memorabilia are primarily connected with the career of Irving Glickman, D38, a nationally renowned faculty member (1941 to 1972) who was responsible for establishing both the Department of Periodontology and Department of Oral Pathology at Tufts dental school. In addition to copies of Glickman’s 1952 landmark textbook Clinical Periodontology, a number of other textbooks written by former and current faculty of the department are found in the library.