Category Archives: Institutions

First Monday Library Chat: Heidelberg University Library

Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat! Today we travel to Germany with Elaine Leong and feature library of the oldest German university – The Heidelberg University Library. We’re delighted to be talking to Dr. Karin Zimmermann, Deputy Head of the Department of Manuscripts and Early Printed Books.

Heidelberg University Library has large collection of printed and manuscript recipe books. Can you give us an overview of some of the rare and unique items in your collection?

Heidelberg University Library (HUL) is the central library of Heidelberg University in the south-west of Germany. The University was founded in 1386 and is the oldest University in Germany. In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, three libraries were part of the university. They consisted of the book collections of the liberal arts faculty, of the higher faculties – with medicine – and of the collegiate church (Holy Ghost Church). The core of the collections in the faculty libraries consisted mostly of the books left to the university by professors. In this way by 1396 the university managed to build up a collection of over 600 books. In the 16th century Elector Otto-Henry combined this library with the Electors Palatine’s private book collections creating the ‘Bibliotheca Palatina’ – the Palatine library. In 1556, the library consisted of about 6,400 titles, including 4,800 printed books, 500 parchment manuscripts and 600 paper manuscripts. The sack of Heidelberg during the Thirty Years’ War, in 1622, brought a temporary end to what was at the time most renowned and important collection of books in Germany. At the beginning of the 19th century, the German manuscripts were returned to HUL. However, the Latin and Greek manuscripts and all printed volumes still remain in the Vatican Library.

The main source of ‘old’ books, however, was the purchase of tens of thousands of volumes – about 450 manuscripts and thousands of printed books – from the library of the Cistercian Abbey Salem at the Lake Constance in 1826.

Today HUL holds about 3.12 million books and periodicals, about 495,000 non-book-media and about 6,800 manuscripts. Nearly 980,000 of its volumes are printed before 1900. The library counts 42,200 active users and about 1.6 million loans per year.

Most of the recipe books in the Heidelberg University Library are within the ‘Bibliotheca Palatina’ collection. There is a longstanding and fascinating research and digitisation project centred on this collection, could you share some details with our readers?

In 1970, due to the outstanding importance of the Bibliotheca Palatina collection, the HUL began cataloguing the Latin manuscripts now in the Vatican Library in Rome. That project is financed by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), the largest independent research funding organisation in Germany. From 1996 until 2014, the 848 German manuscripts in Heidelberg were catalogued. With the help of third-party funds, this part of the library was digitized in the Digitization Department of HUL by different projects and made available on open access. Additionally, from 2012 onwards, a team from Heidelberg has worked to digitize onsite also the circa 2,030 Latin manuscripts in Rome. Every week we digitize at least 10 additional manuscripts! Find out more here.

Can you give us an idea of the scope of the recipe texts within the ‘Bibliotheca Palatina’ collection? How many are there? What kinds of knowledge are represented?

Let’s talk about the manuscripts, here we have to distinguish between Latin and German ones. Nearly all medical texts that had been used at the university to teach medicine were written in Latin. These 272 volumes transferred mostly ancient knowledge from authors like Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galenus, Avicenna or Averroes.

A text from Galenus for the treatment of glaucoma in a manuscript from 9th/10th century (HUL, Cod. Pal. lat. 1080, fol. 1v)
A text from Galenus for the treatment of glaucoma in a manuscript from 9th/10th century (HUL, Cod. Pal. lat. 1080, fol. 1v)

The German manuscripts of the Bibliotheca Palatina, the Codices Palatini germanici, consist mostly of the vernacular part of the library at the castle, that belonged to the Electors Palatine and their families. The character of a court library can be seen in the topics covered by the books. Most of the manuscripts, about one-third of the stock (ca 300), consist of medical and alchemical texts (, reflecting the interest of some of the Electors Palatine who were particularly fascinated by medical prescriptions.

About 220 of these medical manuscripts date from the 16th century and nearly 75 originate before 1500. Approximately 50 of these manuscripts, written before 1500, transmit late medieval, to a small extent ancient Arabic medicine and tracts – that means ‘old’ texts. Another 20 of these older codices are alchemical texts. This kind of text usually consists of a plurality of recipes, practices or alternative instructions that are in a more or less fixed context of tradition, that is, they were to be preserved as a unit and therefore often passed on together (e.g. the ‘Arzneibuch’ [Book of Medicine] by Ortolf von Baierland).

The so called ‘Speyrer Arzneibuch’ [Speyer Book of Medicine], the oldest German medical manuscript in HUL from 1321 (HUL, Cod. Pal. germ. 214, fol. 49r)
The so called ‘Speyrer Arzneibuch’ [Speyer Book of Medicine], the oldest German medical manuscript in HUL from 1321 (HUL, Cod. Pal. germ. 214, fol. 49r)
By far the most comprehensive group consists of about 220 handwritten collections of recipes with unknown authors. To give you an idea of the immense extent number of texts included in this group, I will give you some numbers. Extrapolated, there are approximately 193,000 recipes written down on about 40,000 sheets of parchment and paper.

Finally, for those of us who living afar, could you tell us a little about we might be able to consult your rich holdings both via digitization schemes and via virtual exhibitions?

You can find all digitized manuscripts – German and Latin ones – on the constantly updated website of the project. To search inside of the manuscript descriptions you can use the database ‘PalatinaSEARCH’ (only in German). The virtual exhibitions can be found on a special website. The catalogue of the Latin medical manuscripts is digitized as well as the descriptions of the German ones. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Karin @

Watch this space! In a later post, Karin will take a more detailed look at some highlights of the library and introduce to the fascinating group of collectors and compilers who created the recipe books within the Bibliotheca Palatina.

First Monday Library Chat: The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

It seems appropriate that I should feature my own library’s collection on the First Monday Library Chat! Today I’m interviewing Annie Brogan, College Librarian here at the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The College Library holds more than 340,000 volumes, including over 400 incunables, and an exceptional range of hospital archives and physicians’ private papers.

Can you give us a brief history of how the Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia came to exist?
The library started just short of two years after the formation of the College in 1787. The library served a similar purpose to the burgeoning medical community as the College itself—to advance medical knowledge. In the late 18th century, there was no such thing as a medical school library. There was barely such a thing as a medical school, so the library served as a resource center for Philadelphia physicians.

Much of the collection is books that were collected by Fellows and donated to the College. Do you notice any unique or changing collecting practices over time?
There were definitely periods when the library collected anything and everything. I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I wonder sometimes why and how certain books entered our collections. Then there were the periods of intense and focused collecting. The College Library was lucky enough to have a Fellow in the late 19th-century, Samuel Lewis, who was an MD but never cared much for the practice of medicine. He was a great bibliophile who traveled extensively, which benefited the library quite a bit. Sir William Osler also spent time in Philadelphia and struck up a friendship with the College Librarian at the time, Elliot Morse. They remained friends after Osler left the city, and we have much evidence of Osler’s continued goodwill towards the library. Not only did he donate a number of valuable books, but he also alerted Morse and the College Fellows when something good came on the market.

Roughly how many manuscript recipe books or formularies do you have across the collection? Can you describe a few so we can get an idea of the range?
Unfortunately, there is no uniformity in how these books are cataloged, and some items are still best found by consulting our paper card catalog in the library. There are probably around 15-20 bound manuscript recipe books in our collection. Users should search the catalog for all variations of the genre’s name, including “recipe book”, “formulary”, “receipt book”, “cook book” and “materia medica”. Manuscripts and archives don’t have their own catalog, but bound manuscripts are noted as such under the “format” category in the main catalog.

William Young, MS book of recipes, 10a 349
William Young’s manuscript book of recipes, 1837. 10a 349 Courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Most of our manuscript recipe books are mid-19th century, but we have a few older ones, like the Anne Layfielde and Elizabeth Coates Paschall. There’s also an interesting 17th-century chemical recipe book  in several mens’ hands that includes large sections of text copied from one of Paracelsus’s books and has a record of the births and deaths of the compiler’s children. What was new to me in looking through these books was that you can find several formulas for different colored inks and dyes right next to treatments for rheumatism and gout. Of course, though, it makes sense to keep all formulas in one place. We have an unattributed apothecary’s book given to the College by Francis Dercum that has treatments for specific patients as well as recipes interspersed throughout, and it is bound in a charming pocketbook.

19th c. MS Apothecary Book, 10a 216.
19th c. MS Apothecary Book, 10a 216. Courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Why do you think there are recipe books in the College Library’s collection? Are any of them personal formularies from the College Fellows themselves, or do you think they were collected just because they were interesting?
None of them are Fellows’ personal formularies. We do have a wonderful materia medica collection, and I think the librarians who were collecting realized that manuscript formularies would complement the print collection.

For the College Library’s recent 225th Anniversary celebration , you and Dr. Steven Peitzman, FCPP, co-curated an exhibition on recent research trends. Rebecca Laroche’s project on Anne Layfielde’s 17th-century recipe book was featured (and Laroche continues to explore this manuscript with Hilary Nunn on this blog!) Have you noticed a recent interest in recipe books as scholarship on the genre has increased over the past ten years?
For the most part they are an underused part of the collection. I say for the most part because we have one recipe book that gets a fair amount of attention, that of Elizabeth Coates Paschall. I think that it gets so much notice because we already know a fair amount about her and she’s from a well-known Philadelphia family. I do have hope that our collection will start to be used more, though, as kindred institutions known for their recipe books, such as the New York Academy of Medicine, learn of our own collection (as happened during the 225th anniversary celebration), and as blogs like this become increasingly popular.

Elizabeth Coates Paschall's MS receipt book, 10a 352.
Elizabeth Coates Paschall’s MS receipt book, 10a 352. Courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Are any of your recipe books digitized?
The College hosts the digital project “Eighteenth-century Colonial Formularies”, which presents two related digitized manuscripts with searchable transcriptions. This includes our copy of George De Benneville’s German and English formulary and the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center’s manuscript which records the medical practice of Abraham Wagner. This was initially funded by a grant on which the late Renate Wilson (Johns Hopkins University) was Principal Investigator. We have been talking with some digital providers about ways to update the user display on this site.

If people reading this blog want to come use the College’s recipe books, should they apply for a Wood Institute Travel Grant?
Yes! Absolutely. Wood Institute Travel Grants help researchers cover the cost of travel and lodging and are intended for those visiting the collection for 1-2 weeks. This is not limited to historians of medicine – academic researchers, graduate students and independent scholars of all disciplines are welcome to apply if they have a serious interest in our collection. More information is available here. We love having visiting scholars and hearing about their work.

Thanks, Annie, for chatting with me! Feel free to email the College Library to schedule a visit.

Look out for the First Monday next month, when we’ll be featuring the fantastic collections of the US National Library of Medicine.

An early modern Portuguese recipe book of pharmaceutical “secrets”

By Amy Buono

Colleçção de varias receitas de segredos particulares des principaes boticas da nossa companhia de Portugal, da Índia, de Macao e do Brasil compostas e experimentadas pelos melhores medicos e Boticarios mais celebres que tem havido nestas partes aumentada com alguns indices, e noticias muito curiozas, e necessarias para a boa direcção e acerto contra as enfermidades. En Roma, An.M.DCC.LXVI, com todas as licenças necessarias, 20 X 13, 5 cm, 603 p.  [1766]

Colleçção de varias receitas de segredos particulares des principaes boticas da nossa companhia de Portugal, da Índia, de Macao e do Brasil...1766 [Manuscript Opp. NN. 17, ARSI, Rome]
Colleçção de varias receitas de segredos particulares des principaes boticas da nossa companhia de Portugal, da Índia, de Macao e do Brasil…1766 [Manuscript Opp. NN. 17, ARSI, Rome]
The Collection of various recipes of unique secrets from the most important pharmacies of our Society in Portugal, India, Macao, and Brazil, 1766, also known as Opp. NN. 17  is a Jesuit manuscript of medical recipes today housed in the Archivum Romanus Societatis Iesu (ARSI), the central Jesuit archive in Rome. Of interest to scholars of the Society of Jesus and to historians of colonial medicine alike, the 603-page compilation of recipes offers scholars a glimpse into the process of gathering medicinal knowledge from local healers in missionary settings, and then disseminating it via a systematized volume of indexed recipes for the Jesuit’s Portuguese-speaking unit. Among the highlights of the collection are its various recipes for compounding theriacs, medicaments against snake-bites and other poisons.

Though dated to 1766, the volume probably collates recipes collected over the previous two centuries within the “Portuguese Assistancy,” ­­ the oldest of the four territorial and linguistic administrative units of the Jesuit Order, and its most powerful in the early modern period due to strong patronage by the Portuguese Crown. In principle, the Society of Jesus was organized as a centralized command structure in which all data flowed to and from Rome. In practice, however, information and objects  from the Portuguese missions in Brazil, India, Macao (including letters detailing local life, medicinal recipes, natural historical knowledge, maps, and indigenous art) circulated semi-autonomously units, often bypassing the hub of Rome.[1] These internal, Portuguese-language based networks thus offer scholars fascinating insight into how locally-specific medical knowledge moved into wider, global circuits of the early modern world, and how the Jesuit Order’s Portuguese Assistancy acted as a surrogate to the Portuguese Empire.

I am at work on a translation and critical edition of Opp. NN. 17, which will be published with an Introduction, and three accompanying contextual essays by historians of medicine of early modern India, Brazil, and Macao. The aim is to make available to historians of the early modern period not just the particular recipes, but also an exemplary case study of how botanical ingredients entered the market, and how technical and experimental knowledge shaped medical practice within the ambit of the Portuguese Assistancy. Of particular interest to me personally is the discussion within the manuscript about profit-making, which reminds us that materia medica and pharmacies were very much seen as money-making concerns for the Jesuit order.  These issues show up in suggestions about omitting particularly effective but very costly ingredients from recipes and the necessity for protecting pharmaceutical secrets so as to maximize the revenue stream. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

In these blog postings I hope to provide some musings on both the process of creating a translation and critical edition, and on the Jesuit process of “building” a Portuguese-language recipe book of secrets.

[1] Ines G. Zupanov, Missionary Tropics: The Catholic Frontier in India, 16th-17th Centuries, History, Languages, and Cultures of the Spanish and Portuguese Worlds (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 4.

The Politics of Food: Food in History at the Anglo-American Conference 2013

Editors’ note: This is our second conference report on the Anglo-American Conference 2013. Sally Osborn’s post considers the domestic and institutional spaces of food.

By Rachel Rich

I started working on food history in 1996. People often smirked when I mentioned it. It seemed like a little topic, something that wouldn’t help answer the big questions about human identity and experience. Yet eating is one of the few universals: thinking about how differently it has been organised across time and space provides amazing insights into class, gender and ethnic identities. With the choice of ‘Food in History’ as the theme for this year’s Anglo-American Conference, food history has finally come of age. A wide range of periods were covered, from classical antiquity to the Arab spring, and everything in between. Some people discussed a particular food, such as milk or bread. One intriguing paper (by Rebecca Ford, University of Nottingham) was even more specific, focusing on the social and cultural geography of watercress in nineteenth-century England. But ‘Food in History’ was given a wide scope, going far beyond discussions of food and recipes, in ways that showed the possibility for telling all sorts of cultural and political stories by understanding what we eat, with whom, how we shop for it, and the routes it has had to travel to reach us.

Read the rest of this post (complete with some of the Twitter discussion!) on Storify: