December 31, 2014, marked the five hundredth birthday of Andreas Vesalius, one of the most important anatomists in the history of medicine. The Health Sciences Library commemorates this historic occasion with an exhibit entitled Vesalius at 500: Student, Scholar, and Surgeon, now on view on the third floor of Health Sciences Library.
Andreas Vesalius is frequently called the father of modern human anatomical science. Born in 1514 in modern-day Belgium, he studied at the Universities of Louvain, Paris, and Padua before becoming a professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Padua. His primary contribution to the history of medicine was his emphasis on dissection and firsthand observation. Vesalius differed from his colleagues because he used his observations to challenge ancient and often inaccurate Greek and Roman medical writings, which formed the basis of all medical knowledge for over a thousand years.
Vesalius at 500 showcases materials from the Libraries’ collections that helped to shape Vesalius’ career, including medieval manuscripts and early printed books on medicine. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Vesalius’ most famous work, De Humani Corporis Fabrica. The Libraries hold two copies of this important book, a second edition printed in 1555, and a later edition from 1568.
A special aspect of the exhibit is a letter from Dr. William Osler to the MU medical faculty that accompanied his 1908 donation of Vesalius’ book, De Humani Corporis Fabrica. In his letter, Osler calls it “one of the great books of the world.” The letter sent to Osler in 1909 from MU medical faculty, thanking him for donating the book, is featured along with it. We are still thankful to Dr. Osler for making this literary and scientific treasure a part of our collection.
Thanks to Kelli Hansen, Amanda Sprochi, and Trenton Boyd, of the MU Libraries, for sharing their talents and creating the exhibit, which was featured in the Ellis Library Colonnade in November, 2014.