Dr Elma Brenner
Maximum: 15 Students
Venue: Senate House, Wellcome Collection

Course Outline

Books are vital repositories of knowledge about the human body and matters of health and illness. What is distinctive about medical books, in terms of their production, format, visual appearance and use? How have they functioned as practical tools in the past, and how have they symbolised knowledge and authority? This introductory course surveys the diversity and development of manuscript and printed books relating to medicine and health in Europe between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries. Through close examination of original printed books and manuscripts in the library at Wellcome Collection, one of the world’s most important collections of medical books, participants will learn how recipe collections, health manuals, herbals, anatomical atlases and other types of medical book were created, read and adapted. The design and decoration of these books will be considered, from the vivid diagrams in late medieval manuscripts to the colour printing of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century medical books. Today the books reveal much about the markets for which they were produced: plague tracts were printed rapidly and cheaply in the early modern period, as were certain medical books in the nineteenth century. In addition, marginal annotations and other material aspects of books throughout the period evidence the life experiences and health-related anxieties of past readers. This course, taught by specialists from Wellcome Collection and King’s College London, will reveal common themes and continuities in the production and use of medical books between 1300 and 1900, as well as significant changes and developments.

Principal Course Tutor

Dr Elma Brenner (Research Development Specialist, Wellcome Collection)

Elma Brenner is Wellcome Collection’s medieval and early modern specialist, and a historian of health, medicine and the book in medieval France and England. She has taught students at the University of Cambridge and Birkbeck, University of London and regularly delivers collections-based teaching at Wellcome Collection. Her publications include Leprosy and Charity in Medieval Rouen (Boydell Press, 2015) and ‘From Medieval Embroidery to Human Skin: Engaging with Remarkable Objects from the Wellcome Library’ (The New Bookbinder, 2016).

Other Course Tutors

Dr Richard Aspin (Research Fellow, Wellcome Collection)

Ross MacFarlane (Research Development Specialist, Wellcome Collection)

Julia Martins (PhD Candidate, King’s College London)

Julia Nurse (Research Development Specialist, Wellcome Collection)

William Schupbach (Research Development Specialist, Wellcome Collection)

Frontispiece to Aristotle's last legacy, unfolding the mysteries of nature in the generation of man ... (London: Printed for R. Ware, C. Hitch & J. Hodges, 1749). Wellcome Collection EPB/11221/A.