About Stephanie Eichberg

The contributions to the BSHS travel guide website are based on annual excursions for UCL medical students doing an IBSc degree in History of Medicine that were organised and accompanied by Carole Reeves and myself during my Teaching Fellowship at UCL (Centre for the History of Medicine and the Science and Technology Studies Department). I am currently a Research Associate at the Centre for Literary and Cultural Studies (ZfL) in Berlin, working on the 'Neuro-Psychoanalysis: Neurosciences between Natural Science and Cultural Studies' -project.

The Semmelweiss Library and Archives of the History of Medicine

The Library is situated on 12 Török utca and is housed in a beautiful neo-baroque villa.

The Library is situated on 12 Török utca and is housed in a beautiful neo-baroque villa.

Established in 1837 by the Royal Society of Physicians in Budapest, the cultural and historical legacy of the current Semmelweis Museum, Library and Archives of the History of Medicine is much older than the 170 years of its official existence. Its substantial collections comprise more than 150,000 volumes, including over a thousand rare treats of hand-written early modern manuscripts, incunabula, numerous books on medicine and science, and an invaluable Index Medicus of scientific periodicals. The treasures to be found in the library are historical testament to the aim of the society’s founders “to cultivate science”, and, due to the multicultural make-up of Hungarian society in the nineteenth century, more than 30 languages are represented.

László Magyar and UCL’s IBSc History of Medicine students at the Semmelweis Library. By Carole Reeves.

László Magyar and UCL’s IBSc History of Medicine students at the Semmelweis Library. By Carole Reeves.

In 1968, the Semmelweis Medical History Museum and the Library and Archives were merged administratively and are now treated as a single institution. As a consequence, the Library became somewhat less visible than the more widely advertised Museum.  Although the Library is open to anyone interested in the history of science and human health, only academics specialising in one of the disciplines represented by the library’s holdings are currently frequenting the premises. In an article from 2011, the Library staff and director concluded that the library and its archive “remain underutilized”, not only by the international scholarly community. Potentially daunted by the Hungarian language, few are aware that there are some 1,717 publications in a variety of languages in the ‘collection of rarities’ alone, such as a fifteenth-century astrological-medical text in Latin by an unknown author, a variety of prints in German (a legacy of the Habsburg empire), as well as valuable English, French and Italian editions and manuscripts on science, medicine, philosophy, occultism, witchcraft and theology. A visit is highly recommended.On occasion of our visit, László Magyar, medical historian and director of the Semmelweis Library, had organised a little exhibition of curiosities with a cross section of the juiciest items found in its archives. Among beautifully illustrated prints from the early modern period, ranging from herbalist accounts to treatises on alchemy and anatomy, unusual early modern scientific endeavours were also represented, including a fascinating account of a curious physician who conducted experiments with accused witches to test their ability to fly whilst being locked up in barrels. The test subjects, having swallowed their customary potions beforehand, did indeed emerge from the barrel with a report of a journey through the air, which led the scientifically-minded physician to conclude that the witches’ journeys were spiritual ones – possibly induced by drugs – rather than actual flight. It should also be noted that, next to being a passionate archivist, László Magyar happens to be an expert on the history and theory of Vampirism; a like-minded researcher can therefore be assured to find a variety of sources on the subject in the Semmelweis Library.

 

Further information

http://www.semmelweis.museum.hu/index_en.html

Katalin Kapronczay, László Magyar, Constance E. Putnam, ‘The Library of the Royal Society of Physicians in Budapest becomes today’s Semmelweis Medical History Library’, Journal of the Medical Library Association 99 (1), Jan. 2011, 31-39.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016667/

Based on an interesting project related to the library, one can also find a list of digitalized medical dissertations from 1729 to 1848. http://www.orvostortenet.hu/disszertaciok/?page=4&type=2

The Anatomical-Pathological Collections at the Semmelweis Medical University, Budapest

In the wake of Enlightenment medical reforms initiated by Habsburg’s Empress Maria Theresa, Hungary’s first Faculty of Medicine at the University of Trnava also received a Department of Anatomy in 1769. Although the department frequently changed names and location (it is now the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology at the Semmelweis Medical University in Budapest), it has maintained its legal continuity ever since its foundation. The building that now houses the department’s historical anatomical-pathological collection was constructed between 1897 and 1898 and was then renowned as the most modern Anatomy hub of its day.

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As with all historical collections, the one on display in the Anatomy Museum tells several stories: of old ways of doing anatomy and new reforms, of passionate physicians and victims of gruesome diseases, of quests for knowledge and an obsession with the weird and wonderful among nature’s creations.

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József Lenhossék, head of the Anatomy department in 1859, modernised the department’s teaching and research and laid down the foundation of today’s Museum of Anatomy. Like Florence and Vienna, it once owned a series of beautifully made anatomical and surgical wax models, which had been donated to the university by Joseph II in the late eighteenth century. Unfortunately, the majority of these were destroyed during the siege of Budapest in the winter of 1944-45; but a few have survived and are now on display in Semmelweis’ birth house, the Museum of the History of Medicine. The Anatomy Museum still holds Lenhossék’s preparations, in particular those showing the vascular and central nervous system, as well as a number of objects from the private collection of an eccentric dentist named József Iszlai who fell victim to the late-nineteenth-century craze for ‘Dental Anthropology’, becoming the most ardent and passionate collector of skulls and teeth. He donated his dental preparations and skull collection (deemed ‘world famous’ by the Hungarian founder of paleostomatology György Huszár) to the university in 1902.

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Today, the museum’s overall collection further benefits from an annual competition amongst medical students preparing new objects, which adds an average of 4-5 items to the collection each year. This, and the fact that the collection is still used to teach medical students the art of anatomy, is rather unique: old objects and new ones are not strictly separated as the past and the present usually is, but live side by side, serving the same educational purpose as the very first anatomical-pathological objects collected for the museum. The wooden shelves holding row upon row of pathological objects in formaldehyde-filled glass jars still convey the former grandeur and the excitement pertaining to the growing field of anatomy and pathology in the nineteenth century, and modern-day students continue to handle these objects with the same fascination as their forebears.

Brains, Guts and Bones: objects from the annual student competition at the Museum for Anatomy.  All images courtesy of the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology, Semmelweis University, Budapest.

Brains, Guts and Bones: objects from the annual student competition at the Museum for Anatomy. All images courtesy of the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology, Semmelweis University, Budapest.

On our visit, we got an exclusive tour of the collection, together with the history of Anatomy buildings before and after WWII, from László Molnár, head of the Archives of the Semmelweis Medical University. As the museum serves primarily educational purposes, only students of the medical faculty can use the museum throughout the year (they can even borrow plastinated preparations). The public can visit only by appointment (to be booked via email: vidravera@freemail.hu) from mid-October to the end of November and from the beginning of February until the end of April. The Anatomy museum is certainly worth a visit, not only for historians of medicine!

– Stephanie Eichberg, UCL Science and Technology Studies, London
– Katalin Pataki, History of Medicine, Central European University, Budapest

Address: Anatomy Museum, Semmelweis Medical University Budapest, Tűzoltó utca 58

Further information

Regarding the history of the Anatomical Institution and of the University, Miklós Réthelyi (rethelyi@ana.sote.hu) and Géza Tótpál (totpal@ana.sote.hu) can be contacted (also in foreign languguages).

On the beginnings of Dental Anthropology and Paleostomatology in Hungary: http://www2.sci.u-szeged.hu/ABS/Acta%20HP/44-109.pdf

Images of anatomical-pathological preparations of the annual Géza Mihalkovics – student competition: http://www.ana.sote.hu/galeriak/mih2009/mihd2009-kep.htm#3

 

 

Museum of Ethnography in Budapest

The Museum of Ethnography in Budapest (the Néprajzi Múzeumin Hungarian), founded in 1872, is housed in a stunningly beautiful building in Kossuth Square, across from the Hungarian Parliament. It was built by the Austro-Hungarian professor and member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Alajos Hauszmann, and historians of science and medicine are likely to find quite a few gems among its vast collection of artefacts related to Hungarian, European, Oceanian and African folk culture. The Hungarian folk objects on display date from the 19th century up until World War II and comprise costumes, pottery, furniture, masks and magical objects.

The entrance hall to the Museum of Ethnography, Budapest. By Jean-Pierre Dalbera. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. Unported license.

The entrance hall to the Museum of Ethnography, Budapest. By Jean-Pierre Dalbera. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. Unported license.

Although foreign-language audio tour guides are available, the Ethnography Museum in Budapest is not (yet) the professionally commercialised venue you will find in other European countries.  The beauty of that is that the objects and their history speak for themselves and are not overburdened by historians’ interpretations.  The downside is that the experts behind the scenes remain somewhat hidden. So, if you are interested in particular aspects or objects of the museum, it might well be worth to get in touch with the people at the museum before your visit.

With the help of our Budapest tour guide and translator Ádám Mézes, a PhD in History of Medicine at the Central European University, we managed to arrange a meeting with Erika Koltay, an in-house expert on folk objects related to health and disease, who is well versed in some curious strands of Hungarian popular medicine with deep roots in the past. Traces of it are still found in cultural practices in rural villages in Hungary and Transylvania that she regularly visits to preserve the knowledge and related objects for the museum. A baked ring of bread (with flour provided by 9 different people in the village), for example, was/is used for a symbolic rebirth ritual in which a newborn infant is pushed through the ring to ‘clean’ it from potential future illnesses. To ‘throw out the baby with the bathwater’, to cite another example, used to contain a literal threat in Hungary: throwing out your baby’s bathwater after sundown meant an open invitation to witches to use said bathwater to harm or get hold of the child.

Erika Koltay, Ethnography Museum, showing a bread ring to  our UCL History of Medicine IBSc students.  By Carole Reeves.

Erika Koltay, Ethnography Museum, showing a bread ring to our UCL History of Medicine IBSc students. By Carole Reeves.

Some claim that these types of ‘contact magic’, based on the theory of sympathy, were introduced by Paracelsus whose wanderings brought him to Hungary in the early sixteenth-century,  but the rituals are in fact much older. What is more interesting, although the original magical knowledge on which many such everyday cultural rituals are based has been largely forgotten by the majority of Hungarians, they are – albeit in a weaker form – strangely persistent in modern-day Hungarian society: hair and nail clippings are still thrown into the fire lest they be used by someone else for harmful magic against you, and wooden dolls to ‘take off’ the illness are still to be found in some rural households. Not to mention that there are still a few wise women in rural areas practising magical healing.

Objects in the Museum of Ethnography, Budapest. By Jean-Pierre Dalbera. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. Unported  license.

Objects in the Museum of Ethnography, Budapest. By Jean-Pierre Dalbera. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. Unported license.

Magic and folk traditions may appear contrary to science, but they also reveal knowledge that is making sense of the world just as science is. Even today, Hungarians appear to be more open to alternative medicine than in many other European countries; for some, scientific medicine and folk traditions often live side by side, complementing rather than opposing each other. Hence, learning about the history of cultural objects as found in the Museum of Ethnography is to glimpse a different way of understanding body and mind, health and disease.

 

 

Address: 1055 Budapest, Kossuth Lajos tér 12.

Website: http://www.neprajz.hu/

Useful Links: http://www.folklore.ee/rl/pubte/ee/usund/ingl/hoppal.html

Further reading:

Erika Koltay, ‘History of Alternative Medicine in Hungary in 19th and Early 20th Century’, Comm. de Hist. Artis Med. 188-189 (2004), 57-68

Peter Babulka, Centuries of the Traditional Medicine in Hungary (accompanying text to the Millenial exhibition organized by P. Babulka, 2000) http://web.axelero.hu/golyahir/exhibition

Map:

 

The Museum for Contraception and Abortion, Vienna

Historians of medicine and science are most likely aware of Vienna’s Josephinum, the Fool’s Tower, the Sigmund Freud Museum and potentially even the history of medicine-themed sightseeing tours that are offered in the city – all of which are testimony to the fact that Vienna knows how to capitalise its rich medical legacy. There is one museum, however, which is seldom openly advertised, despite or potentially because of its eye-opening and contentious subject matter: the Museum for Contraception and Abortion.

Figure 1: The Frog Test, a biological indicator for pregnancy used until the 1970s.

Figure 1: The Frog Test, a biological indicator for pregnancy used until the 1970s.

 

Figure 2: A domestic scene from the museum with tell-tale kitchen table.

Figure 2: A domestic scene from the museum with tell-tale kitchen table.

Being probably the only one of its kind worldwide, it is unique in tackling a topic heads on that at best divides opinions, at worst sparks violence, but in any case forces the visitor to place related arguments into a much larger context. Since debates on abortion and contraception tend to focus mostly on the life and death of the unborn, the museum extends this focal point by looking at the historical, political, international, cultural, and domestic contexts in which contraception and abortion have taken place until the present day. It shows unflinchingly what women throughout history have done to their bodies to end unwanted pregnancies, and what happens in societies in which abortion is made legal or illegal (a whole map, for example, features the development of so-called ‘abortion tourism’). The museum also provides an interesting historical overview on the use of contraception, from the earliest recorded in ancient Egypt to the introduction of the pill in the 1960s, and modern ‘vasectomy lotteries’ in third-world countries. One can browse through abstracts of hundreds of novels that dramatise contraception or abortion since the 18th century, and short films from the 1920s to the present day are used to illustrate the development of attitudes towards sexuality and procreation (interestingly, the 1920s appear more progressive in this respect than our modern attitudes).

Figure 3: An advertisement for the ‘Schallwäscher’, a precursor of washing machines invented by Bosch; it was taken off the market when it was found out that women applied the electrical device to their pregnant bellies in order to abort. The caption reads ‘Useful in every household’…

Figure 3: An advertisement for the ‘Schallwäscher’, a precursor of washing machines invented by Bosch; it was taken off the market when it was found out that women applied the electrical device to their pregnant bellies in order to abort. The caption reads ‘Useful in every household’…

Figure 4: Another Advertisement with the caption ‘This will make her happy’.

Figure 4: Another Advertisement with the caption ‘This will make her happy’.

 


The most harrowing part of the museum is a corner set up as a domestic kitchen scene, containing the tell-tale kitchen table on which many illegal abortions took (or still take) place. Next to this table a visitor will find a strange-looking electrical device which turns out to be the latest invention by the household company Bosch in the 1950s. A precursor of the modern washing machine, called ‘Schallwäscher’, its electrical vibrations were meant to help housewives do the laundry more easily. Bosch, however, was eventually forced to take this device off the market when it turned out that desperate pregnant women would apply, what was lovingly called the ‘Waschbär’, to their bellies, causing internal bleeding. What sent an additional chill down our spines was an original 1950’s advertising brochure for the Schallwäscher, casually placed on the kitchen table, which depicted a husband carrying the device and other wrapped-up Christmas presents – the caption stating that “This will make
her happy”…

Visiting this museum was certainly a highlight, albeit a chilling one, because it made us aware of the vast political and social implications of attitudes towards birth control. That contraception and abortion can be politically instrumentalised with devastating consequences is, for example, shown in the recent book by Mara Hvistendahl (Unnatural selection, 2011) on population control programmes in the developing world, including forced abortion and gender selection. In any way, in this museum, contraception and abortion are elevated to topics that infuse the historical and cultural matrix of countries worldwide, which makes the visitor see more than one side of concurrent debates.

Figure 5: The pill that changed the world. (All images in this article courtesy of MUVS, Vienna)

Figure 5: The pill that changed the world. (All images in this article courtesy of MUVS, Vienna)

Address: Mariahilfer Gürtel 37, 1150 Vienna, Austria

Website: http://en.muvs.org/

Useful Links: https://www.facebook.com/eMUVS

Map: