New Collection Focuses on History of Psychiatry

Becker Medical Library’s Archives and Rare Books Division is delighted to announce that it has acquired an exceptional new collection of rare medical texts, generously donated by Patricia Croughan. The collection was assembled by her late husband, Jack Croughan, MD, a former chief resident and assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. It is an outstanding addition to the library’s existing holdings.

Philippe Pinel’s “Traité Médico-Philosophique sur l’aliénation mentale ou la manie” (Paris: 1801)

The Croughan donation consists of more than five hundred monographs that date from the 1500s to the 20th century. The majority of the collection focuses on the history of psychiatry, especially in 19th-century France, and complements the H. Richard Tyler Collection of the American Academy of Neurology Library. Along with other key texts, the donation includes a copy of Philippe Pinel’s “Traité Médico-Philosophique sur l’aliénation mentale ou la manie” (Paris: 1801), a foundational work in the psychiatric field. In addition to improving the living conditions of the mental illness patients at Parisian hospitals, Pinel wanted to establish psychiatry as a scientific field. To that end, he refined the existing classifications of mental illness, rejected possession or sorcery as causes of mental illness, and pioneered individual psychotherapy as a method of treatment.

The donation also contains works in the fields of anatomy and surgery. One of the most spectacular of these is a 1676 edition of the “Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire naturelle des animaux.” This beautiful volume documents the anatomical investigations carried out by the French Academy of Sciences under the direction of Claude Perrault. Its twenty-nine full-page copperplate engravings depict the anatomy of a variety of animals, including a shark, a lion, a beaver, and an ostrich; many of which were a part of the royal menagerie at Versailles. The frontispiece itself shows an imagined scene of King Louis XIV and his Minister of Finances, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, visiting the site of the academy. The scientific artifacts scattered throughout the room – distillation equipment, an armillary sphere, a human skeleton – all serve as visual markers for the society’s works. If you look closely at the right side of the page, you can even spot a page from the Mémoires itself, with the distinctive layout of the organs at the top of the page and a depiction of the live animal on the bottom.

A work of general medical interest that arrived with the donation is John Coakley Lettsom’s “The Natural History of the Tea Tree,” published in 1772. This slim publication not only describes how tea trees are grown and tea is prepared but discusses tea drinking from a medical standpoint. Somewhat humorously (to modern audiences, at least), Lettsom also comments on the financial dangers of tea drinking – according to Lettsom, families eager to imitate the wealthy by indulging in the luxury of tea were “inconsiderately deprived of the means to purchase proper wholesome food for themselves and their families.”

John Coakley Lettsom’s “The Natural History of the Tea Tree”

Becker Library has been able to assemble its rare book holdings thanks to the generosity of its donors. We are deeply grateful to Patrician Croughan for her wonderful gift and look forward to sharing it with our visitors.