The official project for which I was recently hired as the “project archivist” is to consolidate (and often create) metadata for our visual collections and make finding aids for them in our database. So I started with VC001 (i.e. “visual collection No. 1”) and have been going from there! Essentially, a lot of what I’ve been doing is rediscovering stuff that’s been languishing in the stacks for a long time, like our pharmaceutical collections.
When I got to VC191, it was stereographs. In total, I found four editions of the “Stereoscopic Studies of Anatomy,” a two-volume edition titled “Stereoscopic Studies of the Pathological Anatomy of the Eye,” plus three stereoscopic viewers. All needed to be newly cataloged as we only had partial records of even acquiring them.
Stereographs, also known as stereograms, stereopticans, or stereo views, simulate a three-dimensional image. Two images, representing left-eye and right-eye views of the same object, are presented in a special viewer called a stereoscope so that each eye sees only the appropriate image. An illusion of depth is created by this binocular view.
Early stereographs used drawing and illustrations. Stereography utilizing photography dates from the early 1850s. The physician, author and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes invented an affordable stereoscope, known as the “American stereoscope” or the “Holmes stereoscope,” around 1860. He wrote in the June 1859 edition of Atlantic Monthly, “[T]he first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out. The elbow of a figure stands forth as to make us uncomfortable.”
The stereographs in our collection were designed to be a teaching aid for students of anatomy and were a popular resource for medical schools in the early 20th century. They depict specimens carefully dissected and labeled to show the various points of anatomy. Corresponding descriptions are printed above the images.
Selections from the “Stereoscopic Studies of Anatomy” atlas, first published in 1905, are now on display in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center through the first week of March. The complete atlas contains 250 stereoscopic views of the various parts of the human body, including the head and brain, the heart and pericardium, the mediastina and lungs, and the temporal bone and inner ear. Stop by the hearth area on the second floor of FLTC and check out the display!