Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Looking at American Pathology During Times of War

At times seemingly innocuous publications from the Federal Depository Program reveal interesting and underlooked segments in America history, and can lead to the discovery of even more interesting materials within the larger collection. One such case comes from the U.S. Army Medical Center, which released this month the book, "Legacy of Excellence," a review of the 150-year history of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

Legacy of Excellence -- in print only. SuDoc #:D 101.2:AR 5/104

The Institute of Pathology began in 1862 as the Army Medical Museum, established by Brigadeer General WIlliam Hammond to "collect and properly catalog all specimens of morbid anatomy, both medical and surgical." Originally located in Hammond's Washington D.C. office, the museum relocated several times -- including, in 1866, one year after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, to Ford's Theater -- while struggling with funding and recognition from both the Army and Congress.

By 1876, the collection held 6,539 specimens illustrating wounds and diseases produced during military service to the United States. Specimens include the usual archival items such as documents and photographs, but involve the unexpected as well: body casts to show specific wounds from different types of bullets, the bullets themselves, preserved limbs and bones from amputations, the skeletal remains of animals, and "wet" specimens of organs and tissues saved from military surgeries.

Images in the book highlight "wet" and "dry" specimens.

The material collected during the Civil War was used to create the multi-volume set, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. This is a massive, 6,000 page set that provides a statistical compilation of the types of injuries a doctor might have expected to see during the Civil War, and their treatment.

Illustration from The Medical and Surgical History showing "excisions of the elbow joint for shot injury."

It's here where an extensive Federal Depository collection can reveal a depth of information to those interested in a particular topic. Living on the shelves near The Medical and Surgical History are a number of other related materials from the War Department (now known as the Department of Defense):

Defects Found in Drafted Men is a First World War-era set compiled from 1917-18 draft records that details by defect, disease, U.S. state, and urban and rural location, just under 2 million American males, aged 18-30.

A Report of Surgical Cases Treated in the Army of the United States from 1865 to 1871 is just that: a case-by-case description of surgeries performed on soldiers for the five-year period following the American Civil War. These surgeries are organized by area of the body and include descriptions of military suicides.

Mention of a Sword Wound to the Eye, from A Report of Surgical Cases (1871).

The Manual of Neuro-Surgery (1919) advised War-time surgeons on brain anatomy and physiology, the central nervous system, as well as details on head injuries and their repair.

Illustration from surgery to alleviate a suboccipital herniation.

Taken as a whole, these materials reveal the ongoing history of medical pathology in the U.S., and detail -- as is often the case in American history -- how the U.S. military turns its need to support and track the effective performance of American soldiers into benefits that expand outward to American civilian life.

Needless to say, U.S. Government Documents about pathology in general extended well outside the military realm. From the Department of Justice, for example, patrons see guidebooks like Forensic Pathology: A Handbook for Pathologists and the Crime Scene Search and Physical Evidence Handbook. There are books on autopsies, dealing with "mass fatality events," and annuals on the health and effectiveness of troops over time.

The soldier's experience informs innumerable aspects of American life.
For future medical students, patrons interested in military history, or those curious about the richly documented history of the American Civil War, titles like Legacy of Excellence and those above provide a fascinating and intensely vivid look into the medical profession as it benefits -- and has benefited from -- the American military experience.

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