9º Congreso Mundial de Información en Salud y Bibliotecas

Salvador, Bahia - Brasil, 20 a 23 de septiembre de 2005


4a. Reunión de Coordinación Regional de la BVS

19 y 20 de septiembre de 2005

An Odyssey of Knowledge: Medieval Manuscripts and Early Printed Books from the

An exhibition produced by the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, USA
Visiting Curator: Alain Touwaide, Ph.D., Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA

Medicine in the Old World arose from many components: the classical Greek tradition, its Christian re-elaboration, the contributions of the Arabic World, and the unique medieval synthesis of them all. By examining significant pages and illuminations from manuscripts and early printed books of the National Library of Medicine, one can see how these cultures contributed to the creation of medical knowledge in Europe. We thus see that modern medicine is truly international in its origins.

The selected pages displayed in this exhibition illustrate an odyssey through time and space, as medical knowledge moved around and across the Mediterranean Sea. Mare nostrum—Our Sea—divided societies into several groups, but it could be crossed, making cultural contact, trade, and the exchange of ideas possible.

The exhibition examines how medical science took root in Southern Europe, was absorbed and modified by local medical practice and knowledge, and spread into the hinterland and beyond. It shows how European medicine is the result of the confluence of different streams of thoughts—from classical antiquity to pre-modern science, from Greece to Western Europe, and from discoveries based on reason to those rooted in tradition and experience.

Comprised of ten posters featuring 21 medieval manuscripts and five early printed texts, An Odyssey of Knowledge displays some of the most prized items held by the National Library of Medicine. It gives viewers a rare look at texts that are normally kept under lock and key, containing medical knowledge which spans over two millennia.

An Odyssey of Knowledge was created for the International Society for the History of Medicine’s 39th International Congress on the History of Medicine, held from in August 2004, in Bari, Italy. It was also displayed at the National Library of Rome from September 2004–January 2005. It is currently scheduled to be displayed at the 4th International Conference of Ethnobotany this August in Istanbul.


Donald A.B. Lindberg, M.D.
National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA

Elizabeth Fee, Ph.D.
Project Director
National Library of Medicine

Patricia Tuohy
Head, Exhibition Program
National Library of Medicine

Alain Touwaide, Ph.D.
Visiting Curator
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA

Kevin Schlesier
Exhibition Coordinator
National Library of Medicine

Michael North
Head of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts
National Library of Medicine

Carol Clausen
Cataloger, Conservation
National Library of Medicine

Belle Waring
Prints and Photographs Technician
National Library of Medicine

Rachel-Ray Cleveland
Cleveland Conservation of Art on Paper, Inc.
Beltsville, MD, USA

Riggs Ward Design
Exhibition and graphic design
Richmond, VA, USA