Much like Chemical and Physical Biology, Biomedical Engineering is an amalgamation of sciences—an intellectual potpourri seeking to prepare students for graduate studies in medicine and bioengineering. As a result, it draws on material from various other concentrations, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, and the other life sciences. Much like other engineering fields, however, Biomedical Engineering is characterized by a constant flux of technology, a process of permanent progress that makes it hard for any library to keep up with the constant heaps of new information. Houghton’s challenge, in this light, is even greater, but the library’s archive grows with each passing year, and its scientific collection can support research in the various fields that compose Biomedical Engineering. Though students might not find the newest material about the concentration at Houghton, they will find more than enough historical material related to the life sciences, chemistry, physics, and the medical sciences.
To observe the extent to which medicine has evolved through the centuries, students can begin with Recueil de Remèdes (MS Fr 124, 009180489), a 1430 French manuscript detailing some of Hippocrates’ remedies—a portrait of the state of pharmacy at the end of the Middle Ages. They can also peruse two of the most important anatomical treatises of all time: Andreas Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Typ 565.43.869, 006570696), which redefined the history of anatomy, debunking some of the medical mistakes perpetuated during the Middle Ages through the study of Galen; and Anatomes Totivs (Typ 515.65.868, 007231964), a later simplification of his 1543 masterpiece. Another anatomical volume of interest is a 1616 edition of Helkiah Crooke’s Mikrokosmographia (Typ 605.16.734, 009641364, above). Crooke was physician to King James I of England; Houghton’s copy of this treatise belonged to William Jaggard, another of Crooke’s customers who is famous for printing William Shakespeare’s First Folio.
Continuing along the timeline, Houghton holds many more early modern scientific treatises. Among the most interesting are A Compleat History of Drugs (Med 266.20.3*, 001777206), a 1725 compendium of plants, roots, minerals, and animals with accompanying plates that, if not accurate, are at least entertaining. These include very inaccurate representations of whales but also striking depictions of tobacco and sugar plantations in the New World. Other fascinating tracts include volumes recommending the treatment of maladies with psychotropics such as opium (Med 258.30.5*, 005225910); two treatises, one in English (Med 258.47.5*, 005712629) and one in Latin (Med 252.35*, 004500883), about domestic medicine; and a 1669 assessment of the physical, chemical, and medical properties of the thermal waters of Scarborough, in Yorkshire (Med 1876.69*, 007005035).
The library also has items concerning epidemiology and public health in its archives, which might not be of direct aid to biomedical engineers but that can certainly shed light on medical problems that have been faced before. The library contains a large collection about smallpox and a Treatise on Epidemic Cholera (Med 1734.9*, 004808234) based on a New York 1834 outburst of the disease. It also owns an 1812 copy of the Internal Health Regulations of the Town of Boston (Med 4272.1.9*, 004117857) and a 1871 Report of the Board of Health of the City of Chicago (Eng 1108.55*, 004934940).
To end on a modern note, Houghton holds W. V. Quine’s copy of D. C. Dennett’s paper “The Practical Requirements for Making a Conscious Robot” (MS Am 2587 , 008937558), a 1994 essay that tackles more modern questions about engineering a body from a philosophical point of view.