Chemical and Physical Biology

CPB integrates the life and physical sciences. Houghton’s material on the concentration has a heavy historical undertone—one, however, that is necessary for a science so dependent on its past. Items in the collection, which is surprisingly interdisciplinary, show students the importance of assessing a problem through a variety of disciplinary lenses, which is one of the main objectives of the field.

Students coming to Houghton can, for instance, peruse a 1430 manuscript copy of pharmacological suggestions by Hippocrates (MS Fr 124, 009180489). At the same time, they can page through a contemporary edition of Andreas Vesalius’ Anatomes Totivs (Typ 515.65.868, 007231964), a volume that changed the manner humans understand their own bodies. They also have access to a 1665 edition of Micrographia (EC65 H7636 665m [A], 002386418, above), Robert Hooke’s masterpiece. Finally, they can read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Naturalist journal (MS Am 1280H [99], 008290191), where the writer kept extensive handwritten annotations about multiple science disciplines, including zoology, conchology, botany, chemistry, optics, mineralogy, and astronomy.

The study of biology, especially through a physico-chemical lens, is deeply tied to the study of medicine and human health, and Houghton has a variety of historical sources on the science of healing. Works such as Tractatus Quinque Medico-Physici (Chem 367.3*, 006137118) and Opusculum Chymico-Physico-Medicum (Chem 373.1.5, 003658899), which can both be studied in conjunction with the Classics, are a testament to the interdisciplinary approach taken to biology and medicine before highly specialized scientific fields came to be, and tracts such as The Family Physician, and the House Apothecary (Med 258.47.5*, 005712629) are excellent sources on domestic medicine and pharmacology.

Houghton also contains more peculiar materials concerning biology, chemistry, and physics. The library, for examples, owns an eighteenth-century French treatise about the use of narcotics as medicine (Med 258.30.5*, 005225910), which is an interesting point of comparison to current studies on medical marijuana and the like; a volume about the hot springs of Scarborough in Yorkshire, England, and their curative powers and physico-chemical characteristics (Med 1876.69*, 007005035); and even a copy of Discourses on Tea, Sugar, Milk, Made-Wines, Spirits, Punch, Tobacco, &c.: With Plain and Useful Rules for Gouty People (Med 269.18*, 001798118), which, if not useful, should be an interesting read.

Finally, material about diseases, some of which are still prevalent today, is surprisingly ubiquitous at Houghton. Some of the items to which students have access include A Discourse on the Small-Pox and Measles (Med 263.15.3*, 006078020), a 1763 volume on the subject, accompanied by a tract demonizing vaccination against the disease as “unlawful” (Med 1857.21.2*, 007256720); Great Venus Unmasked (Med 1759.3.70*, 005712536), about venereal diseases; The War against Malaria (Med 1749.15*, 006168095), a 1923 pamphlet about the still incurable malady; and A Treatise on Epidemic Cholera (Med 1734.9*, 004808234), written after a 1834 epidemic of the disease in a New York hospital.