Treasures from the Rare Book Room: A Unique Portuguese Thesis on Hernia

Excerpt from Thése sobre a hernia inguinalAmong the many rare books donated by the family of Dr. Mark Ravitch, is a handwritten thesis on inguinal hernia. Its author, Joaquim Antonio dos Prazeres-Batalhoz, was a Portuguese naval surgeon and one of the first graduates of the Royal Surgical School in Lisbon. When the Régia Escola de Cirurgia de Lisboa opened in 1825 to educate surgeons, the school was associated with the Hospital de São José. It offered courses in seven subjects over a five-year period, but could not award medical degrees due to an insufficient curriculum. However, its graduates could practice medicine in places where there were no physicians that were educated at the University of Coimbra (the oldest university in Portugal with full privileges).

Students at the Régia Escola de Cirurgia de Lisboa had to pass exams in all subjects in order to graduate and they were required to take a three-day test: first, students defended a thesis on a surgical subject of their choice; next, they were examined in a surgical clinical setting; and finally, they had to pass a medical clinic examination. All submitted theses were manuscripts. In 1836, some of the manuscripts were published, although it was not required until 1869. Consequently, early theses are very rare. Batalhoz’s thesis is a unique manuscript written in 1827, the second year of the School’s existence. It consists of four chapters discussing, in sequence: (1) the anatomy of the body areas where inguinal hernias form; (2) the definition of inguinal hernia, its division, nomenclature, and formation; (3) the diagnosis of inguinal hernia; and (4) the treatment of inguinal hernia. The author refers to his predecessors and contemporaries, showing familiarity with foreign writings. The manuscript has sporadic crossed-out words and corrections to the main text, as well as marginal notes, but otherwise it is a very neat and clean copy written on Gior Magnani paper. A modern binder misspelled the author’s name as Ratalhoz and took the liberty to interleave the shorter pages with additions (originally glued to the page it followed) between the numbered pages.

Thése sobre a hernia inguinal can be viewed in the Rare Book Room by appointment.

~Gosia Fort