History of Medicine Displays on View at Falk Library

Two new displays from the History of Medicine are welcoming visitors to Falk Library during the fall of 2023: an architectural history of the School of Medicine and an exploration of the history and collections of Nicolaus Copernicus.

The display case on the lower level of library includes photographs and prints from our special collections illustrating the architectural journey of the School of Medicine (SOM). It is a capsule history of SOM, beginning with the first building on the corner of Brereton Avenue and 30th Street, erected for the Western Pennsylvania Medical College in 1886. Next came Pennsylvania Hall (built in 1910), the first site of SOM as part of the University of Pittsburgh and its Oakland campus. Then on to Alan Magee Scaife Hall (completed in 1956), the current home of the School of Medicine and its newest addition, the West Wing.

Two display cases on the mezzanine level of the library are devoted to the famous Polish astronomer and author of heliocentric theory, Nicolaus Copernicus. This year marks 550 years since his birth, which the library is celebrating with this small tribute. Our display combines materials on loan from a private collection with books from the HSLS collection. It focuses on lesser-known areas of his career, including his achievements in economics and his medical library.

The first of our Copernicus displays focuses on  his work in economics. In 1517, Nicolaus Copernicus wrote the earliest version of his work “On the value of coin” (De aestimatione monetae), in which he discussed general issues related to the theory of money and formulated the idea that bad money is driving out the good. This economic law later became known as the Gresham Law, named after the English financier Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), who arrived at the same conclusion and significantly furthered the advancement of economics. However, when Copernicus wrote his work, Gresham had not yet been born. Therefore, some contemporary historians of economics refer to the theory of bad money as the Law of Copernicus-Gresham to give credit to both thinkers.

The second display case highlights the medical library of Nicolaus Copernicus since he was also a practicing physician. Medicine was the second-most-represented subject among his books, after astronomy. His medical career is hinted at by the facsimiles of medical books that were part of his private library. The highlight of our display is the 1944 facsimile edition of the manuscript of his seminal work on heliocentric theory, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium.” The original manuscript of this work is held in Krakow, Poland, so the facsimile provides a unique opportunity to see the famous work in the author’s own handwriting.

Visit Falk Library during open hours to view the exhibits.

~Małgorzata Fort