American Civil War Histories

Description of the Battle of Fort Sumter from <a href=

In today’s culture we may be far more preoccupied with Marvel’s Civil War than with our own history. It is easy to forget how relatively recently our country underwent the traumatic internal strife which set brother against brother in a conflict which would have lasting consequences to this day. In the interest of decoding the event and it’s more immediate consequences, the Burns Library holds several historical texts dated to the last days and early aftermath of the American Civil War. These texts not only provide a fascinating and detailed exploration of the events, but also prove interesting to those interested in the cultural history of reactions to the Civil War. Through them, one gains a fertile starting point for a study of changing views of the war over time.

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Of particular interest is Benson J. Lossing’s Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America, published in 1866. In it, the author compiles elaborate historical reports of the events of the war, taken from interviews with individuals at the forefront of said events. He juxtaposes these descriptions with illustrated sketches of his subjects and maps taken from magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, whose reporters accompanied the military on the front lines. Part of a three volume set, a physical copy of the first volume can be found at Burns, while the other two volumes exist in digitized format in our online collection. This first volume details events from 1860 to the Battle of Bull’s Run.

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Another intriguing volume is Life and Death in Rebel Prisons by Robert H. Kellogg. Published in 1865, Kellogg relates his personal experiences being held as a captive in a southern prison camp, as well as tales collected from other camp survivors.  The unique subject matter of the text provides a fascinating area of study. The book, at the time of its publication, saw relatively small circulation, being sold by traveling agents of the publisher, L. Stebbins, exclusively. This is a shame, as perhaps a wider initial circulation may have produced more public interest in this oft overlooked aspect of the war.

Books like these shed some light on the American Civil War and the public reaction to its ending. In addition, the Burns Library owns the letters of Michael H. Leary, an Irish American from Boston, Massachusetts and soldier in Union Army during the Civil War. The Leary Letters have been digitized and are available at

If you have further questions or would like to look at these books, then please contact the John J. Burns Library at (617)-552-4861 or

  • Zach Weinsteiger, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & M.A. Student in the English Department
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Boston Aid Societies Collection

From left to right, “The Boston Floating Hospital, 1905", "“The open air ward", and "How to sterilize, demonstration to the mothers" from <a href=";vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21440182180001021"><i>The Boston Floating Hospital: Organized July 1, 1894</i></a> and <a href=";vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21440155250001021"><i>Twelfth Annual Report of the Boston Floating Hospital</i></a>, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

From left to right, “The Boston Floating Hospital, 1905″, ““The open air ward”, and “How to sterilize, demonstration to the mothers” from The Boston Floating Hospital: Organized July 1, 1894 and Twelfth Annual Report of the Boston Floating Hospital, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In August 2014, the Burns Library  purchased a large collection of almost one hundred pamphlets, flyers and annual reports from many charitable organizations which served the Boston area in the 1800s and early 1900s. This extensive collection provides a window into Boston life and society one hundred years ago. From these reports and pamphlets, we learn about the large variety of organizations serving the Boston area, the men and women who founded these charities and the people they sought to serve. This collection is a wonderful resource for people seeking to learn more about 19th century Boston society.  Did you know that Boston has a floating hospital? Currently the hospital rests on solid ground, but in the 1800s it really did float. In 1894, a ship was requisitioned to become the Boston Floating Hospital, serving the poor children in Boston. In the hot summer months, this ship would cruise Boston Harbor, and instead of being cooped up in the city, the children could enjoy refreshing sea breezes while receiving quality medical care. Mothers could also attend medical classes. This floating hospital was so successful that in 1905 a larger 170-foot ship was purchased. The Boston Floating Hospital continued to grace our portion of the ocean until 1927 when a fire destroyed the ship. But by then Tufts Medical Center had acquired this floating hospital, and after the fire, they rebuilt the organization on solid ground. Today the Boston Floating Hospital still serves the children of Boston with top pediatric care.

Many other charities, still in operation today, began in the 1800s. Today the City Mission Society of Boston seeks to prevent homelessness, support community and fight for social justice. This wonderful organization has its roots in the Society for the Moral and Religious Instruction of the Poor which was founded in 1816. The society sought to provide educational opportunities to underprivileged children. According to the Third Annual Report , “a great proportion [of children], when first introduced to our Schools, were almost as ignorant, as they were born, of every thing necessary or desirable to be known. Not a few were unable to read – some of whom, but for the organization of this Society, would probably have remained to the present time, and perhaps though life, in this deplorable state.” To ameliorate this problem, the society established many “Sabbath Schools” which educated children in the Christian faith and in basic reading, writing and math.

There are also annual reports from more traditional charities such as hospitals. In 1893 Andrew Carney donated $75,000 to establish Carney Hospital in Dorchester. The hospital doctors performed the first abdominal surgery in the USA. And in the hospital’s annual reports, the student of medical history can find many interesting statistics about the hospital patients and the prevalent diseases of that time. Carney Hospital still exists to this day.

But not all of these charities were started by the wealthy patrons of Boston society. The Children’s Mission to the Children of the Destitute was founded by a child. Fannie Merrill, the daughter of a Unitarian Minister, pitied the poor children around her and gathered pennies from her friends to give to less fortunate children. This kind action grew into the Children’s Mission to the Children of the Destitute. And now over a hundred years after Fannie’s charitable act, the Children’s Mission to the Children of the Destitute still exists today as part of the Home for Little Wanderers.

All of these charities needed money to operate, so fundraising was important. New England Deaconess Hospital, which would later merge with Beth Israel Hospital to form Beth Israel Deaconess, was founded in 1896 and cared for many Boston residents. Twenty-five years after its founding, New England Deaconess sent out a pamphlet calling on the citizens of Boston to support the hospital. Although founded by Methodist deaconesses, New England Deaconess did not turn away any patient of any class or religious creed, so they appealed to all the citizens of Boston, no matter religion, for support.

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Annual report of the Needlewoman’s Friend Society, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

If in 1921, the citizens of Boston had not listened to that appeal, perhaps today Boston would not be home to world-class medical centers.  Most of the societies in the Burns Boston Aid Societies Collection provided either medical, educational or monetary help. But others took a different route. The Needle Woman’s Friend Society was organized in 1847 “for the purpose of giving employment in needlework to poor women” (1st Annual Report). They wanted to provide women with employment, not just charity.  This employment helped many older women, who were unable to do more physically taxing jobs, to earn a living.

These examples are only the beginning of the Burns Library’s Boston Aid Societies Collection. This collection is a wonderful resource for the researcher wishing to learn about the history of charitable societies, the needs of Boston society in the 19th century, or the invaluable patrons of Boston who supported these charities.  In a university that encourages “Men and Women for Others”, it is wonderful to have this extensive collection about the many organizations which served the needs of Boston during the past hundred years.

If you have further questions or would like to do research in the Boston Aid Societies Collection, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or

  • Lydia Murdy, Special Collections Cataloging Assistant, Burns Library
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Bloomsday at the Burns Library

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“In the name of Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities, haloed be her eve, her singtime sung, her rill be run, unhemmed as it is uneven!”

Finnegans Wake, I.5.104

In celebration of Bloomsday, the Burns Library is proud to announce the opening of a new exhibit on James Joyce.  This exhibit is on display in the Burns Library from June 16th through September 12, 2015.

Born in Dublin though seemingly fated never to return, Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (1882 – 1941) attempted to transpose the common life of his native city onto a heroic scale through a series of progressively experimental novels. Frequently autobiographical in content yet mythological in substance, they enthralled readers in Joyce’s personal odyssey while exasperating publishers and provoking censorship.

This exhibition focuses on the publication of three of Joyce’s masterworks: his early short story collection, Dubliners, his epic Ulysses, and his enigmatic Finnegans Wake. It also highlights Boston College’s sustained engagement with Joyce through Professor Joe Nugent’sRaidin the Wake” reading group and student-curated digital projects, including the JoyceWays app, the Digital Dubliners iBook, and the newly launched Dubliners Bookshelf website.

This exhibit is open whenever the Burns Library is open, check our open hours by clicking here.   Happy Bloomsday!

cdupontportraitChristian Dupont, Burns Librarian and                                             Associate University Librarian for Special Collections

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Mystery of Edwin Drood

The cover of the transcript for the London branch of the Dickens Fellowship's mock <a href=";vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21363255440001021"><i>Trial of John Jasper</i></a>, PR 4564 .J3 1914, Irish Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The cover of the transcript for the London branch of the Dickens Fellowship’s mock Trial of John Jasper, PR 4564 .J3 1914, Irish Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is, perhaps, one of the most tantalizing unfinished works of nineteenth-century literature. Then novel began appearing in parts in April 1870, but when Dickens died on June 9, 1870, he had only finished the first six installments of the story. Chapman & Hall continued to publish the rest of the manuscript in its monthly installments after Dickens’s death until the story came to a halt with the mystery of Edwin Drood’s disappearance (or was it murder?) still unsolved. Naturally, there have been many attempts to unravel the mystery ranging from John Forster—Dickens’s friend and biographer—who claimed Dickens had told him the ending of the story, to a medium who wrote an ending purportedly while channeling Dickens’s spirit, to contemporary adaptations such as Drood and The Last Dickens, both published in 2009. In 1914 the London branch of the Dickens Fellowship even put on a mock trial to try John Jasper (Edwin Drood’s uncle and guardian) for the murder of his nephew. The trial pulled its judge and jury from London literary greats including G. K. Chesterton who served as the judge and George Bernard Shaw who served as the foreman of the jury.

The cast for the mock trial, PR 4564 .J3 1914, Irish Collection, John J. Burns Library , Boston College.

The cast for the mock trial, PR 4564 .J3 1914, Irish Collection, John J. Burns Library , Boston College.

Arthur Conan Doyle was also invited to join the proceedings, but declined. The trial ended with the jury convicting Jasper of manslaughter and G. K. Chesterton declaring everyone but himself in contempt of court. A full report of the proceedings can be found at the Burns Library in the Irish collection. The cultural fascination with Dickens’s last unsolved mystery continues today: The Dickens Museum in London has an exhibition titled “A Dickens Whodunit: Solving the Mystery of Edwin Drood“.

Cover of volume one of <a href = ",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21327980300001021"> <i> The Mystery of Edwin Drood</i></a> by Charles Dickens, 04-9187 General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Cover of volume one of The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens, 04-9187 General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

That this 190-page work is the catalyst for continued solutions, adaptations, rewritings, and other manifestations speaks to the popularity of Dickens as well as the importance of stories, especially stories that leave the reader without a satisfactory ending. So what would the experience of reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood have been like for the nineteenth-century reader? While we can’t go back in time to 1870 London to read the novel as it became available in bookstalls, the Burns Library does hold a first edition of the serial version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The novel is part of the library’s General collection and is housed in a protective clamshell box covered in dark green linen. Inside are the six parts of Dickens’s mystery novel. The original green paper covers are intact though the edges show signs of wear and splitting. Each installment of the novel is preceded by the illustrated cover and the “Edwin Drood Advertiser,” a collection of ads offering consumers everything from pianos to waterproofs. Both the cover and the contents of the ads help bibliographers determine which edition the parts are.

The "Cork Hats" advertisement in volmue two of <a href=",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21327980300001021"><i>The Mystery of Edwin Drood</i></a> by Charles Dickens, 04-9187, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The “Cork Hats” advertisement in volmue two of The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens, 04-9187, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

For the most part, the Burns Library copy adheres to the bibliographic points that Thomas Hatton and Arthur H. Cleaver set out in the 1973 edition of their book, A Bibliography of The Periodical Works of Charles Dickens: Bibliographical, Analytical, and Statistical including the presence of a rare advertisement for cork hats in the back of issue No. 2. Printed on a paper-thin sheet of real cork, this elusive advertisement is not usually found intact in first editions of the serial parts. A few discrepancies do exist in the Burns Library copy however, ranging from a missing advertisement for Chapman & Co.’s Patent Prepared Entire Wheat Flour in Part IV, extra inserts at the back of Part V, and incongruous back covers for both Parts I and VI. The parts are slim and about the height of a standard paperback novel. Though the covers have a tendency to flake off into small bits of green paper around the corners, the pamphlets are all in readable condition. An interesting detail to the parts is the fact that several of the small pamphlet-like volumes have a few uncut pages. This may indicate that the parts were never read but the wear to the covers and pages, including a water stain in Part VI, seems to indicate otherwise.

Whatever its history (yet another mystery of this particular edition of the novel, as there is no provenance information in the catalog record), these six paper-covered parts create a far different reading experience than a typical hardback novel. The slimness of each installment, the monthly publication date, and the ever-present advertisements, contribute an immediacy to the reading of the novel: it firmly exists in a particular place and time, in a concrete world of readers, advertisers, and consumers. There is something especially pleasurable in reading a text in its original form undistracted by modern paratexts or editor’s footnotes. The shilling parts also allow for a better understanding of Dickens as a popular author through their casual, affordable formatting. If you would like to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood in its original serial format, please visit the Burns Library Reading Room.  For anyone else who is interested in Dickens, I’ve also written another blog post about the Burns Library’s first edition of A Christmas Carol. If you have further questions, contact the Burns Reading Room at or by phone at (617)-552-4861.

  • Rachel A. Ernst, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & PhD student in the English Department

Works Consulted

Dickens, Charles. The Mystery of Edwin Drood. London: Chapman & Hall, 1870.

Hatton, Thomas & Arthur H. Cleaver. A Bibliography of the Periodical Works of Charles Dickens. New York: Haskell House Publishers, Ltd., 1973.

Trial of John Jasper:Lay Precentor of Cloisterham Cathedral in the Count of Kent for the Murder of Edwin Drood. London: Chapman & Hall, 1914.  

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Lexica Jesuitica: Catechisms and Prayer in a New World

Catechisms and prayer books of North America

Catechisms and prayer books of North America.

The Jesuits call themselves men on the move, a religious society committed to reaching far places and pushing the frontiers of knowledge. Over the centuries, the society has embraced many collectors of words, missionaries and scholars dedicated to putting previously unwritten languages to paper and gathering them for purposes of learning. Some of these books were intended for the reference shelves of universities and libraries. Others were made for the speakers themselves—catechisms and prayer books meant to introduce new ways of thought never before expressed in their speakers’ native tongues.

Among the earliest of such books in the Burns Library collections is the Catecismo de la lengua Guarani (Madrid, 1640). Jesuit labors among the Guarani peoples of Brazil and Argentina remain well known, in part because of the evocative ruins they left behind (known as reductions and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983), and in part because of the award-winning 1986 film, The Mission. But communication was the cornerstone for this work, and this catechism, printed in parallel columns of Guarani and Spanish, was among the foundational documents for this effort. This dual-language religious primer was just as important for Jesuits trying to reach converts in their native tongue as it was for Guarani seeking to learn the Spanish language of the new settlers now living among them.

Catecismo de la lengua guarani (1640), PM6082 .Z77 R85 1640 Jesuitica Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Our Father and Hail Mary, translated by Jesuit missionaries into the Guarani language in one of the earliest catechisms produced for Native American peoples. Catecismo de la lengua guarani (1640), PM6082 .Z77 R85 1640, Jesuitica Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Spanish and Latin American Jesuit lexicographers are especially well represented in the Burns collections, and their catechisms are just as prolific. In addition to the Guarani catechism, the Burns curates a Kiriri (Brazilian) catechism (Lisbon, 1698), a Moxo (Bolivian) dictionary and catechism (Lima, 1701), and a Nahuatl (Mexican) catechism (Mexico, 1758). While the Aztec language of Nahuatl remains an important language among 1.5 million people in Central Mexico, Moxo has all but disappeared as a native tongue. Fewer than 100 monolingual speakers remain in the upper Amazon basin in Brazil. The Moxo catechism in the Burns Library stands as an important witness to this rarified tongue.

Jesuit missions in North America also find a place in the Burns Library. The monument of these efforts was the Jesuit Relations, a selection of letters and notes detailing the accomplishments of French missionaries in what is now Canada and the northern US. These volumes were compiled and published annually between 1632 and 1673, but Jesuit work in the Americas continued long after the Relations ceased. Among the documents that survive from these efforts, the Burns Library preserves a Montagnais (Quebecois) catechism and prayer book (Quebec, 1767), and an Abenaki (Algonquin) prayer book and catechism (New York, 1857), as well as a later Potawatomi (Pottawatomie) catechism (Cincinnati, 1868), and a Kalispel (Salish) catechism (Montana, 1880).

Front Pastedown to a Mantagnais Catechism and Prayer Book (Quebec, 1767)

Front pastedown to a Mantagnais catechism and prayer book, noting its author as Jesuit missionary Fr. Jean-Baptiste de La Brosse. Nehiro-iriniui aiamihe massinahigan (1767), PM1924 .N43 1767, Jesuitica Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Montagnais catechism is especially valuable as the first book published in a First Nations language in Canada. The copy in the Burns library includes a hand-written French inscription on the pastedown: “Book of Prayers for the Indians of Tadoussac. Edited and printed under the care of the Reverend Father de La Brosse, S.J., who has served at this mission.” Fr. Jean-Baptiste de La Brosse was one of the last generation of Jesuits ordained before their suppression in France. By the time suppression was promulgated in 1764, La Brosse was already working as a missionary in the St. Lawrence River valley and estuary.

Canada had recently changed hands from France to Britain as part of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which concluded the French and Indian War. The shift from a Catholic to a Protestant monarch meant that Canadian Jesuits weren’t as rigorously suppressed as they would have been under French rule. La Brosse was able to continue his work as a Jesuit missionary, and Tadoussac, the oldest surviving French settlement in the Americas, was a key outpost of his efforts. In 1767, La Brosse contracted two British Americans who had moved to the Montreal following the transfer to British rule to open Quebec’s first printing press. Together, they published 2,000 prayer books in Montagnais, intended, as La Brosse noted, for “those who know how to read and for those who will learn.”

But these catechisms are not just landmarks of Jesuit history. They also represent efforts to bridge differences between languages. In some cases, these catechisms represent moments of radical compromise. As the Swiss Jesuit Maurice Galliand worked among the Potawatomi peoples, originally from the Midwest but later “removed” to reservations in the Great Plains and elsewhere, he struggled to make basic notions of Christianity comprehensible in the Potawatomi language. At a time when many Americans had adopted intransigent attitudes toward the native peoples, Galliand showed an opposite tact, going so far as to use the Potawatomi words “Owner” and “Great Spirit” for God. Galliand numbered among the many missionaries who saw the need to compromise with the peoples they wished to serve. These efforts changed their target languages—infusing old words with new meanings—and they also created new Christianities—ancient doctrines shoehorned into the cosmologies of new languages.

Potewatemi nemëmiseniükin ipi nemënigamowinin (1868)

Joseph Giorda, SJ, revealed the difficulty of translating Catholic doctrine into Native American languages. Here, his catechism glosses doctrines painstakingly defined in Greek and Latin, asserting that Jesus Christ “our Owner … died as a man, but He did not die as Great Spirit.” Potewatemi nemëmiseniükin ipi nemënigamowinin (1868), PM2191.Z71 C3 1868, Jesuitica Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In other cases, Jesuit catechisms reveal that the difficulties of translation could be insuperable. For example, as U.S. tensions with Native Americans peaked following the Battle of Little Bighorn, an Italian Jesuit named Joseph Giorda undertook an effort to promote a better understanding among the Kalispel Indians of the U.S. northwest. In the catechism that he prepared (Montana, 1880), Giorda similarly adopted the name of an established deity—Kolinzúten—to translate the word God, but other words had proven untranslatable into the Kalispel language. Not only did Giorda follow his missionary predecessors by importing the French “Saint Trinité” for Holy Trinity, but he also resorted to adopting the French-derived word “Person.” His inability to find an appropriate translation for the word “person” is especially revealing that, deeper than the ongoing conflicts over land, there was a fundamental difference in the ways in which indigenous people perceived their identities and their place in the world.

A Catechism of the Christian Doctrine in the Flat-Head or Kalispél Language (1880)

Missionaries occasionally needed to import new words—in this case, “Saint Trinité” and “Person”—as they translated the catechism into languages that promoted a conceptualization of the world incommensurable with the traditions of Christianity. A Catechism of the Christian Doctrine in the Flat-Head or Kalispél Language (1880), 03-18626, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

These volumes and other treasures of the Jesuit past may be found in the Burns Library Jesuitica Collection. To learn more about the Jesuitica Collection at the Burns Library, browse the digitized book and manuscript holdings in the BC Libraries Digital Collections or read about exhibits of the Jesuitica Collection on the Burns exhibits page. If you have further questions or would like to do research in the Jesuitica collection, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or

  • Matthew Delvaux, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Ph.D. Student in the Department of History.
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Cherish the Memory: Conservation at the Burns Library

Christine Spindler surface cleaning historic bindings in the O'Brien Fine Print Room at the Burns Library.

Christine Spindler surface cleaning historic bindings in the O’Brien Fine Print Room at the Burns Library.

In the final semester of my Boston College career, I have had the good fortune of serving as a Conservation Assistant under Barbara Adams Hebard in the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections conservation lab. As an art history major and lifelong lover of books and libraries, working with rare books is like sending a child into a toy store. Every week, I marvel at and handle priceless objects from Boston College’s outstanding collection of rare materials. Barbara has taught me the basic principles of conservation, including the professional standards and regulations guiding conservators and the reverence and delicacy with which rare materials must be treated. My work in the Burns this semester builds on several previous Boston College experiences, including an introduction to conservation class taught by Peabody Essex conservator Mimi Leveque and the first ever “Making History Public” course taught in the John J. Burns Library by Professor Virginia Reinburg. Barbara first sparked my interest in the conservation field when she presented to our “Making History Public” class about her work as a conservator.

Jesuit books drying in the Trustees'/British Catholic Authors Room at the Burns Library.

Jesuit books drying in the Trustees’/British Catholic Authors Room at the Burns Library.

Working with Barbara Adams Hebard has solidified the conservation principles I learned from Mimi Leveque and has helped me put them into practice with the Burns collection I grew to love with Professor Reinburg. This semester, I attended a care and handling of library materials workshop and fire evacuation tour, assisted in emergency response tending to damp Jesuit books, performed a preventive conservation building walk-through, surface cleaned and treated a damaged broadside, constructed a preservation enclosure, produced photo documentation and treatment reports, and administered leather treatment to rare books. I have learned that, although the conservation field requires dexterity and hands on skill at its core, it also involves writing, analysis, and presentation skills, collaborative abilities, genuine personal concern for the well-being of cultural heritage, and a desire to share its importance with current and future generations. Barbara Adams Hebard encapsulates all these qualities and has been a phenomenal mentor and role model. She joyfully shares her vast knowledge with all who are interested, both in the Boston College community and elsewhere.

Professor Virginia Reinburg and her Fall 2012 "Making History Public" class. Christine Spindler is the last student on the right.

Professor Virginia Reinburg and her Fall 2012 “Making History Public” class. Christine Spindler, BC ’15, is the last student on the right.

As a Conservation Assistant, I have treated books that were written, owned, and read centuries ago by Jesuits and other individuals. Traces of their ownership remain in the form of hand-scrawled words hidden in the pages of these books. Conserving the Burns Library materials preserves the memory of those who came before us. Just as we cherish the knowledge the Burns materials hold, so too should we cherish the memory of those who played a part in compiling and passing that knowledge down to us through the written word. My experience at the Burns Library has proved a highlight of my senior year, since it has allowed me to work closely with a precious yet often underappreciated piece of Boston College’s identity. Many Boston College students and community members do not realize the Burns Library and its singular collections exist, but I am delighted to have seen progressively more courses and class trips offered in the Burns over my four years. I hope this trend will continue so that more Boston College students can experience the wealth of learning the Burns Library has to offer.

Christine Spindler treating a leather binding.

Christine Spindler treating a leather binding.

After my graduation, I will spend the summer working as Executive Assistant to Malcolm Rogers, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, until his retirement in July. I aim to pursue a museum career in collections management, exhibitions, or development and look forward to learning about the inner workings of all museum departments during my summer appointment. I hope the position will lead to future opportunities at the Museum of Fine Arts. My experience at the Burns Library will undoubtedly prove invaluable in future museum work. I have learned first-hand the methods and motives involved in preserving cultural heritage; this equips me to further the mission of any museum or cultural institution, whether by managing collections directly or advocating for them in development. I look forward to carrying the skills learned during my college years into a career dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage. Ultimately, I hope to serve an institution that, like Boston College and the Burns Library, shares and empowers people with the gift of knowledge.

  •  Christine Spindler, Burns Library Conservation Assistant & BC ’15


Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Archives Diary, Art at the Burns Library, Conservation, Featured Collections & Books, Jesuitica, Rare books, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Breaking Barriers: The Medical Texts of Nicholas Culpeper

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654)

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) made use of relaxed copyright enforcement and medical regulation during the English Civil War to popularize medical knowledge and facilitate better healthcare for the poor.

Nicholas Culpeper’s Anatomy of the Body of Man, published in 1653, not only contributed to a great leap forward in medical knowledge but was also positioned at the nexus of religious, political, and scientific upheaval in England. Both Culpeper and his publisher Peter Cole were political and religious activists who were influenced by their radical beliefs to create medical texts in the vernacular. They opposed institutions that restricted access to affordable healthcare by closing the gap between highly- and inadequately-trained surgeons, physicians, and apothecaries. Thus Culpeper’s Anatomy of the Body of Man was revolutionary and innovative for its sociopolitical goals and intended audience more so than its actual content.

Born in 1616 to an established family of gentry, Nicholas Culpeper parted from his father and grandfather’s footsteps when he turned to studying astrology and astrological medicine. Both Culpeper’s father and grandfather had been men of the cloth—a minister and a Puritan rector, respectively. Accordingly, Culpeper was educated in the classics and attended Cambridge University to prepare for a career as a clergyman in the Church of England. Before completing his studies, however, he dropped out and began training as an apothecary.

Title page to Nicholas Culpeper's translation of  Johann Vesling’s Anatomy of the Body of Man.

Title page to Nicholas Culpeper’s translation of Johann Vesling’s Anatomy of the Body of Man, QM21 .V4713 1653 General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. At the top of the page, a previous owner inscribed “James Woods owns me.”

Culpeper was apprenticed three separate times, but failed to complete each apprenticeship, perhaps because he was stigmatized by his Puritan affiliations. Nevertheless, he entered the employment of Samuel Ledbetter, with whom he had formerly been apprenticed, and then he began publishing the texts that made him infamous. Beginning in 1649, Culpeper began compiling his own astrological and medical works, as well as translating Latin texts to English, such as The Anatomy of the Body of Man published by Johann Vesling in Latin in 1641.

When Culpeper began practicing with Ledbetter, medical publishing was controlled by two groups: the College of Physicians, which had authority over the practice of medicine, and the Stationers’ Company, which controlled the copy and printing rights of texts. However, when increasing tension between the king and parliament festered into Civil War in 1642, every apothecary, army surgeon, and amateur physician needed to have access to basic medical and pharmaceutical knowledge, and there was a breakdown in both hierarchies. The Stationer’s Company lost their ability to enforce copyrights, and the new government opposed the rigid control of the College. Publisher Peter Cole took advantage of this opportunity to collaborate with Culpeper, a like-minded Independent and a Puritan with similar political and religious aims.

Diagram accompanying the first chapter of Culpeper's text.

Diagram showing “the Effigies of a living Man” and “the common coverings of the Body of Man,” accompanying the first chapter of Culpeper’s text. The heavy wear on the diagram inserts suggests that these figures were referenced more often than the text..

Culpeper’s Anatomy of the Body of Man is a twenty-chapter text, printed in folio, detailing the components of the human body, complete with labeled diagrams. The chapters are organized according to a combination of system-based physiology and the physical locations of organs. Each chapter describes the workings of its given topic and is followed by a “Table,” or a copper-plate diagram of that system or organ. The inclusion of twenty-four separate diagram inserts and the fact that the book was printed in folio rather than the cheaper quarto size confirms that this book was not made for the poorest to buy but rather as a reference work for an established, if not necessarily elite, medical practice.

Although Culpeper presented himself as a man of the people, he did not intend for the masses to treat themselves. Instead, he aimed to improve their access to quality healthcare. He believed that his texts would help inadequately trained army surgeons, rural physicians, and apothecaries better treat underserved populations. Other texts provided household cures for home treatment, but Culpeper’s works—including The Anatomy of the Body of Man—were meant to break the elite monopoly on quality healthcare and enable physicians and surgeons of more modest means with the knowledge necessary to serve the masses.

Diagram of the Brain and Skull, from Nicholas Culpeper's translation of Johann Vesling’s Anatomy of the Body of Man.

“This Table shews, the Brain laid bare from the Skull, with the Dura and Pia Mater ; also its Cavities and Processes.” Culpeper was dedicated to making advanced medical knowledge available to surgeons, physicians, and apothecaries of even modest means.

The Burns Library copy of The Anatomy of the Body of Man contains handwritten notes dating from its early use. One, on the final endleaf of the book, reads: “For the Rumaticks, Take Essence of Sasprila, 1 ounce and half Iodine of Potash, one Dram and 8 ounce of water. 2 table spoonefull to be taken 3 times a day.” This note suggests that the book belonged to an apothecary or physician who did not know but needed to remember this general prescription for rheumatic fever, supporting the idea that Culpeper’s intended audience included lesser-trained healthcare providers.

Endleaf to Johann Vesling's Anatomy of the Body of Man, bearing the inscription “For the Rumaticks, Take Essence of Sasprila, 1 ounce and half Iodine of Potash, one Dram and 8 ounce of water. 2 table spoonefull to be taken 3 times a day.”

Endleaf to the Burns Library copy of The Anatomy of the Body of Man. The inscription—a treatment for rheumatic fever—suggests that this copy did belong to a practicing physician, albeit one who had trouble recalling prescriptions for common ailments.

Ultimately, Culpeper’s legacy was not the science he printed in his works, but his synthesis of the social, political and religious movements that framed his publishing career. As the English Civil War disrupted the authority of royally sponsored institutions like the College of Physicians and the Stationers’ Company, religious and political radicals such as Peter Cole and Nicholas Culpeper took advantage of weakened restrictions to publish popular and controversial works for the benefit of the people. To the detriment of elite physicians and apothecaries, Culpeper published vernacular and accessible medical and herbal works that allowed poorer, less-educated medical professionals to provide the masses with accurate and affordable treatments. Thus works such as The Anatomy of the Body of Man broadened basic medical knowledge and revolutionized the practice of western medicine.

If you would like to peruse this volume, visit the John J. Burns Library Reading Room. For more information, contact the Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or

  • Aashana Dhruva, BC ’15 & Student in Professor Virginia Reinburg’s Fall 2014 Early Printed Books: History and Craft.

This blog post comes from the Early Printed Books: History and Craft class, which was taught by BC History Professor Virginia Reinburg in Fall 2014.

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