Riza Hussaini, Medical Collections Project Assistant, writes about digitising medical manuscripts from Special Collections.

For today’s blog I’ve picked three of my favourite medical manuscripts to focus on, out of the thirty-eight I’ve digitised for the Medical Collections Project.

The first is ‘Lecture notes on medical topics, reputedly made by James Tatham’ (MS 2032/16).

Modern student notes may often contain rough notes, sketches, quotes and the occasional doodle.

A number of the manuscripts of medical lecture notes I have digitised dissolve that perception. Most are dense with information and some are beautifully illustrated.

It has been thought, for several of the manuscripts, that the student surgeon attended lectures around the country, with the notes providing reading material for other would-be surgeons.

Mostly compiled in elegantly bound volumes they all appear to be similar in style; introductions to medical conditions, followed by the causes, treatments and occasionally, patient cases. They are written in neat and fairly legible hand. The tone is utilitarian and doubtless, this was how the lectures were conducted.

Digitising this particular manuscript was tricky as a lot of the pages were brittle and holding together like a jigsaw. It has since been rebound; an example of how we are committed to preserving the collection through digitisation and physical conservation.

James Tatham Lecture Notes
MS 2032/16 James Tatham Lecture Notes; rebound. Image credit Leeds University Library

It may be surmised, but impossible to confirm, that this was transcribed by James Tatham, a surgeon-apothecary based in Leeds. There are lectures delivered by several notable individuals like Thomas Pridgin Teale Senior and William Hey III; founders of the Leeds School of Medicine.

Next is ‘Notes on forensic medicine and on insanity’ (MS2032/19).

If you, like me prefer your medical notes to be accompanied by chemical formulae, this is it. The unknown author is thought to be Berkeley G.A Moynihan (1865-1936), but the provenance is unclear.

Manuscript in tête-bêche style
MS 2032/19 Notes on Forensic Medicine. This manuscript is in tête-bêche style (first half written normally, second half written from the back and upside down). Image credit Leeds University Library

It is a comprehensive toxicology guide offering a fascinating insight into forensic medicine. The manuscript focuses on different aspects of ‘insanity’ from the reverse. It goes into detail about the affective symptoms of different conditions to ascertain grounds for insanity defence in legal cases.

Finally, ‘Notes on surgery made by Leonard Ralph Braithwaite’ (MS 2032/23).

This is probably the most legible and also one of the youngest manuscripts (early 20th century). It is written in ball point pen and is one of the few manuscripts that has coloured illustrations.

The notes were written by Braithwaite during his medical training and early career as a surgeon, and delve into quite significant detail. For example, he provides information about how to perform both simple and invasive surgeries, such as amputations. Even without a medical background, I found the notes comprehensible and fascinating.

Leonard Braithwaite Notebook
MS 2032/23 Leonard Braithwaite Notebook. Three examples of illustrations. Image credit Leeds University Librar

If this has piqued your interest, you can explore The Medical Manuscripts Collection and search through the Special Collections catalogue to browse the digitised manuscripts.