Turning a new Leaf on an Old Face: Changing the Pages on Medieval Medical Texts

Posted on June 29th, 2016 by

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America has been an exhibit at the JMM for quite a few months. The medical textbooks from Israel displayed in the front of the exhibit have been turned on the same pages for that duration. The exhibitions interns and the collections manager Joanna took on the task of opening up the temperature controlled cases and turning the frail pages of books that are far older than anything else in the exhibit.

Gentle Handling

Gentle Handling

Special Cradles

Special Cradles

The procedure for flipping these pages is delicate, plastic cradles must be used to preserve the spine of the book. The pages are held with clear light plastic bands that are taped together. Pages are turned with extreme care by bare hands because the gloves are considered clumsy and it is harder to tell if you are inflicting damage to the pages without full sensory feedback from your fingers.

Strapping the Pages

Strapping the Pages

These books are all made of organic materials such as leather, so the padding and cautionary handling are instrumental in preserving their condition.

Joanna Takes Care

Joanna Takes Care

In order to prevent humidity and overall weather tampering there are gel capsules stored beneath the display case that absorb the moisture inside the cases. The glass and seals on the cases help to keep the conditions dry for the books. The HVAC in the museum also does a pretty good job of making sure there is a cold air flowing, sometimes it does its job too well in my humble opinion as someone who shows up in a t-shirt to work every day. The job is slightly tedious as the displays must be lifted and put into place, and trust me they have some weight to them! Once they are in the right spot a series of screws need to be put into place to ensure a tight enclosure.

Overall it was a really fun and interesting experience that will keep people informed and captivated by the exhibit.

06.06.2016 Interns (14)Blog post by Digital Projects Intern O. Cade Simon. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Once Upon a Time…10.30.2015

Posted on June 28th, 2016 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

2010020046Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  October 30, 2015

PastPerfect Accession #:  2010.020.046

Status:  Partially Identified – Members of the Sinai Hospital School of Nursing’s class of 1909: front row, far left: Jennie Breschkin (later Kartman), one of the first nurse anesthetists in the country

Special Thanks To: Myra Fox (great-niece of Jennie Breschkin Kartman)

 

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A Real Page-Turner

Posted on June 22nd, 2016 by

“We’re going to have a party! A page-turning party!”  Joanna turns around while she walks and smiles as she tells me the plan for the day, which includes working on my oral histories project and, apparently, now a party.  She goes on to explain that some of the historical manuscripts in the exhibit Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine actually need to have their pages flipped every three months to prevent damage.  I nod, and she tells me and my fellow Collections intern Tamara to be ready after lunch.  At two, I head back to the library, ready to party it up in the exhibit as promised, and  run into Joanna holding a power drill and pushing Maxine,  one of our carts specially designed for carrying artifacts (bubble roll taped to a moving cart, very high-tech).  Now, I’m excited—power tools AND artifacts?  I eagerly beg to use the drill and Joanna laughs as she hands it over.  We pick up Tamara and we’re off to the exhibit.

Joanna explains the process further as we set up to start changing the manuscripts.  Books as old as these (ours are from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries) are delicate and sensitive to light and climate.  Having the books open can damage pages, and too long under even gentle lights is bad for the book.  Joanna explains that it’s unusual to have artifacts this old at JMM, since it’s an American-based museum.  However, these books are from the collection of prominent Baltimorean Jew Harry Friedenwald and are all about medicine, making them perfect for the exhibit.  The books aren’t actually part of the museum collection, though; they’re on loan to us from the National Library of Israel.  Joanna describes how the books came overseas, and the process of loaning them: “The books got their own seat, first class!  Our budget did not like that.”  They came all the way across the world with their own librarian to be in this exhibit, which I thought was very cool.

Fun with power tools!

Fun with power tools!

Carefully, I begin to use the drill to take out the screws holding the glass cover in place over the shelf in the wall designed for climate, humidity, and light control.  After we remove the first glass case, I ask Joanna if she needs to be wearing gloves, since the books are so fragile.  Joanna says no—she’s following the “clean hands” policy of collections work, in which she washes her hands to prevent oils and bacteria from her hands damaging artifacts like these books but doesn’t put on gloves so she still has the ability to feel what she’s doing.  Joanna explains that this is the best policy since she’s more likely to notice if something is going wrong if she can feel what she’s doing, like a page about to tear or the book about to fall.  The JMM Collections team mostly follows the “clean hands” policy, the only exception being for artifacts that are metal that might be unhealthy for humans to touch. 

Joanna ever so carefully turns the pages of In Dioscoridis Anazarei de medica material by Amatus Lusitanus c. 1558.

Joanna ever so carefully turns the pages of In Dioscoridis Anazarei de medica material by Amatus Lusitanus c. 1558.

After she washes her hands, Joanna takes out the first book on its stand, carefully placing it on Maxine in order to turn the pages.  Each book had been placed carefully in the shelf on a book stand that Joanna tells us was precisely designed to fit the books and the pages they’re  currently on, even so far as having to have their plastic melted and reshaped  numerous times on the day the exhibit was installed in order to achieve perfection.  Joanna checks her list—each book has a specific page to turn to in order to reduce the damage as much as possible.  One of the interesting things about collections work, I’ve learned, is that all exhibiting does damage to artifacts.  It’s unavoidable.  For instance, for the upcoming weddings exhibit, one of the primary considerations for the dresses is whether or not they can withstand exhibition, since textiles are especially sensitive to such exposure.  However, without exhibiting an artifact, why would we keep it? The best way to preserve an artifact is store it in a windowless, lightless, lifeless box somewhere, but it’s importance to the museum is in using it to teach about history, and that’s impossible without exhibition.  Next, Joanna carefully removes the plastic holding the book pages down and turns the pages as we all watch; she jokes that she’s nervous, having never worked with artifacts this old before, but the pages turn fine and we get through all the books without any mishaps.

All Set!

All Set!

Although it might have been peculiar to think of this page-turning as a party, I did have fun seeing behind the scenes of how museums keep up their exhibits and manage to compromise between an artifact’s need for shelter and a museum’s need for exhibit.  I realized that there’s a lot more work and thought put into each and every aspect of exhibition and collections than I had ever considered and that artifacts such as these books are actively preserved by the museum, not simply encased in glass and left on display.  When we visit museums nowadays, all too often the glass cases and small placards can make us forget that these objects are real, but watching Joanna turn the pages on a book so many centuries old was definitely an eye-opening look into the physical materiality of artifacts and the daily preservation work of museums.

IMG_5507A blog post by Collections Intern Gina Crosby. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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