Medical texts and modern science
Kelly notes that basic modern scientific and institutional medical practice was established in Ireland between the middle of the seventeenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century (Kelly, p. 21). The preponderance of texts from the Simms’ collection are from the nineteenth century, during a time when medical practice was becoming more professionalised and when public fever outbreaks were commonplace.
The medical publications contained within the collection are therefore especially fascinating for detailing diseases whose existence and prevalence owe much to poor sanitation, for example, Typhoid fever or cholera. Works by Kennedy and Murchison detail the devastating effects of these diseases. The Medical texts in Simms collection also charter the advances in medical science and changing pharmaceutical responses to diseases over time; diseases whose power has been lessened by antibiotic treatments and increased knowledge about the importance of diet e.g. Graves's important work on dietary treatment of Typhus.
Death is uncommon now in Typhus fever with antibiotic treatment and, similarly, fatalities resulting from Spirillum fever are infrequent when the condition is treated with Penicillin. The medical texts also betray the progress that vaccinations have made in health prevention. For example, diphtheria is relative uncommon in Ireland and UK because of the current childhood vaccination scheme.
The collection details conditions such as types of syphilis, smallpox, various fevers whose incidence and prevalence is now greatly reduced owing to modern medical treatment. The collection does also chart the progress of science, the advancement of treatments and our increasingly sophisticated knowledge of conditions.
Many of the Simms texts concerned with psychiatry and mental are especially interesting owing to how conditions were viewed, understood and even discussed. From a modern perspective one may baulk or find problematic the usage of terms such as idiot, or indeed be stunned by the treatment of chaining mental health patients to bed: "Aliéné enchaîné à Bedlam" as it is depicted in Tardieu’s Atlas: Des maladies mentales considérées sous les rapports médicale, hygiénique et médico-légal (1838). The illustrated plates of this Atlas are heartrending and one ponders the doleful plight of individuals condemned to solitude or asylums for conditions not fully understood during their time.
Many of these impressions will stand antithetical to modern sensibilities, but it is incredibly important for those conducting studies in this field. This is one of the reasons why the Simms collection is such a potential wealth of information for researchers.
Without question, the Simms collection is therefore an important and valuable resource; it is of inestimable use for researchers of the history of medicine, and those interested in discovering and delineating how medical understanding and medical treatments have been shaped and altered over the last few centuries
E. Margaret Crawford, “Typhus in Nineteenth-Century Ireland”, in in Greta Jones & Elizabeth Malcolm (eds.), Medicine, Disease and the State in Ireland, 1650-1940 (Cork: Cork University Press, 1999), pp. 121-137.
Robert J. Graves, Clinical Lectures on the Practice of Medicine. Dublin: Fannin, 1848. 2nd edition.
James Kelly, “The Emergence of Scientific and Institutional Medical Practice in Ireland, 1650-1800” in Greta Jones & Elizabeth Malcolm (eds.), Medicine, Disease and the State in Ireland, 1650-1940 (Cork: Cork University Press, 1999), pp. 21-39.
R.W.M. Strain, “The History of the Ulster Medical Society,” The Ulster Medical Journal, vol. 36.2 Summer, 1967, pp. 73-p110.