The Women Behind the Japanese Woodblock Print Collection

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By Erin Hurley, User Services & Accessioning Archivist

One of UCSF Archives & Special Collections’ most famous and beloved collections is the Japanese Woodblock Print collection – a collection of over 400 colorful and informative woodblock prints on health-related themes, such as women’s health and contagious diseases like cholera, measles, and smallpox. According to the Library website dedicated to the prints, they “offer a visual account of Japanese medical knowledge in the late Edo and Meiji periods. The majority of the prints date to the mid-late nineteenth century, when Japan was opening to the West after almost two hundred and fifty years of self-imposed isolation.”[1] The collection has been used, most recently, in a documentary about woodblock prints to be aired on NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting network, and has been a subject of enduring interest to researchers. I’ve heard colleagues wonder aloud about how UCSF came to own this unique collection, so I did some research. Naturally, an enterprising curator and librarian – Atsumi Minami, MLS – is to thank for the collection’s arrival at UCSF.

Walters, Tom F., “Atsumi Minami with items from UCSF Library East Asian Collection,” 1968. UCSF History Collection.

While I was not able to find the exact dates of her employment at UCSF Library, I do know that Minami began working at UCSF Library in 1959, and soon took charge of a small collection of 70 titles of materials related to East Asian medicine started in 1963 by John B. de C.M. Saunders (a shortening of his full name, John Bertrand de Cusance Morant Saunders), then Provost and University Librarian.[1] Minami could read Japanese script, so she became responsible for the collection and was soon given free rein to begin collecting additional materials. In order to do this, Minami “traveled to Japan and China and purchased items from various smaller, private collections, acquiring the woodblock prints as well as hundreds of rare Chinese and Japanese medical texts, manuscripts, and painted scrolls.”[2] Her collecting efforts spanned over 30 years, and produced a collection with over 10,000 titles. It would appear that Minami was still working at UCSF when this informative article was written for a 1986 issue of UCSF Magazine.[3] At the time that article was published, the East Asian medicine collection was also the only active collection of its kind in the U.S., making it even more notable.  

Another woman who was influential in shaping the East Asian collection was Ilza Veith, a German medical historian and former UCSF professor in both the Department of the History and Philosophy of Health Sciences and the Department of Psychiatry. Veith, who in 1947 was awarded the first ever U.S. Ph.D.in the History of Medicine from Johns Hopkins University, was also awarded later, in 1975, the most advanced medical degree conferred in Japan, the Igaku hakase, from Juntendo University Medical School in Tokyo.  Veith was extremely knowledgeable about both Chinese and Japanese medicine, and, in her time at Hopkins, translated Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen, or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – the oldest known document in Chinese medicine. Though the text has somewhat mythical origins that make its author and date a little difficult to determine, it probably dates from around 300 BC. Veith also helped shaped UCSF’s East Asian medicine collection by donating a number of her Japanese medical books. 

“Ilza Veith,” 1968. UCSF History Collection.

I would encourage anyone interested in the collection to browse the prints on our website, and to read more about their history via a finding aid on the Online Archive of California. Archives & Special Collections also houses the Ilza Veith papers. While we don’t yet have an Atsumi Minami collection, we welcome donations and would appreciate any information that the present-day UCSF community has about this amazing woman.


[1] “Glory of the Special Collections,” UCSF Magazine, V. 9, Issue #342, 1986: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31378005349033&view=1up&seq=341&q1=”Atsumi Minami”

[2] “About the Collection,” UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection, 2007, https://japanesewoodblockprints.library.ucsf.edu/about.html. Accessed April 6, 2021.

[3] “Glory of the Special Collections,” UCSF Magazine, V. 9, Issue #342, 1986: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31378005349033&view=1up&seq=341&q1=”Atsumi Minami”


[1] “About the Collection,” UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection, 2007, https://japanesewoodblockprints.library.ucsf.edu/about.html. Accessed April 6, 2021.

#ColorOurCollections Coloring Book

We are once again participating in #ColorOurCollections. We’ve created a coloring book featuring images from our rare books and journals. Please download the book, color, then tweet your creations @ucsf_archives using #ColorOurCollections.

Download the complete UCSF Archives 2018 Coloring Book here.

View more books from other participating institutions here.

Baunscheidt’s Lebenswecker: The 19th-Century “Life-Awakener”

Another installment in our blog series that explores artifacts related to health practices now considered inaccurate or fraudulent. Check out Carl Baunscheidt’s Lebenswecker.

Baunscheidt's Lebenswecker, circa 1850. Item 436, UCSF Archives Artifact Collection.

Baunscheidt’s Lebenswecker, circa 1850. Instrument pictured with cap on and off. Item 436, UCSF Archives Artifact Collection.

The Lebenswecker, translated as the “Life-Awakener” or the “Resuscitator,” was developed by German inventor Carl Baunscheidt in the mid-19th century. The small instrument included over 30 thin, spring-loaded needles concentrated at the end of an ebony staff.

Detail of Lebenswecker.

Detail of Lebenswecker. Item 436, UCSF Archives Artifact Collection.

Carl Baunscheidt. From According to Baunscheidt, the Lebenswecker was designed to quickly puncture the skin, creating “artificial pores.” The “pores,” i.e. puncture wounds, were then covered with a proprietary irritating oil called “Oleum Baunscheidtii” that produced blisters. As another option, the practitioner could dip the needles in the oil before application, thus creating a more concentrated injection. As the blisters formed and drained, Baunscheidt claimed, the “health-destroying morbid matter” in the body naturally escaped.

Illustration of Adonis and Aphrodite with "most generally appropriate" areas of the body on which to use the Lebenswecker.

Illustration of Adonis and Aphrodite with “most generally appropriate” areas of the body on which to use the Lebenswecker. From Baunscheidtism, or a New Method of Cure, 1865.

 

 

Baunscheidt developed a health philosophy around the Lebenswecker known as Baunscheidtism. His inspiration, as detailed in his book Baunscheidtism, or a New Method of Cure, came from his experience watching mosquitoes bite his rheumatic hand. As he writes, “it seemed as if the pains he had suffered, had fled with the flies…the inflicted sting caused an opening in the epidermis just large enough for the fine, volatile, but pathogenic substances lodged in the skin to exude.”

speccoll_baunscheidt_hand

Detail of illustration from Baunscheidtism, or a New Method of Cure, 1865.

Baunscheidt claimed that the Lebenswecker could cure everything from sleeplessness to measles to epilepsy. Baunscheidtism practitioners, like John Linden, made similarly broad claims. As Linden noted in his work, Manual of the Exanthematic Method of Cure, the Lebenswecker could eliminate a tapeworm because, after repeated applications, “the unwelcome guest will soon become disgusted with his quarters, and be compelled to vacate.”

Order sheet fixed inside John Linden's Manual of the Exanthematic Method of Cure, 1882.

Order sheet fixed inside John Linden’s Manual of the Exanthematic Method of Cure, 1882.

Baunscheidt’s philosophy, backed by personal testimonies included in his publications, achieved a measure of popularity in the 19th and early 20th century, especially in Germany and the United States. Today, his treatment is widely discredited.

Two differnt designs of Lebenswecker avaiable for research in the UCSF Archvies and Special Collection. Items 436, 242, Artifact Collection.

Two different designs of Lebenswecker. Items 436 and 242, UCSF Archives Artifact Collection.

We house two different “Life-Awakeners” in the UCSF Archives and Special Collections and a similar instrument developed by Baunscheidt called an artificial leech. Please contact us if you would like to come in and see the artifacts! We also have editions of John Linden and Carl Baunscheidt’s writings or you can read Baunscheidtism, or a New Method of Cure online in our digital collection.