Digital Highlights: Interdisciplinary Possibilities

Title page of "The Closing Years of Dean Swift's Life"

Title page of The Closing Years of Dean Swift's Life

One of the fascinating things about a collection like the Medical Heritage Library is how many interdisciplinary opportunities it offers.

The history of medicine is an incredibly diverse field in and of itself — a quick glance down the list of subjects in the Library illustrates that. What may not be so immediately obvious is how many cross-disciplinary opportunities for investigation the collection affords.

Take, for example, The Closing Years of Dean Swift’s Life, by William R. Wilde. The volume was first published in 1849 in Dublin, at a time when Ireland was experiencing country-wide hardship as a result of catastrophic harvest failures in 1845 and 1847.

Dean Jonathan Swift, of course, is probably best known as the author of A Modest Proposal, an economic satire which proposed the Irish sell their infant children as provisions for the English. During his youth, Swift was secretary to Sir William Temple, an English diplomat who became well-known for the correspondence between himself and his wife which reveals details of life during the end of the seventeenth century in England. Swift himself was a polarizing figure during his life-time and continues to attract the attention of scholars in many fields.

William Wilde was a well-known Irish physician specializing in the eye and ear. He was a prolific author, writing not only about medicine but also about anthropology and Irish folklore. Wilde’s wife, Jane, published as a poet under the name “Speranza” and was well-known for the fiery nationalism of her work. Wilde is now better known as the father of Oscar Wilde, author of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Portrait of Dorian Gray.

One volume, then, connects to three separate individuals in widely diverse fields alone — and that’s simply on an examination of the title page! Who knows what more volumes could reveal?

For more from the Medical Heritage Library, please visit our full collection!

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