Story of early eastern medicine to be revealed to the world
15 September 2008
A new partnership between the Wellcome Library, one of the
world’s leading resources for the history of medicine, and
Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) in Egypt, the leading institution for
the documentation of Egyptian, Arabic and Islamic cultural heritage
will reveal the story of early medicine in the Eastern world.
The Wellcome Library contains a diverse collection of rare
materials relating to both Ancient and Modern Egypt, from papyri to
Arabic medical manuscripts and even relics of Napoleon’s invasion
of Egypt in 1789.
The Wellcome Library will make these rare resources available in
digital form to Bibliotheca Alexandrina, making them universally
accessible for the first time.
“Without question, the Wellcome Library is one of the most
important repositories of treasures relating to the history of
medicine in the world,” Ismail Serageldin, Director of Bibliotheca
commented during a recent visit. ”For us, this partnership is a
major step forward in our vision to make all knowledge available to
all. The project will enable manuscripts that are spread in
different parts of the world to be virtually reassembled into a
complete manuscript. We have the possibility to make this material
available to a new generation of scholars, who have been brought up
with the internet, on Facebook and on YouTube, who will be able to
find the treasures of the past, in the forms of the present and the
Frances Norton, Head of the Wellcome Library explains: “We are
delighted to be working with Bibliotheca Alexandrina in this way.
Our unique partnership will demonstrate how non-English language
digital resources can engage local audiences and experts, deepening
our understanding of the materials available here in the UK and
making them globally searchable in languages other than
The Wellcome Library’s collections began to be assembled by Sir
Henry Wellcome and his agents at the turn of the 19th and 20th
centuries. Among other treasures they acquired an extensive array
of Arabic and Persian medical and scientific manuscripts. More
recently these resources have grown, notably by the addition of the
collection of the Lebanese physician Dr Sami Haddad, purchased at
Sotheby’s in 1986.
The new stream of documentation, which will eventually become
part of BA’s own digital library, consists of visual, documentary,
manuscript and printed material in several languages, and will also
be available for inclusion in such collections as the World Digital
Library - a fully searchable portal to cultural content worldwide,
supported by Unesco, Google and the Library of Congress.
The materials include:
• the Wellcome Library’s collection of Arabic medical
manuscripts,from the13th to 20th centuries
• 19th-century British manuscript travel journals
• 20th-century correspondence and papers of British doctors and
others working or serving in Egypt
• published accounts of Egyptian topography and antiquities
• documentation in French and English relating to Napoleon’s
invasion of Egypt
• views of Egyptian ancient monuments and scenes, engraved by
Louis Haghe, after original watercolours made by the artist David
Roberts in the 1830s
• lithographs of Egypt by G Seitz after original paintings by
Carl Werner, 1870s
• 18th- and 19th-century portraits of Egyptian subjects.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a major library and cultural centre
and is both a commemoration of the Library of Alexandria and an
attempt to rekindle something of the brilliance that this earlier
centre of study represented.
The Library of Alexandria was once the largest library in the
ancient world, and is thought to have been founded at the beginning
of the third century BCE. The Library or parts of the collection
were destroyed on a number of occasions.
The project is part of an ambitious programme of digitisation
taking place within the Wellcome Library.
Media Officer (Wellcome Collection)
T: 020 7611 8612
The Wellcome Trust is the largest
charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the
UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to
support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome
Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its
impact on health and wellbeing.
The Wellcome Trust's former headquarters, the Wellcome Building
on London's Euston Road, has been redesigned by Hopkins Architects
to become a new £30 million public venue. Free to all,
explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the
past, present and future. The building comprises three galleries, a
public events space, the Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop,
conference facilities and a members' club.
The Wellcome Library is founded on
the collections formed by Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936), whose
personal wealth, founded on the pharmaceutical company which he
developed and owned, allowed him to spend the last four decades of
his life indulging one of the most ambitious collecting visions of
the twentieth century.
The new Library of Alexandria, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is dedicated
to recapture the spirit of openness and scholarship of the original
Bibliotheca Alexandrina. It is much more than a library.