By Jeffrey S. Reznick
Belgium—founding member of the European Union and a country whose heritage is rich in so many ways, and especially in the history of medicine.
Recently, we were honored to host a visit of Belgium’s ambassador to the United States, Johan Verbeke. Joining him was Kaat Wils, Professor of Modern European Cultural History at the University of Leuven. We were pleased to share with them some rare and unique materials from the Library’s collection that were created in Belgium, and some materials that reflect relations between our two countries.
The highlight of the visit was viewing our unique copy of De Fabrica, by Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564), with a discussion led by Michael North, Head of the NLM’s Rare Books and Early Manuscripts Section. Recognizing the birth of Vesalius—500 years ago in Belgium’s capital, Brussels—has been a landmark event celebrated worldwide, and by both the Library and the Belgian Embassy in the United States. This opportunity to discuss the significance of Vesalius’ work with the Ambassador and Professor Wils was a very special addition to our celebration of this anniversary.
Ambassador Verbeke and Professor Wils also viewed archival materials from our collections. Rebecca Warlow, Head of the NLM’s Images and Archives Section, guided our guests through a brief selection of materials highlighting Belgium’s central importance during World War I, the centenary of which is underway worldwide. These materials included several posters and postcards from la Croix-Rouge de Belgique (the Red Cross of Belgium) promoting health and hygiene during the period.
Also shown were photographs of Belgium’s King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola, taken during a visit to the National Institutes of Health in 1980, and postcards related to the humanitarian works of King Leopold III and Princess Astrid, and Princess Josephine-Charlotte.
Ambassador Verbeke, who graduated from the University of Ghent with degrees in Law and Philosophy, and obtained his LL.M. at the Yale Law School, appreciated the humanism conveyed by De Fabrica, and the richness overall in the collections he saw on his visit:
It was a pleasure and a privilege to visit the historical collections of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and to see its unique copy of De Fabrica. Through this book which was authored by our own Andreas Vesalius, and so many other collections of the NLM, our countries have a deep connection in history, a connection that informs our good relations today, and is an important foundation upon which our countries look together to advancing the understanding of medicine and science in the 21st-century.
Accepting a gift copy of the NLM’s Hidden Treasure book, Professor Wils agreed:
As the title of your splendid work Hidden Treasures suggests, the collection is exceptionally rich, with medical texts and images from the middle ages to the present, stemming from all parts of the world. A treasure to cherish, both with a view to future research and with a view to informing the public on the historicity and materiality of medical knowledge. I enjoyed my visit tremendously, and thank you very much for your own time, expertise, and hospitality.
We look forward to keeping in touch with our friends from Belgium, and we appreciate their valuable time and interest in our collections!
The NLM and its History of Medicine Division are open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (EST) Monday thru Friday except for Federal holidays. We warmly welcome visitors and anyone who would wish to request a tour of our collections and exhibitions. Contact us at (301) 402-8878 or at NLM Customer Support.