A group of people stand around a display of books on tables.

Hosting the Congress for the History of Pharmacy

By Laura Hartman ~

A group of people stand around a display of books on tables.On September 5, 2019, NLM welcomed twenty attendees from the 44th International Congress for the History of Pharmacy for a tour of the Library and its historical treasures.  The Congress was co-sponsored by the American Institute for the History of Pharmacy and the International Society for the History of Pharmacy and supported by the U.S. Pharmacopoeial Convention.

Rare book librarians offered the group an overview of seminal medical books and manuscripts in the NLM’s Incunabula Room, including Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal: Containing Five Hundred Cuts, of the Most Useful Plants, which are Now Used in the Practice of Physick (London, 1737-1739), arguably the most beautiful hand-painted herbal in the NLM collection.


The group also learned about Marshall Nirenberg’s Nobel Prize and Genetic Code Chart, the FDA Notices of Judgement database and the variety of resources available in NLM Digital Collections.

The highlight of the morning was a presentation by John Parascandola, PhD, Congress Program Chair, former Chief, History of Medicine Division (1983–1992), and author of King of Poisons: a History of Arsenic (Potomac Books, 2012), on a selection of historical pharmaceutical materials from the collections.  Attendees enjoyed viewing hand-colored depictions of the male and female mandragora (mandrakes) in the Gart der Gesundheit (Garden of Health) (Mainz, 28 Mar. 1485), and were intrigued to see original pharmaceutical postcards, prints, and posters.

Dr. Parascandola and NLM staff also showed the group the 1st edition of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia (Washington, DC, 1820), which will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its publication next year, and Carl Wilhelm Scheele’s Chemische Abhandlung von der Luft und dem Feuer (Chemical Investigation of Air and Fire) (Uppsala, 1777), which details his discovery of oxygen.


Dr. Parascandola concluded his remarks with comments on the rise of arsenic as a base for green and blue pigments in common products, such as clothing, wallpaper, and artificial flowers.  As a representation of this chapter in the history of medicine and public health, he showed the group NLM’s recently encapsulated copy of toxic wallpaper samples, Shadows from the Walls of Death (Lansing, 1874), while NLM Contract Conservator Kristi Wright offered her perspectives on the encapsulation process.

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.



  1. There’s at least 6 specialty practice of pharmacy : nuclear pharmacy, nutrition support pharmacy, pharmacotherapy, psychiatric pharmacy, ambulatory care, oncology. idk, maybe in the Philippines there’s only 4. Also, in the U.S. we still use penicillin. A few years back, tetracyclines has been discontinued because of antibiotic resistance

  2. I feel British history is the most fascinating. How can such a small island carry such a rich tradition? Just amazing! I never get tired of learning about it.

  3. The 44th International Congress for the History of Pharmacy is co-sponsored by the American Institute for the History of Pharmacy and the International Society for the History of Pharmacy. It is supported by a generous grant from the United States Pharmacopeial Convention.

  4. Pharmacy in History is a quarterly journal devoted to exploring the place of pharmacy in the history of civilization. Generally, each issue contains two peer-reviewed research papers; a notes and departments section comprised of short research communications, news of the field, and article abstracts; plus a book review section.

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