From medicine to art: the personal library of Oswaldo Cruz

19 mar/2019

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If the maxim “you are what you read” holds true, a collection of more than 2,000 works under the custodianship of Fiocruz’s History of the Sciences and Health Library may provide clues about the profile of one of Brazil’s most well-known scientists, Oswaldo Cruz. More than that, the public health doctor’s private library – covering topics that range from medicine to photography and World War I – suggests possible personal interests within his closest family circle. This collection of rare works, which reflects the ideas and information that circulated among major historical figures in Brazil from the late nineteenth century through the early decades of the twentieth, can be consulted at the Casa de Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro.

Published  in English, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese, the books themselves attest to the fact that they once belonged to Oswaldo Cruz’s personal library. His signature, personal dedications, and institutional stamps appear on the cover pages, back pages, and spines – as do bookplates displaying his renowned motto, “eternal faith in science.”

Read more on the Oswaldo Cruz Collection:
Scientist’s personal library reveals an interest in World War I

This bibliographic collection includes works of significance in their own right, along with publications germane to Oswaldo Cruz’s career and intellectual life. Three main groups stand out, the first comprising titles related to the scientist’s professional life: general medicine, microbiology, tropical medicine, public health, and hygiene. A second set, likewise touching on Cruz’s professional world, contains technical manuals on laboratory practices.

But the collection is not confined to science. A third, substantial group affords an unexpected glimpse of a reader (or readers, since some of these books may have belonged to family members) who was drawn to a wide range of topics—some even a bit curious, like indigenous language, cars, and decorative art. Literature, poetry, music, and history are the subjects of other books in the realm of broader cultural interests.

On the centennial of the scientist’s death, the Casa de Oswaldo Cruz website is publishing this special feature about his personal library. Over the coming months, this bibliographic collection will be presented here through thematic lenses. Images extracted from the books and texts will draw a relationship between the collection and the career of Cruz, who, along with his contemporaries, battled the yellow fever, bubonic plague, and smallpox epidemics that assailed Rio de Janeiro and Brazil in the early twentieth century.