History : Medical Pop-up Book (Digitized)

Columbia librarians have digitized an important anatomical flap book, which is an early attempt to present the three dimensionality of the human body in the two dimensional format of this fascinating book.

Pop-up books are not modern invention (often for children) but they actually date back to the 11th century. These ancient books – interesting and full of knowledge – were devoted to detailed topics like astronomy and technology in three dimensions.

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Before it could be safely digitized, the fragile volume was first treated by professional conservators at the Columbia University Libraries’ Conservation Laboratory. Credit: Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library/Columbia University Medical Center

According to a press release, professional conservators at the Columbia University Libraries’ Conservation Laboratory have scanned and digitized all 120 flaps in the book, which is German translation of Johann Remmelin’s 1613 work “Captoptrum Microcosmicum”, originally published in Latin in 1613.

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Anatomical flap book – an early attempt to represent the three dimensionality of the human body in the two dimensional format of the book. Credits: Columbia University Libraries’ Conservation Laboratory.

Remmelin (1583-1632) designed male and female paper figures using a series of overlapping flaps to illustrate the successive layers of the human body.

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With the assistance of Columbia’s conservators, imaging staff used special tools such as spatulas and fine tipped brushes to gently lift the flaps and then place the glass over the section. Credits: Columbia University Libraries’ Conservation Laboratory.

Intended more for the curious layperson than the medical student or physician, Remmelin’s work was a popular science best-seller of its day. It was reprinted numerous times throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and translated into Dutch, French, and German.

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