Friday, 22 October 2010

I see the bad moon arising

As part of my India Papers digitisation job I quality check digital images and microfilm; yesterday I came across a couple of interesting pages from a lunatic asylum in Bengal, 1868.
The author was investigating the influence of climate and lunar phases on insanity. His experiment showed that the “waning moon had more apparent influence on the insanes than the waxing moon; but this can only be accidental, for though her face is less visible, she is still in her place in the heavens, and her attractive power (if any) must still be exerted; and that she really exerts no influence whatever.” The page shown is the table of results on which the author based his conclusion, which states at the head of the page “that there is no such person as a lunatic.” (Click on image to enlarge)

Full moons have long been associated with insanity, hence the term “lunatic,” borrowed from the Latin “lunacus.” In India patients with mental illness were known as “lunatics” or “insanes” until the 1920’s. This preceded the UK Mental Treatment Act of 1930 which changed the term to “person of unsound mind.”
Today, scientists are still researching correlations between illnesses such as schizophrenia and epilepsy and the full moon period. The police are also studying the influence of the moon on violent and criminal behaviour.
The next full moon is tomorrow, 23rd October, so perhaps we should take note of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song....

(Moon photo credit:

Monday, 18 October 2010

Another virus eradicated

A few days ago a joint FAO/OIE announcement astounded me.
Rinderpest, a devastating cattle plague, is set to become the first animal virus to be globally eradicated by man. Although it does not infect humans, the virus can wipe out entire livestock herds in days. This has caused famines for many centuries throughout the world.
I first heard of it when working on the digitisation of the India Papers veterinary material; the first book to be scanned was the Report on the Calcutta epizootic or cattle disease of 1864 in Calcutta and its neighbourhood. In Britain 400,000 cattle perished in the Great Cattle Plague of 1865-67 when rinderpest entered the country from the Baltic.
It is clear from the Indian veterinary reports that rinderpest was a serious threat to the Government cattle farms, established to provide dairy products to the colonial army. However, the mid-nineteenth century witnessed a revolution in health sciences, and veterinary science played a key role. The rinderpest virus was discovered in Turkey in 1902 by Nicolle and Adil-Bey.
The Indian Journal of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry (1931-1959) is a fine example of the extensive bacteriological study of animal diseases. Understanding and preventing rinderpest was begun by scientists long ago; it is amazing to consider that, like smallpox, this virus is no longer at large.

(Picture is a typical plate from the Indian Journal, showing examples of Indian cattle.)
The Medical History of British India web feature will be updated in 2011 with over 35,000 pages of veterinary reports.

Sunday 24th October: United Nations Day

The 24th of October has been celebrated as United Nations Day since 1948, to remember the anniversary of the launch of the United Nations on 24 October 1945. At the Official Publications Unit of the National Library of Scotland we collect United Nations publications too. Some items published by the UN during the 70s have recently been added to the NLS on-line catalogue and are now easier to find for our readers. To celebrate UN day and its achievements here is a selection from our “vintage” project…
- “Cultural rights as human rights” (1970) shelf mark UNESCO.90.[3]
- “Apartheid in practice” (1969) UN.XIV.2/3.[1]
- “United Nations population fund: what it is, what it does, how it works, why it concerns you” (1971) UN.XIII.1.[1]
- “Human rights protect refugees” (1973) UN.XV.2.[2]
- “The needs of children: a survey of the needs of children in the developing countries” (1963) UN.I.9/10.[1]
- “Preparations of the child for modernization: skills and intellectual requirements” (1970) UN.IV.19.[70.16]
- “Rural cooperative and planned change in Africa” (1972) UN.IV.17.[5]
…and something for book and library lovers too:
- “Books for all: a programme of action” (1973) UNESCO.1/15.[3]

Image: “Non-violence” by Carl Fredrik Reutersw√§rd, United Nations, New York, 1988 (credit: United Nations website