Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yale Pathology Teaching Collection

1. Selection
This collection of medical illustrations begins with a rather lengthy curatorial essay explaining the history of medical illustration as a teaching aid and art form. The essay traces the history of the genre from hieroglyphic inscriptions in Egyptian tombs, to the first more accurate illustrations done in woodcut by Vesalius in the 1500s, to printed work and finally to the switch to photography as the preferred medium as a teaching visual aid in the mid-20th century. The final paragraph states that this collection consists of images by Armin B. Hemberger, a medical illustrator who worked for Yale during most of his career and was influential in his field. The paragraph outlines some of his importance, offering justification for the creation of the digital collection, but does not state whether the 661 images offered in the digital collection are all that Yale owns by Hemberger, or whether they were selected from a larger holding for a particular reason. [Edit: A curious thing about the collection is that despite the overview essay's focus upon Hemberger, his are not the only illustrations in the database. There are actually many other creators. It is confusing why this is not explained in the overview, making the "selection" part of this collection weaker].

As the edit above points out, the metadata about the overall collection is somewhat weak. The background/curatorial essay is nice for explaining the history and development of medical illustration generally to add interest to the collection, but the nuts-and-bolts kinds of facts about what the user is actually seeing in the collection are really absent. The metadata is better at the object level. When a thumb nail title is clicked (not the actual thumbnail image, though, for some reason) users can see: title, "other title" (a letter and number combo, not sure what it means and it is not explained--maybe a figure designation in the book it came from?), creator, notes (art media utilized), date, dimensions of image, language (I guess of the captions), collection (Pathology Teaching Collection), rights, repository (where to find the paper version), and an identifier (also an unexplained combination of letters and numbers). It would have been nice to see metadata on the digitization of the image, such as scanner, resolution, and update dates.

3. Object:
The images are clear of watermarks, but they do not zoom in and do not resize very large. The largest that a user can view is an 800X600 jpeg. The format is easily used for other purposes. The identifier that they give for each image could be more useful if it was explained. Aesthetically and topic-wise, the images are really interesting and browsing around is entertaining. The actual browsing function is not great, though, in that there is no "see all" function, so it is somewhat important that a person knows what they are looking for when they access the collection (as in: a particular date, looking for a certain artist, "heart disease," etc.).

4. Audience
This collection could be interesting from an art history point of view (and could have been made better for that use by offering search functions by medium, for example), but is likely used more often by medical students. However, since one cannot zoom in on image or view them in a very large format to get good detail, use by med students might be difficult, so in the end I'm not sure.

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