Understanding The Motion of the Heart: From Knowledge to Practice

Illustration of figure with blood vessels, liver heart and bloodletting points (c. 1530 – 1545)

Welcome back to the Daily Dose! Today, I am featuring an excerpt from a post by Catherine Osborn, our series editor for MedHum Monday. You can read the full post at the Dittrick Museum!

Matters of the heart are often confusing. Early scientists wondered if “the motion of the heart was only to be comprehended by God” [1]. The heart and blood were the subjects of much medical debate in the 17th century when an English physician questioned classic anatomical texts. Although previous anatomists like Vesalius had questioned traditional views, William Harvey was the first to accurately describe the circulation of blood throughout the body. Once scientists understood the regular functions of the cardiovascular system, medical pioneers explored how to manipulate the flow of blood. These later discoveries saved patients from deaths caused by  surgical shock and heart disease.

Galen and Vesalius: Early Circulatory Notions

Until William Harvey’s findings were published in 1628, Galen’s work from centuries before remained the central physiological understanding of the motions of the heart and blood [1,2]. Galen taught that venous and arterial blood flowed as two different systems [3,4]. The liver was thought to produce the venous blood. In a separate system, the heart produced arterial blood and ‘spirits’ that provided heat and life to the rest of the body. According to Galen, the lungs were mainly responsible for cooling this vital blood.

Vesalius illustration from 1543 showing a two-chambered heart.

Much of Galen’s experimentation was on non-human animals, and thus his descriptions were understandably flawed [4]. For example, he described the heart as a two chambered organ divided by a septum containing invisible pores. These pores supposedly allowed blood to pass from the right to left chambers.

Despite the errors in this model, later anatomists [read more]

Upcoming Event

For more on Marvels, Mavericks, and Medicine, Dr. Brandy Schillace will be speaking at Belt Magazine’s Happy Dog University on Tuesday, June 10th at 7:30 pm.



[1] Harvey, William. 1628. “On the Motions of the Hearth and Blood” p. 3-75. In The Works of William Harvey, M.D. 1847 Edition. Robert Willis, trans. London.

[2] Willis, Robert. 1847. “A Life of the Author” p. xv-xxxiv. In The Works of William Harvey, M.D. London.

[3] Payne, Joseph Frank. 1896. “The Problem of Circulation” p. 35-36. In Harvey and Galen. London: Oxford University Press Warehouse.

[4] Pagel, Walter. 1967. William Harvey’s Biological Ideas: Selected Aspects and Historical Background. Switzerland: Basler Druck-und Verlagsanstalt.


The Daily Dose Presents: ‘Digital Dittrick’ Online Exhibits

DailyDose2Welcome back to the Daily Dose!

In the past few weeks, we have been featuring various museum and library collections, and today I have the pleasure of presenting the one I guest-curate for: The Dittrick Museum of Medical History.

Untitled-1The Dittrick Medical History Center is comprised of the museum, archives, and collections of rare books, artifacts, and images. The Center originated as part of the Cleveland Medical Library Association (est. 1894) and today functions as an interdisciplinary study center within the College of Arts and Sciences of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The museum is curated by Dr. James Edmonson and his team of talented folks, all of whom have had a hand in bringing Dittrick’s collections to a wider public through digital means. (Speaking of which, scroll to the end to see a great video on contraception featuring Dr. Edmonson and other curators!)

The museum houses a wonderful gallery of exhibits that is diverse and dynamic, while the rare book collection includes Freud, Darwin, works on dermatology, herbals, obstetrics, surgery, history of science and anatomy–AND the library of Nicolas Pol, Renaissance physician to the Holy Roman Emperor! In reality, the museum has more to offer than the walls can hold–which is true of most museums–and so we also have a number of online exhibits and archives, part of what I like to call “digital Dittrick.”

Examples and links from the Online Exhibits. One of the largest is the Percy Skuy Contraception collection, which we will also be blogging about (and for which we will soon have video content to host). Some of the content from these collections have also appeared in recent blog posts at DittrickMuseumBlog.com:


Additionally, a number of other materials are digitally archived–Darwin’s letters, for instance, and parts of the image collection. We also have a wonderful artifact collection online, with images and stories for historical objects.

We hope you will continue to join us here as we celebrate digital and online collections at libraries and museums–and that you will return in early fall for mini-round-table discussions from the curators!

The History of Condoms video with Chief Curator James Edmonson: