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Friday, January 04, 2013

Belt Book

If you have a smartphone or PDA, where do you keep it for easy access to all your important information?  Maybe in your pocket (if it will fit), or in your purse (if you carry one), or maybe in a holster or  belt clip. Here's a close up of our librarian Elizabeth Fuller sporting her smartphone holster.

It turns out medieval folks also needed to have their information at their fingertips and sometimes they employed a very similar solution--the belt book.


Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29
The Rosenbach's belt book is from England and dates from the first quarter of the 15th century. It was once carried by a physician on a cord attached to his girdle. The book's ten leaves contain calendar infomation, tables of solar and lunar eclipses, and medical charts, each folded to fit compactly between the long narrow covers.

 Here is one of the calendar pages, which clearly shows how the pages were folded and unfolded.

Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29


 This image shows one of the pages of eclipses; the red is used to show the portion obscured in a solar eclipse and the blue for lunar eclipses.

Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29
The two medical pages in the almanac are particularly interesting; they include an "ymago flebotomie," identifying the major veins and what ailments could be treated by bleeding them, and a urine wheel depicting 20 flasks of urine with accompanying descriptions of the colors of the urine and what they signify.

Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29

Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29
Bloodletting and urine testing were two common tools in medieval medicine; the urine flask (or jordan) was the visual symbol of a doctor, much like a stethoscope is today.  An illustration in the Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales shows a physician holding his flask even while on horseback. You can find out more about medieval urine analysis in this wonderful article from the Canadian Medical Journal.

So the next time you reach for your smartphone and fumble to unlock the screen, remember our unknown medieval man unfolding and refolding his own handy device. 




Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog




1 comment:

Lorna McKenzie said...

What an amazing object from the past, thanks for showing it to us!