The University of Maryland, Baltimore's Health Sciences and Human Services Library celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. Festivities began May 1 with a talk about the colorful life of the owner of the founding collection, Dr. John Crawford (1746-1813), and a walk to Westminster Hall, where flowers were placed at his gravesite. The library was founded with the $500 purchase of 679 books from the estate of Dr. Crawford in 1813.
Philip Mackowiak, MD, MBA and professor at the School of Medicine, told an audience Wednesday in the library's Gladhill Boardroom that Crawford was influenced by the teachings of Paracelsus, a German-Swiss renaissance physician, considered by many to have founded the discipline of toxicology. In later life, Mackowiak said, Crawford framed his own theory, based on his work in the tropics, that diseases were often transmitted by insects and invisible "animalcules." Crawford came to Baltimore in 1797 on the advice of his brother-in-law, and briefly served on the faculty of the School of Medicine.
Crawford's theories were out of the mainstream and rejected by many of his contemporaries. Mackowiak jokingly shared with the audience that Crawford's convoluted writing has been euphemistically described as "a difficult read." Not surprisingly, there is only one recorded lecture from School of Medicine archives. In a letter to a friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush - then the most renowned physician in the U.S. - Crawford admitted that his lecture was "poorly received." He also wrote at length about the criticism his disease theories received.
Nonetheless, Crawford's belief in investigation and observation, and his theories of disease relating to infestation by parasitic organisms have been honored for being well ahead of their time. Immediately following Mackowiak's lecture, Mackowiak, audience members and M.J. Tooey, MLS, AHIP, FMLA, Associate VP Academic Affairs and Executive Director of HS/HSL walked to nearby Westminster Hall, to lay flowers at Crawford's gravesite.