Historic Heart Theses from the HS/HSL

The Health Sciences and Human Services Library (HS/HSL) is highlighting unique materials on this vital organ, a series of these written by graduates of the School of Medicine from 1830 to 1884.

These dissertations highlight the changing theories and teachings on diseases of the heart and its physiology. When read from oldest to newest, they provide a timeline of heart research of 19th-century medical education at the University of Maryland.   

The earliest thesis from 1830 is philosophical, asking the question, “What is the principle of life?” John T. Mitchell believes it to be the heart. He states, “That the heart contains this principle [life] in a greater degree than any other part it distributes its vivifying influence to the remotest parts through the medicine of circulation.” His argument is that the heart is the most important organ in all the body, ruling all other systems and organs. In 1830, a lot was still unknown about the heart and circulation system, yet its importance was recognized and taught.

The later theses describe the way the blood flows through the heart and paint a picture of its anatomy. C. Theodore Trautman’s 1862 thesis states, “The heart can be divided into two separate organs, the right and left heart, or the heart of the respiratory; and the heart of the arterial circulation” — indicating an early understanding of how the chambers of the heart work to control circulation throughout the body.

Interested in reading the theses?  Check them out in the HS/HSL’s Digital Archive.


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