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Moments in Surgical History |

Joseph Pancoast's A Treatise on Operative Surgery

Ira M. Rutkow, MD, MPH, DrPH
Arch Surg. 1998;133(5):579. doi:10-1001/pubs.Arch Surg.-ISSN-0004-0010-133-5-ssh0598.
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With the beginning of meaningful American contributions to surgicalliterature in the early 19th century, the manifold epic events that enlivenour country's surgical past began to receive wide dissemination. Of the varioussurgical texts published in this still preanesthetic period (ie, prior tofall 1846), the most physically impressive and artistically dazzling is JosephPancoast's (1805-1882) massive A Treatise on Operative Surgery. With 80 quarto plates comprising 486 separate illustrations and 380pages of description, the tome's most distinguishing features are the wonderfullyexecuted lithographs, many of which are from drawings of surgical operationsby Pancoast.

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"Operation for Cancer of the Tongue." It almost seems impossiblein today's world to imagine that this surgical procedure was carried out withoutbenefit of anesthesia. Following a long tradition of European surgical illustration,the idealized patient is depicted as being placid in demeanor while undergoingwhat must have been an unbearable therapeutic ordeal. Such hand-colored versionsof Pancoast's atlas help highlight the graphicness of mid-19th-century surgicaltexts.

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