A Regional History of Medicine in the Middle East

Photographs as primary sources

Posted on June 4, 2019 by Ilan Aronin

On May 26, our team paid a special visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. We were invited to a meeting with Yehudit Caplan, the curator for photographic estates at the museum. Mrs. Caplan showed us photographs – some of them very rare – connected to medicine in the 19th and 20th centuries. Our goal was to see how we, as historians, could use photos as primary sources in our work, and to understand what insights we could gain from them about hospitals, doctors and patients from that era. For example, one of the most interesting photos we saw, taken in the 1930s, shows the main entrance to Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, with a fashionable and elegant car at the front. We were surprised to discover that the entrance to the hospital, which is located in the north of Jerusalem, does not face south but rather faces west. We learnt that Erich Mendelsohn, the famous Jewish architect who built the hospital, implemented in this way the idea that the inspiration for modernity and progress comes from Europe, the West, and not from the Levant. We concluded our meeting with the group’s aspiration to collaborate with the museum, in order to provide public accessibility for these visual treasures that can teach us about the modern medical history of the Middle East.