A Regional History of Medicine in the Middle East

Visiting Archives and Libraries in Paris

Posted on June 30, 2020 by Neta Talmud

Between November 17 and November 22, 2019, three doctoral students – Annabella Esperanza, Mayan Lalush, and I – together with our supervisor, Prof. Liat Kozma, traveled to Paris to conduct research in archives and libraries. The purpose of the trip was for each one of us to look for preliminary materials for the project she is working on. In addition to being a beautiful city that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, Paris also encompasses significant libraries and archives whose importance derives in part from the major role played by France in the Middle East during our research period. This visit was important because the material we found could possibly change the research topic of PhD. The trip only lasted a week, so we prepared carefully for the visit, choosing the institutions that might be most useful for us and allocating a limited time to visiting each institution.

One of the fascinating institutions we visited was the medical library Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Santé (BIU Santé), located in the fourth arrondissement, in the heart of Paris. This library houses a large number of books and articles dealing with the history of medicine throughout the world, including the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire. It contains professional literature written in earlier periods, which allows us to learn about the development of the medical profession, and the people working as physicians during these periods. This visit was particularly important for Anabella who found 30 thèse folders, written by Jewish doctors who studies in Paris in the 19th century. This is very helpful for mapping what the doctors learned in Paris, who were their classmates etc. In addition, we visited the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, a huge and magnificent structure containing many collections of books and manuscripts. Among them we found medical journals and books on gynaecology and obstetrics, epidemics, medical schools, and medical professionals in the Middle East.

During our stay in France, we also traveled to the city of Nantes, where we visited the archives of the French Foreign Ministry (Centre des Archives Diplomatiques). This archive contains thousands of documents from French consulate and embassies around the world, from the earliest periods to the twentieth century. In this archive we found correspondence between consular and embassy officials from different cities and the Foreign Ministry, describing life in different cities in the Middle East and North Africa and the events that occurred there. Another archive found in Paris and some of which we visited is the archive of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a network of Jewish schools that extended throughout the Middle East and the Balkans. The documents preserved in this archive provide a glimpse into the lives of teachers and students, and in fact into entire Jewish communities, starting in the nineteenth century.

We returned from this journey with essential initial materials for our projects, which we could not reach from Israeli libraries. But beyond that, the contribution of the trip was also in enabling us, doctoral students at the beginning of our research journey, to experiment with and experience archival work. Traveling as a group was very helpful and allowed us to help one another and learn from each other. It was a wonderful experience, not only because of finding material, but also because everyone was helpful, and it was exciting visiting these major and important archives. This was a highly successful and enjoyable week!