08.11.2023 History of Medicine

Records of Brazilian medical education

Study identifies first bibliographic record of medical and surgical texts used by professors and students in the country in the nineteenth century

The Building of the former Rio de Janeiro School of Medicine (currently a unit of UFRJ) where the Brazilian Francisco Xavier da Veiga (1831-1868) prepared the thesis with the first bibliographic record of medical and surgical texts used by professors and students in the country in the nineteenth century | Credit: WikiCommons

On December 20, 1851, at an event attended by Emperor Dom Pedro II (1825–1891) and his wife, Empress TeresaChristina (1822–1889), the Rio de Janeiro School of Medicine awarded the title of Medical Doctor to 33 students. One of them was Francisco Xavier da Veiga (1831–1868), from the state of Minas Gerais, whose thesis contained what may have been the first systematization of medical and surgical texts published or known in the city after the medical school was founded.

This previously little-known inventory has now been recovered and analyzed by historian Amanda Peruchi of the School of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Humanities at the University of São Paulo (FFLCH-USP). In an article published in Revista Brasileira de História da Ciência in July, she presented a complete transcription of its content, hoping it may contribute to future research on the history of medicine.

It took some time for catalogs and lists of medical literature produced or referenced by doctors, professors, and students at medical schools to come into use in Brazil. It was only in 1877, approximately a quarter of a century after Xavier da Veiga’s thesis, that the first list of texts on medicine, pharmacy, and surgery available at the medical school was made public. Another similar catalog was published in 1916, adding works written between 1900 and 1915.

Titled Ensaio da Bibliografia Médica do Rio de Janeiro posterior à criação da Escola de Medicina (Essay on the Medical Bibliography of Rio de Janeiro after the founding of the School of Medicine), Xavier da Veiga’s bibliography can be considered “a pioneering compilation of known medical texts in Rio Janeiro, particularly in the last three decades of the first half of the nineteenth century,” highlighted Peruchi.

Facsimile of the cover of the thesis defended by Francisco Xavier da Veiga (1831-1868), defended in 1851 | Credit: Amanda Peruchi (USP)

“Its analysis provides an overview of the nature of the medical work produced in Brazil at the time and the primary concerns of the incipient field of medicine in the country’s academic system,” wrote the author of the paper.

Inventory and comments

Xavier da Veiga’s work was divided into two parts. In the first, the doctor presented a chronological list of 37 medical titles published between 1831 and 1851. The majority of authors were Brazilian, although some were foreigners who had settled in Brazil.

Interestingly, no theses or dissertations from the School of Medicine were included, “perhaps because they were produced by students, thus not possessing the theoretical and methodological precision found in more renowned works.”

The future doctor began the inventory with Semanário de Saúde Pública (Public health weekly), printed from 1831 to 1833, and ended with Observações acerca da epidemia da febre amarela do ano de 1850 no Rio de Janeiro (Observations of the yellow fever epidemic in Rio de Janeiro, 1850), collected in hospitals and outpatient clinics by Dr. Roberto Lallemant and published in 1851.

“This catalog,” explains Peruchi, from USP, “coincides with a period in which doctors in Brazil, motivated by the founding of medical schools, began to defend their academic authority more vigorously in opposition to the varied and customary practices of shamans, healers, sorcerers, etc.”

Facsimile of the first page of the inventory organized by Xavier da Veiga | Credit: Amanda Peruchi (USP)

One of the resources used was scientific journals, many of which were produced by medical associations and aimed not only at professionals in the field but also at broader audiences.

“The objective of these publications was to present and discuss new developments in the medical field and to highlight the importance of so-called academic knowledge for effectively treating diseases,” highlights the historian. “Many studies associated diseases with the sanitary status of cities and suggested measures that could be implemented to sanitize public spaces and reduce contagion.”

In the second part of Xavier da Veiga’s inventory, he presented short comments on twelve of the listed texts, in addition to describing medical dictionaries and medication forms with their respective applications.

These documents were used to disseminate practices and knowledge approved by official medical institutions with regard to healthcare for people in rural regions of Brazil—there were still too few qualified Brazilian and foreign doctors to meet the medical demands of the time, especially in areas further away from urban centers.

“It is a very complete catalog of works that were known and available to students, teachers, and other interested parties involved in the medical field in Brazil in the first half of the nineteenth century,” summarizes Peruchi.


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