Arnold Klebs, Historian of Medicine: Research on Plague Tracts
After the War, Klebs moved with his family to Nyon, Switzerland. His home for the remainder of his life, “Les Terrasses,” looked out on Lake Geneva. In a cottage on the estate he established his library, where he worked on a variety of historical projects. Klebs became part of the growing community of physicians who wrote on the history of medicine, led by Karl Sudhoff in Germany and William Henry Welch and Henry Sigerist in the United States. Like many of the more serious physician/ historians of medicine of his time, he was devoted to bibliography -- the sorting out of authors, editions, printers, places of publication, and dates relating to particular subjects and authors. This was meticulous work that required visiting numerous libraries to locate and compare editions. Klebs also took part in a related project of historians of medicine, to provide facsimile editions of rare texts. One of the major subjects that Klebs investigated in the1920s were early books and rare tracts on the plague.
Karl Sudhoff (1853-1938), Historian of Medicine and Mentor to Arnold Klebs
Karl Sudhoff was the founder of the twentieth century rise of history of medicine as an academic field for research and teaching. He was the head of an institute for the history of medicine at Leipzig, which was a model for later research centers, such as the Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins headed by William Henry Welch, and then by Sudhoff’s student, Henry E. Sigerist. The Johns Hopkins Institute in turn was a model for the Medical Historical Library at Yale. Shown is a photograph of a drawing of Sudhoff by Klebs.
Klebs’ Plague Book Article for Sudhoff’s Festschrift, 1924
For Sudhoff’s seventieth birthday Festschrift, Klebs contributed this article on the first edition of “the first medical book of large size ever printed” [that is, the first oversized book]. Ferrari da Gradi’s Practica was a very rare two-volume work on the plague. This paper is opened to a middle page to show the detailed nature of the bibliographical research Klebs was undertaking. The date of the printing of the incunable was unclear, but Klebs presented arguments for 1472. The photographs were hand-pasted into copies of the article.
Facsimile Plague Tracts and Klebs’ Bibliography
This work contains facsimile reproductions of five French incunabula plague tracts along with Klebs’ bibliography of early plague tracts. It was published in both French and English. Shown is Klebs’ own annotated copy. He bound together both editions of the book. On the left is the table of contents for the French edition.
The First Printed Plague Tracts, 1926
This co-authored work with Karl Sudhoff includes Klebs’ history of plague literature and a bibliographical description of 130 incunabula on the plague. This is Klebs’ personal annotated copy bound in vellum.
Klebs at a Meeting of Medical Historians at Bad Homburg, 1927
Karl Sudhoff is fourth from the left in the front row. Right behind him are William Henry Welch and Arnold Klebs. Klebs was well integrated into the early community of historians of medicine.
Plague Book from Klebs’ Collection
Klebs did not collect incunabula plague tracts, but he did collect the less expensive plague literature of the 16th to 18th centuries. Here is an example of a 16th century book in German on all aspects of the plague, including bloodletting and astrology.