Casey Wood Collections Project

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Posted in Cultural Archives & Curation, Projects

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Source: Redpath Museum, McGill University

In its current state, the Casey Wood Collections Project is a blog run by Nick Whitfield (Postdoctoral Fellow, Social Studies of Medicine), Anna Winterbottom (Postdoctoral Fellow with the IOWC), and Anna Dysert (PhD student, Department of History, and liaison librarian for the Osler Library).

The project is exploring options to make parts of the Casey Woods collection digitally accessible. The team is also researching the collector himself, and the afterlife of his collection—how to trace the objects across libraries, and how to distinguish the original donations from those which came later.

Among the broad range of collected items are roughly 200 palm leaf manuscripts and 200 artifacts, which are currently sitting in the back of the Redpath Museum, or in the Osler Library and Rare Books and Special Collections. The manuscripts and objects of interest are mostly to do with Sri Lankan medicine from the 15th to 19th centuries, especially in the field of Ophthalmology (diseases of the eye). In its scope of scholarly interest, the collection is vast: some of the manuscripts describe Sri Lankan cultural anomalies, such as surgeries and anatomical drawings, some contain information about plant-derived medicines (oils, powders), and others show magical remedies, spells, and drawings of gods and goddesses. The objects include such curiosities as a medicated eye pencil—an invention from ancient Egypt that made its way to Sri Lanka—that mixes medication with eye makeup.

The collection was itself partially responsible for stimulating interest in government-funded Ayurveda medicine, and training for this ancient practise took off in the 20s and 30s partly due to Wood’s collection.

In addition to digitizing the manuscripts and objects, as well as their original description cards, there is also hope for translation of the manuscripts—since only very few of those in the Rare Books and Special Collections have been translated (partially, by Andreas Nell in the 20s and 30s).

To keep up with the blog, please visit:

Casey Wood Collections Project

PI: Nick Whitfield, Anna Winterbottom, Anna Dysert