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Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions Seeks New Home for Its Research Collection


Alain Touwaide, PhD, and his wife Emanuela Appetiti, founders of the nonprofit Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, are seeking a new home for their research collection, Medicina Antiqua. This collection is a valuable source of information on the therapeutic uses of plants in the ancient Mediterranean world. The time has come, Touwaide wrote, for the couple to move on after 50 years of acquiring and preserving these materials (email, March 25, 2021). They are now looking for an institution or individual to acquire the collection and give it a permanent home. The couple hopes to keep the entire collection intact, if possible.

“We hope it will continue to grow and, more than anything, to serve the scientific and scholarly community … and [be] open to all, as we [offered it],” Touwaide wrote.

The cross-disciplinary collection covers aspects of science, medicine, and the humanities and reflects the diverse interests of Touwaide, a classicist, and Appetiti, a cultural anthropologist. The collection contains approximately 30,000 items, including facsimiles of primary sources, catalogs of manuscripts, modern printed versions of ancient texts, and images of early printed herbals. It is currently housed at the Botany Center of the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California.

Touwaide began collecting these works in 1971 as an undergraduate classical studies student at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. Some of the rarer items were acquired through hard work and determination and required Touwaide and Appetiti to seek out small, lesser-known collections and libraries. Their interest lies not only in the knowledge of plants and human health but how this information was transmitted through the centuries and changed as it passed through different hands. Though the acquisition of these works started as a piecemeal effort on a student budget, Touwaide and Appetiti changed their strategy when the value of their collection to the scientific research community became clear, and they moved forward with the goal of creating an open-access academic library.

From 2004 to 2016, Medicina Antiqua was available for scholars from around the world through an agreement with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. In 2007, the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions was formed as an independent research and education center and, in 2016, the collection was moved to its present home in the Huntington. Now, Touwaide and Appetiti hope that their work will remain available for future scholarship.

“We wish to empower the next generation and offer an opportunity to take advantage of our collections, hoping that they will be curated as they deserve and further expanded,” wrote Touwaide (email, March 31, 2021).

Some standouts of the collection include a 1529 edition of the collected works of Italian physician Niccolò Leoniceno (1428–1524), who translated into Latin works from the Greek physicians Hippocrates (ca. 460–370 BCE) and Galen (129 CE–ca. 216) and created a cultural shift in the study of pharmacognosy; rare German editions and doctoral theses from the early 19th century; and the 1874 original of Pharmacographia by Friedrich A. Flückiger (1828–1894) and Daniel Hanbury (1825–1875). There are also a multitude of floras from regions around the Mediterranean, facsimile replicas of manuscripts in Greek, Latin, and Arabic, early-printed herbals, copies of numerous botanical illustrations, and a special section devoted to Pompeii and the archeological study of its excavation, with all the works of preeminent archeologist and pioneer archaeobotanist Wilhelmina Jashemski (1910–2007).

This collection not only allows scholars to access the information contained within ancient treatises but also to trace these works throughout the centuries, as it contains works relevant to the transmission of ancient texts. These works of textual scholarship (a discipline that covers the description, transcriptions, editing, and annotating of texts and documents) include the inventory and description of the production of Greek, Arabic, and Latin texts with a focus on Renaissance-era scholars, scientists, and printers.

The works Appetiti contributed to the collection cover different sections of the world. Her research interests include Australian Aboriginal populations and related health topics. Non-Mediterranean focuses of the collection also include works on the ethnobotany of Africa, the Caribbean, India, New Zealand, and South America, among others; ethnomedicine of First Nations in Canada, Native Americans in the United States, and traditional practices such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine; and cultural works of Australian Aboriginal peoples including art, fiction, mythology, and poetry.

These works are a fraction of the 30,000 items in the collection, and only a sample of the topics it spans. More information about the collection is available at To contact Touwaide and Appetiti, inquiries can be sent to