Angélique du Coudray, pioneer midwife

Angélique du Coudray

Angélique du Coudray (c. 1714–1794) was a pioneering French midwife. In 1759 she published a midwifery textbook, Abrégé de l’art des accouchements. Her introduction notes the fact that incompetence or lack of care can lead to the death of both mother and child, and continues with a politico-religious imperative: “Ignorons-nous que ces deux viâimes étoient chères aux yeux de Dieu, utiles à leur famille, & nécessaires à l’État? C’étoit un dépôt qui nous avoit été confié. Pouvons-nous, en les sacrifiant à un vil intérêt, ne pas trembler sur le compte exact que nous en rendrons un jour à celui qui leur avoit donné l’être?” (“Do we not know that these two lives were dear to the eyes of God, useful to their families, and necessary to the State? They were a deposit which was entrusted to us. Can we, if we sacrifice them to a vile interest, not tremble at the exact account that we shall one day render to Him who gave them to be?”).

To avoid such deaths, du Coudray explains proper prenatal care, and provides instruction on both normal deliveries and a range of common obstetric problems.

Illustration of a normal delivery, from the 1777 edition of Abrégé de l’art des accouchements

Also in 1759, Angélique du Coudray was commissioned by King Louis XV to tour the country training midwives, in the hope of reducing perinatal mortality. She personally trained thousands of midwives, many of whom went on to train others. Her training course was assisted not only by her book, but also by her Machine, a pioneering lifesize obstetric simulator. The Machine included realistic internal structure, such as bones and ligaments, and could be used to practice delivery of a baby in a range of different positions, while giving the trainee midwife a feel for the forces involved.

Angélique du Coudray’s Machine (photo: Ji-Elle)

Australia Day

Today is Australia Day, marking the 1788 arrival of the First (British) Fleet in Australia. As well as establishing the island continent as a British colony, the First Fleet advanced the scientific study of the region. John White, Surgeon-General to the colony, was a keen amateur botanist and zoologist. His Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (with colour plates added later) included notes on Australian flora and fauna:

Arthur Bowes Smyth, a naval surgeon on the Lady Penrhyn, made similar observations. His journal included 25 drawings, like this one of an emu (the first known drawing of that bird):

Art Forms in Nature: a book review

Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel

I finally got my own copy of the classic Art Forms in Nature (Kunstformen der Natur) by Ernst Haeckel. Yes, the prints are all online, but that isn’t quite the same thing. This collection of 100 prints, first published as a set in 1904, is a true classic.


Is it an art book or a science book? It doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s beautiful, and it’s informative. Everyone should cast their eyes over these pictures at some point. These images influenced the Art Nouveau movement, and have also found their way into many books on the relationship between mathematics and science. And they are just fun to peruse.

* * * * *
Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel: 5 stars

And So They Build by Bert Kitchen: a brief book review

And So They Build by Bert Kitchen

And So They Build by Bert Kitchen is a child’s introduction to construction by animals (also the subject of my previous review of a different book).

The story of the tailorbird

Kitchen provides 12 short descriptions of animal architects (mammals, birds, fish, and insects), along with 12 beautiful illustrations.

The harvest mouse

This short book is a good buy for parents of small children. I’m giving it the same rating as goodreads.

And So They Build by Bert Kitchen: 3.5 stars

Not the periodic table

Google recently celebrated the birthday of Dmitri Mendeleev, father of the periodic table. That reminded me of the periodic table above (by “ham549”). No, the elements are not Earth, Air, Water, and Fire.

Some people still seem to think they are, however. Pre-scientific forms of medicine, such as Ayurveda, are still based on the elements being Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. A number of more modern forms of alternative medicine also take this ancient system as a basis. And what about splitting the beer atom?

Book nostalgia: The How and Why Wonder Books

In the years after the USSR launched Sputnik (on 4 October 1957), there was a panic in the USA about what we now call STEM education. Part of the subsequent attempt to “catch up with the Russians” involved some good new educational books. Among these were the 1960s How and Why Wonder Books, which I was brought up on. I still feel nostalgic when I see the covers.

Surprisingly advanced concepts (e.g. nuclear binding energy) were covered, and the books were written extremely well. In hindsight, some of the topics are rather frightening. For example, one of the rockets described was the “Honest John,” a tactical battlefield missile intended to hit targets 50 km away… with a nuclear warhead. Other topics, on the other hand, are almost laughable, like the descriptions of cutting-edge 1960s computers. But most of the content was up-to-date (for its time), and guaranteed to get children interested in science and engineering.

Hats off to the people who planned the series (at the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, apparently), to writers like Donald Barr, and to illustrators like Walter Ferguson. Some of the wonderful illustrations from the books are shown below (from Chemistry and Oceanography). For more about the series, see