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Editorial |

Is Medical History Still Relevant to Today's Ophthalmologist?

James G. Ravin, MD
Arch Ophthalmol. 2011;129(7):941-942. doi:10.1001/archophthalmol.2011.170.
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Is history “bunk,” as Henry Ford liked to say? Or is the comment frequently attributed to the philosopher George Santayana more appropriate: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?2

Is the history of ophthalmology relevant to clinicians and researchers?3 Certainly one can practice ophthalmology or work in a laboratory without being familiar with the backgrounds of the many names we encounter daily. But without an idea of who they were or what they were trying to achieve, clearly something is missing. Consider the anatomical structures named for Descemet, Schlemm, and Bruch; the pathologic findings described by Fuchs, Soemmering, and Weiss; the surgical instruments devised by Stevens, Jameson, and Castroviejo; and the visual acuity charts of Snellen and Landolt. Who were these people and what were they trying to do? And what is really new in ophthalmology? Certainly, some innovations in fields such as genomics are unprecedented, but until recently almost any “new” description was greeted with the disarming question, “Have you searched through the old German literature before claiming your discovery? It was probably described there previously.”


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