Individual Work
Quam Artem Exerceas?

“Quam Artem Exerceas? The Life and Times of Bernardino Ramazzini” is a scholarly hypertext essay by Giuliano Franco, made in Storyspace and published in 1994 in The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext, issue 1:4. The Latin title means “What do you do for a living?” and refers to a question the titular 17th century physician, Bernardino Ramazzini (1633-1714), often asked his patients to identify work-related causes of diseases they presented with. Ramazzini, around whom Franco’s essay revolves, is commonly known as the father of occupational medicine. Franco, who was Professor of Occupational Medicine at the University of Pavia at the time he authored the essay, dedicated much of his research to “advancing the use of hypertext learning tools” (Eastgate Systems 1994: 15), and a long list of his publications in this field is integrated in the hypertext.

“Quam Artem” appeared along with Rob Swigart’s “Directions” in issue 1:4 of the Eastgate Quarterly. Whilst both texts seek to represent aspects of scientific historiography, Franco’s approach is aims for maximum scholarly clarity and cohesion, whereas Swigart’s spiritualistic, “pseudo-scientific hyperpoem” mixes semiotic modes and different styles of writing with impermeable multimodality, thus leading to cognitive disorientation and a meditative rather than lucid state of mind in the reader.

“Quam Artem” is divided into clearly delineated sections, placing Ramazzini’s ground-breaking treatise, “De morbis artificium diatriba” (“Diseases of Workers,” 1700) within the historical, cultural, philosophical, medical, and economic context of its time, as well as accounting for some of Ramazzini’s biographical circumstances that led to the creation of “De morbis.” Using the navigation pane on the left hand side of the screen (see screenshot from a Macintosh Performa, System 7), readers can navigate the different contextual sections of the treatise with ease, thus learning more about Enlightenment thought, early industrial inventions, and early modern literature and art. At the core of “Quam Artem” lie two large quasi-encyclopedic hypertext maps, both of which are adapted from “De morbis” and colour-coded: the blue map contains individual lexias dedicated to individual professions and their associated “human activities,” such as “stone cutting,” “soap production,” and “printing.” The larger, red map explains common ailments that Ramazzini associated with specific types of occupational activities, including the mostly sedentary activities of tailors, shoemakers, nuns and “literary men” - a term that denoted members of what is today commonly known as the “creative class” (Florida 2002) of primarily knowledge-based workers (e.g. professors, lawyers, designers, IT experts, and medical professionals). The red map of occupational risks is intricately interlinked (see screenshots), thus depicting the complexity yet nonetheless scholarly transparency that characterizes Ramazzini’s original essay.

References:

  • Eastgate Systems (1994) “About the Authors,” in The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext, 1:4, Fall 1994. Instruction Booklet, p.15.
  • Florida, Richard (2002) The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic Books.

Special thanks to the Electronic Literature Lab for providing access to this pre-web hypertext on a Macintosh Performa 5215CD.