Dr Sami Ibrahim Haddad – the surgeon and his manuscripts

This guest post is written by Lara Salha, archivist at Wellcome Collection, and gives us an introduction to her work with Dr Haddad’s manuscripts.

Black and white photograph of nine male students, four seated in the front and five standing at the back.

Figure 1 – Sami Haddad (student days) circa 1911-12, seated second from the left (Source: A first class man in every particular by Farid Haddad)

In the autumn of 1985, the Wellcome Collection acquired a set of manuscripts at Sotheby’s auction house. These manuscripts were being sold on behalf of the Haddad family and were previously owned by the late Lebanese physician Dr Sami Ibrahim Haddad. The lots on sale comprised of 95 manuscripts, of which Wellcome acquired 87. All the manuscripts are now fully digitised and accessible online through the Wellcome Collection catalogue and are all catalogued in TEI. Below I will be sharing some observations of this re-cataloguing project that was undertaken in 2020-2021 and the fascinating story surrounding the Haddad collection and its origin.

Figure 2 – MS Arabic 434 (Credit: The Wellcome Collection)

The Haddad manuscripts were previously listed in a now-defunct catalogue by Nikolaj Serikoff and subsequently re-catalogued in TEI due to an initiative pushed in 2020-21. The manuscripts currently housed at the Wellcome Collection consist largely of medical manuscripts, such as MS Arabic 434 (see above) titled The Basics in the Art of Surgery ( كتاب العمدة في الجراحة) by Ibn al-Quff. Many of the manuscripts centre around subjects that are related (but not limited) to questions on medicine, ailments and their remedies, various copies of Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine, drug recipes, guidance for physicians, commentaries on famous pieces of text and even a manuscript on perfumes.

Figure 3 – Haddad can be seen standing second on the left in the back row (Credit: Courtesy of the American University of Beirut archives)

Throughout this re-cataloguing journey, my intentions were not driven by Haddad himself at all but purely by a “More Product, Less Process” approach taken by many archivists, which prioritises minimal processing so that backlogs may be reduced and access increased as quickly as possibe. My goals as part of taking on the Arabic manuscript collection at Wellcome were to find a “quick win.” The Haddad collection seemed well suited: it wasn’t such a large collection, it was fully digitised, and it had accurate and transparent provenance. This meant getting the collection catalogued in TEI (which is now accomplished), with the help of Serikoff’s previous catalogue,  which would allow quicker and better access to a collection that has otherwise been neglected for some time. However, the more we catalogued, the more intrigued I became in this collection’s origin and previous owner, Sami Haddad. Throughout the year of cataloguing, I went down a rabbit hole of research in hopes of finding out as much as I could about the late physician and to put a human face to an otherwise unassuming collection of medical manuscripts.

Figure 4 – Haddad standing in white suit, fourth from the left (Credit: Courtesy of the American University of Beirut archives).

Sami Haddad came from a longstanding Lebanese family that has been able to date their lineage back to 1400 BC in Yemen. Sami was a Lebanese surgeon born in Jaffa, Ottoman Palestine, in 1890 and died in Beirut, Lebanon in 1957.

From piecing together all the information I’ve been able to gather, I’ve been left with the impression that Sami Haddad himself was a formidable and head-strong character. He excelled as a student, received his MD in 1913 from the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut (now known as the American University of Beirut, AUB), and held several medical posts during WWI in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. He helped develop modern medicine in the department of surgery at AUB and played a leading role in developing it into what became one of the most advanced medical faculties of the Near East.

Figure 5 – The original staff of the Orient Hospital, 1947 (Source: A first class man in every particular by Farid Haddad).

One of the best indicators as to the type of person Dr Haddad was is that upon his retirement in 1947, he was immediately appointed a professor at AUB, and founded the Orient Hospital, Beirut, in the same year.

The Orient Hospital became a fascinating hinge in my desire to understand the Haddad family. I’ve asked multiple people, from friends and family to Lebanese history social media bloggers, but no one I’ve spoken to can recall this hospital, nor where it was located exactly.

The hospital was only open for a short period of time and had to close in 1976 due to being bombed during the Lebanese Civil War. While long forgotten to many in present-day Lebanon, and only existing for 29 years, the brilliance of its existence should not be dismissed. It was a non-profit 54-bed hospital, located in the heart of Beirut, near Saint George Bay, and focused its efforts on low-income patients. The small but mighty hospital even dedicated an entire wing to the influx of Palestinian refugees for their health care needs when they were forced to flee in 1948.

Figure 6 – Haddad standing first on the right (Credit: Courtesy of the American University of Beirut archives).

Dr Sami Haddad embraced knowledge from where he could get it – he didn’t reject Western medical advancements, nor did he shy away from his ethno-cultural heritage. His appreciation for hygiene and medicine meant he travelled extensively and collected manuscripts and archaeological artefacts wherever he came across them. They weren’t stolen or taken without a moral compass – he firmly believed in providing access and as much knowledge to all as best as he could. The door to his office in the Orient Hospital had the Arabic verses inscribed: “How happy would I be when, alone, I would spend my time with a book, a book which does not divulge my secrets, and from which I would gain knowledge and wisdom.”

Dr Haddad took pride in his identity and cultural heritage, which can be seen in an entire publication he authored about the history of medicine in the Arab world from pre-Islamic age to modern day, called مأاثر العرب في العلوم الطبية  (ma’athir al-‘arab fi al-‘ulum al-tibiyyeh known in English as Arab influences on medical sciences). There are items within his collection that I found at AUB, which were privately published by him, that were a pleasant surprise. One of them being a manuscript of Prophetic teachings (also known as hadith), which is still regularly used by those studying Islamic theology, despite being raised in a strict Christian household. Dr Haddad was known later in his life to annually give tours of his manuscript collections to new students and junior doctors at AUB, as well as discuss the history of the Arabs and the outlook his cultural heritage faced at the hands of Western “modernity”. He embraced his Arab identity unapologetically, and it was one filled with pride in his ancestors, regardless of religion or sect, and the contributions both the Arab and Islamic world made towards modern day science.

Figure 7 – Wellcome Collection GitHub repository for TEI, with images from Dr Haddad’s life and of the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

One of my main take-aways from this re-cataloguing project is that the relationship between the aged manuscript, the digital tools, and the human aspect of everything surrounding the manuscript can often be overlooked. As we use digital tools to make collections and manuscripts more accessible, there need not be a loss in the human history of the items themselves, the people who used them, collected them, and protected them. This project showed me more than ever before that in tandem with establishing these digital tools to heighten availability and provide access to otherwise overlooked collections, it is nonetheless imperative that we continue to bring back the archivist’s work to the discussion of digital humanities and digital work. My only hope from this project is that while these are largely scientific, medical manuscripts used extensively by physicians throughout their lives, it is the life of Dr Haddad that brought them to the Wellcome Collection in the present day. The humanity embedded within manuscripts should not stop at the creator or the scribe, and this research is barely the tip of the iceberg in showing that.

Special thanks to the American University of Beirut archive who kindly shared with me digital copies of Dr Haddad’s travels in the King-Crane commission, as well as extensive archival material during my research.

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