"The project began as a exhibition in the Basle University Library to commemorate the major anniversaries of the birth and death of Paracelsus (1493–1541). Not only did he work and teach in Basle, but many of his writings were first published there by his followers. Printers like Heinrich Petri and Peter Perna supported the new medicine both for its therapeutics and for its links with evangelical religion. The conjunction of medicine, science and religion was promoted by the presence in the city of many religious exiles, such as Adam von Bodenstein and Guglielmo Gratarolo, who took advantage of willing printers to publish their beliefs in treatises in German and in Latin, the universal language of scholarship. The rise of the university as a bastion of Protestant scientific learning under Zwinger and the Platter family attracted students from all over northern Europe, who took back to their homes the latest products of the Basle presses. All this is wonderfully documented in the Basle Library, whose collections of early printed books, manuscripts and autograph letters are a prime resource for students of sixteenth-century medicine and science. Not surprisingly, the 1993 exhibition was a visual and intellectual feast, and attracted large numbers of visitors.
The small catalogue then took on a life of its own, and expanded in concept and content. The list of imprints by Paracelsus and his followers, the basis for Part 2, nos. 175–210, was extended to cover medicine and science, interpreted broadly to include mathematics, geography and even rhetoric, as well as the role of the printers in supporting, and at times directing, evangelical reform in a godly city. In all, 766 items are listed; 174 in Part 1, covering the period before 1550; 36 in Part 2; 506 in Part 3, non-Paracelsian imprints after 1550; and 10 additions in the Introduction. Excluding the introduction and index, this bibliographical cornucopia runs to 3694 pages, an average of five pages per printed book. When the strictly bibliographical description rarely runs to more than ten lines, and the concluding paragraph giving details of the provenance of each copy (or often copies) usually to less than that, one may wonder how Dr Hieronymus has managed to fill so many pages.
Each entry begins with a short listing of the author, title, place and date of printing, the name of the printer, and the size of the book. This is then followed by a description of the book's contents, composition, history, and significance in the history of medicine and science. Often there are comments about the place of the book in the history of printing in Basle, and the entry ends with a description of exemplars in the Basle Library. Often a reproduction of the title page is given, sometimes in half-page length, but usually full-page, and even as folding plates attached to the inside back cover. But these reproductions range widely to show some of the illustrations, manuscript notes of ownership or commentary, and even some of the manuscript documentation and drafts that reveal the history of the book's publication. No copy of 413, John Caius' very rare edition of some minor works of Galen, 1557, survives in Basle. But in the collections of the Frey-Grynaeum Institute there exists the copy of the fourth of these works, De ossibus, that Caius prepared for his printer, Oporinus. The illustrations show how Caius inserted his corrections into the 1543 Paris edition before sending the volume to Basle. These abundant reproductions provide a remarkable visual resource for the history of medicine and of printing (one illustration, I know, has already helped in identifying a damaged volume in a London library). An electronic version of some of the entries, incorporating still more illustrations, can be found on the Library's website: www.ub.unibas.ch/kadmos/gg/; or via their ‘Virtuelle Bibliothek’ (Handschriften/Griechische Geist)."
"It tells one story if one begins at the beginning, and another if one begins at the end, with the seven indexes that form volume 5. A mere glance at its first six indexes, of dates, authors and titles, printers and their location, addressees, owners, and the composers of commentary, dedications or liminal poems, opens windows onto the early modern republic of letters. But this information is dwarfed by that in index 7, a gallimaufry of names and topics ranging from God and ruins to brain disease, the rhinoceros and the wondrous Johannes Baptista Campofulgosus. As with Zwinger's Theatrum vitae humanae, 1571, the subject of possibly the longest notice in the catalogue, all human life is here. Anyone with an interest in early modern science who looks up any name or word is likely to find unexpected information or a new context for familiar material. But, I suspect, not even 134 pages of double-columned index will reveal everything." (quotations from the review by Vivian Nutton, "Basel, printing, and the early modern intellectual world," Med. Hist. 2007 Apr 1; 51(2): 246–249.