Posts tagged: digital collections

Center Staff Contributes to NEA Panel, “Perfecting the Process”

By , March 28, 2014
NEA Spring 2014

Amber LaFountain and Meghan Bannon at the NEA Spring 2014 Meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

On Friday, March 21, at the New England Archivists’ Spring meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Project Archivists Meghan Bannon and Amber LaFountain gave presentations on their experiences encountering and working through processing complexities that lead to policy review and revisions. The panel, entitled, “Perfecting the Process,” was moderated by Jennifer Betts, University Archivist for Brown University, and included presentations from Sara Beneman, Project Archivist for the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and Krista Ferrante, Archivist for The MITRE Corporation.

Meghan discussed the Center’s approach to handling electronic records as well as its adaptation of the tools used in digital forensics to process various types of electronic records using the Center’s FRED (Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device). Amber spoke about the factors influencing the determination of access and privacy protections for manuscript collections, and the access decision-making process. She also spoke about how the Center is working to make that process more transparent for researchers, as a part of the Private Practices, Public Health: Privacy Aware Processing to Maximize Access to Health Collections project, funded by a Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through the Council on Library Resources (CLIR).

To view Meghan’s presentation on processing electronic records, please click here.

To view Amber’s presentation on access and privacy protections, please click here.


Inconsistency, the slough of disease, and the steps of common sense.

By , March 22, 2013

Illustration from The Thomsonian Botanic Watchman, vol. 1, no. 1 (1834) p. 8. On the left an M.D. and Fellow of the Royal Society bludgeons a patient, who is being bled and is mired in the slough of disease, with a club labeled "calomel" (mercury chloride). On his jacket are the labels: "dieting", "regulate system," "depletion," "lancet," and "nitre." In the center, a man wearing the labels: "reason," "philosophy," and "common sense." And on the right, a man wearing the labels: "Thomson's system," "food," "steam," "lobelia," and "capsicum" leads a patient up the steps of common sense

Read The Thomsonian Botanic Watchman online.


This image was digitized as part of the Medical Heritage Library project. A collaborative online collection of primary source materials held by some of the world’s leading medical libraries, the Medical Heritage Library presently contains over 40,000 individual volumes that cover a broad range of topics within the domain of medical history. To read more about the MHL and its contributing partners, or to browse the collection, visit

MHL highlight: Child health in the 1920s

By , November 30, 2012

From Mother and Child, vol. 1, no. 1

The rise of pediatrics as a specialty in the United States was in part a response to the devastating infant and child mortality due to unsanitary living conditions, contaminated milk, and inadequate and crowded housing, among many other problems.  In the second half of the 19th century, physicians, public health workers, and nurses began a systematic and comprehensive campaign to improve the lives of infants and children. “Milk depots”, which offered low-priced pasteurized milk, were established, and mothers were encouraged to bring their babies and children regularly to well-child clinics to be weighed and examined. The clinics also offered instruction on hygiene and disease prevention.

During the years immediately following World War I, a sharp increase in childhood malnutrition intensified the focus on child welfare and the need for health education not only in the home, but also in schools. Various groups, including the Child Health Organization, founded in 1918, established curricula, published pamphlets for non-professionals, and supported legislation regarding child labor, public health, and food safety. The CHO used innovative and child-friendly methods of teaching, including plays starring Cho Cho the Health Clown, poster contests, plays, parades, and games.

From Mother and Child, vol. 1, no. 4

The CHO encouraged children to participate in group activities in order to foster camaraderie in the pursuit of  health, and used personal appearances by Cho Cho as an incentive.

The images here are from Mother and Child, a serial published from 1920 to 1923, digitized from Countway’s collections by the Internet Archive as part of the Medical Heritage Library project and funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Read Mother and Child in the Medical Heritage Library at the Internet Archive by clicking the link.

CHoM now digitizing rare and historic medical serials

By , September 26, 2012

While expounding on the usefulness of scientific periodicals in a letter that was republished in The emporium of arts & sciences (1812), Richard Winter noted the following :

The advantages derived from scientific periodic publications, are an acquisition which former philosophers were not possessed of, and it was not until the last century they were first instituted. The rapid progress of science and information since that period, would be a sufficient argument in favour of their decided utility … besides furnishing new ideas to the young student, they point out the precise state of the different branches of human knowledge …

To those who consult an Encyclopedia for scientific matter, these publications are of indispensable utility, by continually pointing out the numerous improvements as they become public, and by that means the general system of philosophical knowledge is kept to the level of the existing state of discovery.

To the mechanic a repository of this kind must be highly useful, as the receptacle in which he may record his labours and improvements, and secure to himself the well-earned fame of his discoveries, at the same time that he derives advantage from others following his example in their contributions to the general fund of science.

In short, there is no class of individuals but may profit.

With the spirit of Winter’s idea in mind, and with the support of the Open Knowledge Commons and The National Endowment for the Humanities, the Medical Heritage Library has undertaken the digitization of thousands of volumes of rare and historic medical journals. These new materials will complement and enhance the collection of digitized medical monographs that now numbers in the tens of thousands by providing a historical glimpse at the cusp of discovery and innovation in medicine over the past several centuries.

The Center for the History of Medicine has kicked off this effort, having so far digitized or prepared for digitization over 150 different journal and periodical titles. Much like the collection of historical medical monographs, the collection of digitized journals will cover a vast spectrum of topics in medicine and the natural sciences. Many of these publications are extremely rare and have not been freely available online until now. What follows is a list of 5 noteworthy titles that have been digitized so far.

Click thumbnail to read The Confederate States medical journal online

1. The Confederate States medical & surgical journal (1864)

The Confederate States medical & surgical journal was the only medical periodical published in the Confederate States of America. It covers various topics, and includes detailed case reports, mostly related to the treatment of battlefield injuries and resulting complications. The Countway Library owns a complete run of the journal’s 15 issues, original sets of which are extremely rare. A 16th issue (vol. 2, no. 3) was printed in the Confederate capital of Richmond in March of 1865, but that final issue was never distributed to the public, as all known copies were burned during the fall of the city on April 2nd.

Click image to read vol. 1 of The magnet online

2. The Magnet (1842)

The magnet was published in two volumes between 1842 and 1844, and edited by Laroy Sunderland, a former methodist minister, a noted abolitionist, and a vocal proponent of mesmerism. Sunderland underwent a crisis of faith after coming to believe that he possessed hypnotic powers owing to his ability to use naturally-occurring animal magnetism to influence the minds of other people.

The magnet was an eccentric publication, covering a diverse range of topics that included electromagnetism, hypnosis, phrenology, spiritualism, the polarity of various regions of the brain, novel methods for electromagnetically sounding the depths of the ocean, lunar phenomena, hygiene, sleep walking, and others. It also contains correspondence from readers and interested parties, as well as numerous illustrations.

Click thumbnail to read vols. 1 and 2 of The emporium of arts & sciences online.

3. The emporium of arts & sciences (1812)

Edited by John Redman Coxe, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, The Emporium was mainly concerned with the state of science in Europe and was published to provide practical information on scientific research, particularly that information contained in foreign papers on chemistry, mineralogy, manufacturing, and machinery.

The Emporium contains instructional essays and articles on a wide range of specific topics, including, but not limited to: the art of making gun flints, the construction of a movable table for the use of engravers, preparing ox-gall, explosive demolition of rocks under water, methods of telegraphic signalling (including smoke signals), spontaneous combustion, the effect of magnetism on time-pieces, the remains of a woolly mammoth, the wines and champagne of France, the construction of theaters (and their acoustical properties), the qualities of rapeseed oil, and many others. The etched and engraved plates are extremely well executed.

Click on thumbnail to read vols. 5-27 of The Richmond and Louisville medical journal online.

4. The Richmond and Louisville medical journal (1868)

Preceded by the Richmond medical journal, and succeeded by Gaillard’s medical journal, the Richmond & Louisville medical journal is one example of the many regional medical periodicals that will be digitized as part of this project. Other regional medical journals so far digitized or prepared for digitization by the Countway Library include The Cleveland medical journal (1902-1918), The New England medical gazette (1866-1918), The Illinois medical and surgical journal (1844-1846), The Vermont journal of medicine (1874), The New England journal of dentistry (1883-1884), The San Francisco medical press (1860-1865), and The Transylvania journal of medicine (1828-1839), among many others.

5. Photographic review of medicine and surgery (1870)

Click thumbnail to read Photographic review or medicine and surgery online.

The publishers of Photographic review intended it to be a useful compilation of visual documentation of rare and unusual medical cases. The mounted albumen plates in Countway’s copy are particularly well preserved, and show conditions that include: congenital deformities, tumors, wounds and abscesses, various lesions, skin diseases, surgical excisions, calculi, and anatomical preparations, among other subjects.


A collaborative online collection of primary source materials held by some of the world’s leading medical libraries, the Medical Heritage Library presently contains over 40,000 individual volumes that cover a broad range of topics within the domain of medical history. To read more about the MHL and its contributing partners, or to browse the collection, visit

MHL highlights: Mendicant collection

By , September 5, 2012

A selection from the Center for the History of Medicine's mendicant collection

In 2003, the Center for the History of Medicine acquired a collection of about 200 pamphlets, books, and ephemera, ranging in date from the early 19th century to the 1960s, intended to be sold by the disabled. Loss of vision, limbs, and mobility through war, occupational accidents, and disease are recurring themes. Most of the earlier examples are poems in 4 or 5 stanzas describing the cause of the disability and appealing to strangers for charity. These ephemera offer a unique look at American life in the 19th and 20th centuries: the rise of the railroads and industry, the Civil War, the temperance movement, and the scarcity of community or social support for some ranks of the disabled are amply documented in this collection.

A small selection of the collection has recently been digitized and is now available through the Medical Heritage Library. The scanning of these items was funded by the Library Services and Technology Act, provided through the Boston Public Library’s Digital Commonwealth program.

More Historic Brigham Newsletters Online, 1943–1961

By , August 22, 2012

View the newly digitized issues of the Brigham Bulletin.

“Hail! A New Baby is Born!” With that announcement on its front page, the very first Brigham Bulletin was inaugurated in the summer of 1943. The newsletter was conceived as a way of keeping Brigham staff who were serving in the armed forces during WWII informed about goings on at the hospital. Publication of the Brigham Bulletin stopped with the end of the war, but it was brought back by popular demand in 1950. There has been a hospital Bulletin published in one form or another ever since. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives has made another portion of our collection of 60+ years of hospital newsletters available online, the latest covering the war years and the 1950s.

Thanks to the financial support of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Physicians Council for our Newsletter Digitization Project, these earliest Brigham Bulletins from the Archives have been added to the 1969-1977 batch digitized during Phase 1 of the project.

How interesting is this collection? Even a quick skim will reveal that the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, one of the parent hospitals of the current incarnation known as the Brigham and Women’s, was a tightly-knit village. The hospital staff of the time thought of themselves as a family. Here are some fun facts gleaned from the pages of the early Brigham Bulletins:

  • Did you know that the hospital used to employ a part-time barber?
  • Or that in the 1940s the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Chief of Surgery, Colonel Elliott Carr Cutler, was promoted to Brigadier General in the US Army and appointed as the Chief Surgeon for the European Theater of Operations?
  • The long hospital corridor, known by the nickname “the Pike,” had been an outdoor path between wards since 1913. Enclosing it began in 1945, albeit with long rows of sunny windows.
  • A Christmas dance was held every year for the nurses.
  • The Brigham installed a high-tech dial telephone system in 1950.
  • In 1958, the hospital was proud to announce that 6% of their doctors were women and that no one expected them to be celibate or infertile. “We welcome them as doctors and as women.”

What other interesting facts can you find?

This completes Phase 2 of the digitization of hospital newsletters. Two hundred and fifty-five pages dating from July 1943 through the Spring of 1961 are now keyword searchable. This is a direct link to page 1 of the first Brigham Bulletin: They are also permanently available from within the online Harvard Library catalog (search Brigham Bulletin).

MHL highlight: Civil War photography from the Army Medical Museum

By , June 26, 2012

Photograph and case history of Private Samuel Decker. He posed for this portrait at the Army Medical Museum along with the prostheses he developed after losing both hands to an artillery accident during the battle of Perryville. — vol. 5, image 5 (Click on image to enlarge.)

The Center for the History of Medicine recently digitized a remarkable collection of Civil War-era images titled Photographs of surgical cases and specimens. Nearly 150 years after it was first published, this six-volume set provides a sobering look at the state of the art in surgery during and after the war. The imagery in the collection is vivid, starkly illustrating the terrible effects of developing warfare technology on the human body, while the detailed case histories that accompany each photograph — recording the names and ranks of soldiers, specific battles, dates of injury, treatment narratives, and final outcomes — provide a wealth of medical and biographical information to scholars and casual readers alike.

Though versions of many of the individual images in the collection have been widely circulated, complete sets in bound volumes are extremely rare, and this is the first time that the entire collection, in its original form, has been made freely available to the public online.

Background & history

At the outset of the Civil War in 1861, the lack of experienced surgeons in the ranks of both the Union and Confederate armies represented a looming medical crisis. In 1862 the United States Army Medical Museum was formed, in part to advance practical research into new ways of treating and diagnosing the types of trauma that had become commonplace on the modern battlefield. Almost immediately after it was established, the museum’s first curator, Dr. John Hill Brinton, began collecting specimens from field hospitals and military grave sites. In the years that followed, individual portraits along with photographs of these specimens and accompanying case histories were disseminated to hospitals and medical institutions around the country.

(top) “Group of officers who have undergone amputation for gunshot injuries” from vol. 3, image 1. (Bottom) Minié ball embedded in skull at the Battle of the Wilderness — vol. 2, image 28.

In 1865, Lieutenant William Bell, who would later gain fame for his photographs of the American West, was appointed Chief Photographer of the museum. The artistic composition and quality of Bell’s work often bore greater resemblance to the celebrated portraiture of Matthew Brady than to standard, utilitarian medical photography. Under the direction of Brinton’s successor, Dr. George Alexander Otis, Bell photographed the portrait sitters and anatomical specimens in a studio at the museum, and was ultimately responsible for the majority of the images that comprise this collection.


The most common and deadly threat on the battlefield at the time was the gunshot wound, which was more prevalent and vastly more traumatic than in previous wars owing to the development of the “Minié ball.” A type of conical musket round, it could be rapidly loaded, then fired accurately and at a velocity high enough to cause devastating flesh wounds and shatter bone at great distances. Surgical cases and specimens includes an exhaustive variety of these types of wounds, illustrated through morbid specimens and portraits of surviving patients, with amputation or excision of joints comprising the majority of surgeries depicted.

This particular edition, which was sent from the museum to John Collins Warren, Jr., was likely assembled and published in the 1870s, and thus it also includes a number of civilian trauma cases from during and after the war that were considered relevant.

A word of caution to readers who wish to browse these books: many of the cases depicted involve extremely gruesome injuries that can, at times, be shocking to look at. Also, when reading the books online, it is important to note that each case history will appear on the page directly following the photograph it describes.

Volumes I-VI of Surgical cases and specimens were digitized by the Center for the History of Medicine as part of our ongoing contributions to the Medical Heritage Library.  A collaborative online collection of primary source materials held by some of the world’s leading medical libraries, the Medical Heritage Library presently contains over 35,000 individual volumes that cover a broad range of topics within the domain of medical history, including hundreds of items relating to various aspects of Civil War medicine. To read more about the MHL and its contributing partners, or to browse the collection, visit

Report on the remarkable case of Captain Robert Stolpe, shot through the abdomen at the battle of Chancellorsville. After being wounded, Stolpe was forced to walk 1.5 miles back to a field hospital. A day later, the field hospital came under fire, and he had to walk another half mile with a portion of his lung protruding from the wound. Shortly after being admitted to a base hospital, he passed the musket ball in his stool and was found “walking about the ward smoking a cigar,” apparently having suffered no long-term, adverse health effects. — vol. 1, image 33.

MHL highlights: electricity in medicine

By , May 14, 2012

Frontispiece from “An essay on electricity, the theory and practice of that useful science, and the mode of applying it,” by George Adams, 1785, shows a physician applying current generated by an "electrical machine," to a patient’s arm.

“The Society having heard from some of their Correspondents in Germany that what they call a Vegetable Quintessence had been fired by Electricity, I take this Opportunity to acquaint you, that on Friday Evening last I succeeded, after having been disappointed in many Attempts, in setting Spirits of Wine on Fire by that Power.”

So begins a collection of correspondence written by the physician and scientist William Watson and addressed to Martin Folkes, who eventually succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as President of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, commonly known as “The Royal Society.” The collection, printed in 1746, details a series of experiments that Watson carried out, and is noteworthy for his observations on the conductive properties of water and the effect that atmospheric moisture had on electrical experimentation.

Long before they fully comprehended its origins and properties, early physicians were fascinated with the potential therapeutic uses of electricity. However, it wasn’t until the Enlightenment that scientists began a more thorough examination of the essential characteristics of electrical phenomena and their possible uses in medicine. With the invention of the Leyden Jar in 1745, doctors and scientists who had long been able to generate electricity on primitive, hand-cranked electrostatic generators, were finally able store it. In the following years and decades, equipment for both the storage and generation of electricity was refined, increasing the possibilities for more sophisticated therapies.

"The law of electrical repulsion and attraction," from "Electricity in health in disease. . ." by S.H. Monell, 1908.

The Medical Heritage Library now contains a substantial collection of primary-source materials that illustrate these early forays into electrical experimentation, many of which were contributed by the Center for the History of Medicine. The collection spans three centuries, covers everything from electrophysiology to quackery, and includes original works by Galvani, Ampère, Nollet, Cavallo, and Becquerel, among many other notables.

Patrons can trace the evolution of the field from it’s earliest days via the whimsical correspondences of enterprising 18th century scientists like Watson, referenced above, through to the 20th century, which brought the development of more modern electrotherapies and diagnostics. Also included are a number of early works on the construction of machines for generating and storing electrostatic charges, as well as a selection of 19th-century electrotherapeutic device manufacturers’ catalogs.

Visit the Medical Heritage Library website to view a growing collection of over 33,000 historical medical books from around the world.

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