Posts tagged: Medical Heritage Library

Medical Heritage Library digital objects now discoverable in DPLA

By , October 19, 2014

The Center is pleased to join with other Medical Heritage Library (MHL) collaborators in announcing that MHL holdings are now discoverable through the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

The Center for the History of Medicine is a founding member of the Medical Heritage Library, a specialized research collection stored in the Internet Archive, which currently includes more than 60,000 digital rare books, serials, audio and video recordings, and ephemera in the history of medicine, public health, biomedical sciences, and popular medicine from the medical special collections of 22 academic, special, and public libraries.

MHL materials have been selected through a rigorous process of curation by subject specialist librarians and archivists and through consultation with an advisory committee of scholars in the history of medicine, public health, gender studies, digital humanities, and related fields.  Items, selected for their educational and research value, extend from 1235 (Liber Aristotil[is] de nat[u]r[a] a[nima]li[u]m ag[res]tium [et] marino[rum]), to 2014 (The Grog Issue 40 2014) with the bulk of the materials dating from the 19th century.

“The rich history of medicine content curated by the MHL is available for the first time alongside collections like those from the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Smithsonian, and offers users a single access point to hundreds of thousands of scientific and history of science resources,” said DPLA Assistant Director for Content Amy Rudersdorf.

The collection is particularly deep in American and Western European medical publications in English, although more than a dozen languages are represented. Subjects include anatomy, dental medicine, surgery, public health, infectious diseases, forensics and legal medicine, gynecology, psychology, anatomy, therapeutics, obstetrics, neuroscience, alternative medicine, spirituality and demonology, diet and dress reform, tobacco, and homeopathy. The breadth of the collection is illustrated by these popular items: the United States Naval Bureau of Medical History’s audio oral history with Doctor Walter Burwell (1994) who served in the Pacific theatre during World War II and witnessed the first Japanese kamikaze attacks; History and medical description of the two-headed girl : sold by her agents for her special benefit, at 25 cents (1869)the first edition of Gray’s Anatomy (1858) (the single most-downloaded MHL text at more than 2,000 downloads annually), and a video collection of Hanna – Barbera Production Flintstones (1960) commercials for Winston cigarettes.

“As is clear from today’s headlines, science, health, and medicine have an impact on the daily lives of Americans,” said Scott H. Podolsky, chair of the MHL’s Scholarly Advisory Committee. “Vaccination, epidemics, antibiotics, and access to health care are only a few of the ongoing issues the history of which are well documented in the MHL. Partnering with the DPLA offers us unparalleled opportunities to reach new and underserved audiences, including scholars and students who don’t have access to special collections in their home institutions and the broader interested public.“

The MHL collection joins more than 7.6 million items available currently through DPLA. DPLA, an all-digital library that offers a single point of access to millions of items from libraries, archives, and museums around the United States, provides a generous array of interfaces into its collections. Users can browse and search by timeline, map, virtual bookshelf, and faceted search; save and share customized lists of items; explore digital exhibitions, and interact with DPLA-powered apps in its app library.

Robert Miller, Global Director of Books for the Internet Archive, noted, “Digitizing this collection has breathed new life into rare and unique texts that were previously only available in printed form. These items have already been downloaded over 3.7 million times. Combining a digital platform for access with curated content is a winner for the open knowledge movement.”

Creation of the MHL’s digital collection was funded by the Open Knowledge Commons, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities and by the contributions of many of its principal and content contributors. The MHL continues to seek new collaborators and content; among the contributions anticipated for 2015 are oral histories with women leaders in medicine, 19th century British monographs, and American monographs, 1865-1923. New content is searchable as it is deposited and indexed from the MHL website, the Internet Archive, and the DPLA.

About the Medical Heritage Library
The Medical Heritage Library (MHL), a digital curation collaborative among some of the world’s leading medical libraries, promotes free and open access to quality historical resources in medicine. Our goal is to provide the means by which readers and scholars across a multitude of disciplines can examine the interrelated nature of medicine and society, both to inform contemporary medicine and strengthen understanding of the world in which we live. The MHL’s growing collection of digitized medical rare books, pamphlets, journals, and films number in the tens of thousands, with representative works from each of the past six centuries. The MHL can be found at, on Facebook, and Twitter (@medicalheritage).

About DPLA
The Digital Public Library of America ( strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. Since launching in April 2013, it has aggregated over 7.6 million items from over 1,300 institutions. The DPLA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit.

About the Internet Archive
The Internet Archive ( is a top 200 Internet website with a mission to build a digital library of internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. By working with great content holders and libraries such as those above, we can together provide both storage of and access to treasures that can inform and educate the global community.

Medical Heritage Library Digitizes Ida Cannon’s “Social Work in Hospitals”


Cover of Cannon’s “Social Work in Hospitals.”

Medical social work was a burgeoning field in the early decades of the twentieth century; what might now be considered a ‘holistic approach’ to medicine — dealing with the patient’s social background, life experience, job, and so on — was beginning to be regarded as a necessary corollary to medical treatment.

Ida M. Cannon published her Social Work in Hospitals in 1913 which, with the benefit of hindsight, seems to be unfortunate timing; within a year for many of her reading audience, the question will be numbers of hospital beds, recovery facilities, and medical staff, not so much how they treat their patients in a social context. Cannon followed her brother, Walter Bradford, to Boston from the family home in Minnesota. She supplemented her nursing education in Boston at the School for Social Workers and went on to work with Dr. Richard C. Cabot at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1914, a year after the publication of her book, she was named Chief of Social Service at the hospital; she held the position for over thirty years.

In her book, Cannon gives a brief overview of the history of medical social work starting with religious communities and their historical role as supporters of the sick. She presents the social worker as a valuable adjunct to the physician, able to interact with the patient in different ways and supplement medical care with social assistance.

Follow this link to read Social Work in Hospitals.

As always, for more from the Medical Heritage Library, please visit our full collection!

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

Medical Heritage Library Increases Warren Museum Accessibility

By , January 23, 2013

Gallery of the Warren Anatomical Museum (1906-1999), The Warren Anatomical Museum of Harvard Medical School and the Arrangement of its Collection, 1911, Warren Anatomical Museum in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

Recently digitized works in the Medical Heritage Library have created a window into the historical and modern collections of Harvard Medical School’s Warren Anatomical Museum. Digital surrogates of six books and pamphlets, published between 1835 and 1911, have been made available through the efforts of the Center for the History of Medicine and the National Library of Medicine.

J. B. S. Jackson’s 1870 Descriptive Catalogue of the Warren Anatomical Museum describes the first 3,681 cases of the Warren Anatomical Museum. Jackson was the Museum’s first curator, serving from 1847 to his death in 1879.

Jackson was also curator of the Boston Society for Medical Improvement’s pathological cabinet and authored their 1847 A Descriptive Catalogue of the Anatomical Museum of the Boston Society for Medical Improvement. That same year the Boston Society re-issued the case histories of their cabinet’s anatomical anomalies in A Descriptive Catalogue of the Monstrosities in the Cabinet of the Boston Society of Medical Improvement. Circa 1870 the Boston Society donated its museum to Harvard Medical School and the two Jackson curated collections were merged together into the Warren Museum.

The oldest published artifact catalogue associated with the Warren Anatomical Museum is the 1835 A Catalogue of Phrenological Specimens, belonging to the Boston Phrenological Society. John Collins Warren purchased the Boston Phrenological Society’s collection after the Society became defunct and donated the collection of plaster casts to the Medical School with the rest of his eponymous museum in 1847. The Society’s collection is also detailed in the Warren Museum’s 1870 published catalogue.

The Warren Museum’s second curator, William Fiske Whitney, contributed two pamphlets to the museum’s published legacy. The first is the 1910 Bulletin of the Warren Anatomical Museum. The Bulletin was meant to be an ongoing series dedicated to different areas of the museum’s collection but funding was only secured for the first volume. Whitney also authored the 1911 The Warren Anatomical Museum of the Harvard Medical School and the Arrangement of its Collection. The short work illuminates the museum’s collection after its installation in the top three floors of the Medical School’s Building A, the focal point of school’s newly completed campus in 1906. Like Jackson, Whitney served the Warren Museum until his death in 1921.

Questions about the historical catalogues or the Warren Anatomical Museum’s collection can be sent to

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.

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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