World War I: Reflections at the Centennial

~Post courtesy Emily Gustainis, Deputy Director, Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine of Harvard Medical School.

The Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, in partnership with its co-sponsors theHarvard Medical School Civilian-Military Collaborative and the Ackerman Program on Medicine & Culture, is pleased to announce the upcoming event World War I: Reflections at the Centennial with speakers James A. Schafer, Ph.D., and Jeffrey S. Reznick, Ph.D.

James A. Schafer, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Houston, will present “The Mobilization of American Medicine for the First World War,” an examination of the causes and effects of the rapid recruitment of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel (such as volunteer ambulance drivers) during the War. Drawing from Harvard University and other Boston area examples, Professor Schafer will measure the scope and scale of medical mobilization, explain the motivations for doctors, nurses and medical personnel to mobilize, and explore the immediate effects of mobilization on the careers and lives of American doctors, nurses, and medical personnel.

Jeffrey S. Reznick, Ph.D., Chief of the History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health, will present “A Prisoner of the Great War and his Songs in Captivity,” an exploration of the period when Rudolf Helmut Sauter (1895-1977)—the artist, writer, and nephew of the novelist John Galsworthy—was an internee in Alexandra Palace camp, north London, and Frith Hill, Surrey. Drawing on collections of the NLM, Imperial War Museum, and University of Birmingham, among other archives and libraries, Dr. Reznick will reveal how Sauter’s experiences open a unique window onto the history of the Great War both as Sauter experienced it and as he subsequently sought to forget it like so many other surviving members of the “generation of 1914.”

The event will take place on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 in the Minot Room, Countway Library, from 5:00-6:30.Registration is required.  Please visit our EventBrite page to register.

A Conversation About Graphic Medicine

~Post courtesy Stephen Greenberg, Section Head, Rare Books and Early Manuscripts History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine.

You are cordially invited to the next NLM History of Medicine lecture, to be held on Thursday, March 1, from 2:00pm until 3:30pm in the NLM Lister Hill Auditorium, Building 38A, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD. NLM Director Patricia Brennan, RN, PhD will host “A Conversation About Graphic Medicine” with pioneers from this emerging genre of literature that combines the art of comics and the personal illness narrative.


Dr. Brennan will be joined in conversation by Ellen Forney, cartoonist, educator, author of the New York Times bestselling graphic memoir, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me, and guest curator of the new NLM exhibition, Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well-Drawn!; MK Czerwiec, RN, MA, Artist-in-Residence at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, author of Taking Turns: Stories from HIV-AIDS Care Unit 371, and co-manager of; and Michael Green, MD, physician, bioethicist, and professor at Penn State University’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and co-author with MK Czerwiec and others, of The Graphic Medicine Manifesto.


“A Conversation About Graphic Medicine” will address the place of graphic medicine within medical literature and the landscape of personal health communication in the 21st century. This special public program is in conjunction with the new NLM exhibition, Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well-Drawn! on display in the History of Medicine Division Reading Room on the first floor of the NLM, Building 38 and online here:


This lecture, like all NLM History of Medicine Lectures, will be free, open to the public, live-streamed globally, and subsequently archived, by NIH VideoCasting. All are welcome to attend onsite and remotely:


The specific live-stream URL for this talk is here:


Sign language interpretation is provided for all lectures. Individuals with disabilities who need reasonable accommodation to participate may contact Erika Mills at 301-594-1947,, or via the Federal Relay (1-800-877-8339).


Due to current security measures at NIH, off-campus visitors are advised to consult the NLM Visitors and Security website:

In addition, we warmly welcome you to visit our blog, Circulating Now, where you can learn more about the collections and related programs of the NLM’s History of Medicine Division, and watch for interviews with guest participants in the upcoming Conversation about Graphic Medicine:

Here also you can read interviews with previous lecturers:


Sponsored by:

NLM’s History of Medicine Division

Jeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, Chief


Event contact:

Erika Mills


New York Academy of Medicine Library Launches Digital Exhibit “Facendo Il Libro: The Making of Fasciculus Medicinae, an Early Printed Anatomy”

~Post courtesy Kiri Oliver, Communications Manager, The New York Academy of Medicine

The New York Academy of Medicine Library has launched a new digital exhibit, “Facendo Il Libro: The Making of Fasciculus  Medicinae, an Early Printed Anatomy.” The Library, one of the world’s most significant historical libraries in medicine and public health, holds five editions printed between the years of 1495 and 1522 of the Fasciculus Medicinae, which contains the earliest realistic anatomical images in print, and the earliest scenes of dissection anywhere. The digital exhibit explores full scans of these richly illustrated editions, examining each work on its own – and also in context of each other, and looking at the printing techniques that were used to create them.

“The Academy’s dedication to public access to our Library’s collections continues with the launch of a digitized exhibit of this seminal work. Today, scholars and users worldwide can easily access an important resource in the history of medicine and public health,” said Academy President Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS.

The book was first printed in Venice in 1491 by the brothers Gregori at their famous printing house. It was extremely popular, and went through 14 editions by the year 1522.  Originally collected in manuscript form, the text comprises a number of medical treatises on uroscopy, phlebotomy, anatomy, surgery, and gynecology. The book’s woodcut illustrations include skilled renderings of medieval prototypes including a Zodiac Man, bloodletting man, and an urinoscopic consultation.

“This exhibit tells an important story about an influential medical text, and its evolution during the earliest years of printing in Northern Italy. Exploring the book’s astonishing woodcuts, the earliest realistic anatomical illustrations in print, enhances our understanding of how sixteenth-century individuals related to and understood their bodies in times of sickness and health,” said Academy Library Curator Anne Garner.

“Facendo Il Libro” is an addition to the Academy’s digitization initiatives led by Dr. Robin Naughton, Head of Digital. Also included in the exhibit are curated essays on each edition, noting important technical, textual, and artistic changes in each, and on the culture of Venetian print. The essays were contributed by guest scholars

Taylor McCall, PhD, and Natalie Lussey Seale, PhD. This online exhibit was made possible by generous support from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.


Now online, decades of medical student theses available for download

~This story is courtesy Jenny Blair and Yale Medicine.

In the spring of 1952, Jocelyn Malkin, M.D. ’52, completed her student thesis on laryngeal cancer. Using punch cards, Malkin encoded clinical characteristics of 235 patients suffering from the malignancy, including race, religion, family history, and “excessive voice use.” She then threaded the cards onto a sorter shaped like an ice pick, looking for clear-cut risk factors. One stood out starkly: tobacco use.

After seeing her own thesis results, Malkin recalls, she “nagged” her husband to quit his cigarette habit. Later, as a psychoanalytic institute leader in Washington, D.C., she refused to allow light-ups in meetings.

“Everybody smoked—it was considered very, very cool,” she says. “I was very unpopular because I made a fuss about it.” Thanks to her thesis, Malkin was far ahead of her time. Not until 1957 did the U.S. Surgeon General issue its first report on the health consequences of smoking. Tobacco use is now known to be the most important laryngeal-cancer risk factor.

Malkin’s historic typewritten thesis is freely available online, along with hundreds of other newly digitized Yale medical student theses. Although hard copies of most recent and many older theses are available to peruse in the medical library, digitization and open access means a much larger audience.

“What we’re doing now just opens them up to the world,” says Melissa Grafe, Ph.D., the John R. Bumstead Librarian for Medical History at the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library.

The world has responded. Over 80,000 downloads of Yale medical student theses have taken place by readers in 187 countries, over half at educational or governmental facilities. The theses are available at both the Medical Heritage Library, an online consortium of major medical libraries that digitizes materials and makes them freely available via Internet Archive, and from Yale’s in-house repository, Eli Scholar.

With the first evidence of a thesis requirement appearing in an 1839 catalog, the Yale School of Medicine is perhaps the longest-lived such directive of its kind. Many theses go on to be edited and published in medical journals, but many others have long languished on shelves, largely unread.

Digitization has been underway since 2002, when the medical library and the YSM Office of Student Research placed some of that year’s theses online as part of the Yale Medicine Thesis Digital Library project. Four years later, submitting a digital copy became mandatory of all students. Living alumni were first invited to participate in 2012, and the project has rolled along since then via outreach at alumni events.

But in 2017, a grant to Yale University Library by the Arcadia Fund, one intended to preserve at-risk cultural materials, made it possible to digitize many more.

On July 12, 2017, John Gallagher, director of the Medical Library, with the assistance of Deborah Jagielow, director of Alumni Affairs, emailed some 3,000 alumni from the Class of 2009 and before, inviting them to participate. Within five hours, close to 400 replies had come in granting permission. Eventually, nearly 1,200 alumni agreed to allow digitization, including the families of four who had died.

Grafe and her colleagues then packed up 51 boxes of hard-copy theses and mailed them to Princeton, New Jersey, where, over October, November, and December, the Internet Archive scanned them in (and then mailed them back). Yale library staff then embarked on a quality-control check, making sure all the scans were legible and the data attached to each thesis were accurate.

“Even though it was a short timeline, it was a careful process,” Grafe says. “We wanted to make sure that the alumni who entrusted us with digitizing their material were happy with what they saw [and] received something they could share.”

Topics trend over time, she adds.

“In the late 80s and early 90s, I saw a batch of theses having to do with HIV and AIDS, and in recent years there’s been some global health emphasis,” she says. By contrast, in the 1960s and 70s, patient care and community health were popular.

A quick browse turns up theses on West Nile myeloencephalitis (1955), fetal electrocardiography (1957), cross-cultural psychiatry (1966), concentration camp survivors’ guilt (1971), health care for migrant farmworkers (1975), athletics in hemophilia (1980), detective fiction (1980), children’s fear of needles (1982), childbirth in literature (1987), professional courtesy (1996), and spirituality in HIV care (2001).

There are also many 19th-century theses in elaborate copperplate handwriting, including “On Diabetes Mellitus,” “On Gonorrhea,” and “On The Therapeutic Application of Ice.”

Everything is faithfully preserved as a PDF, including linen-bound covers, blank pages, and librarians’ penciled notations on title pages. Malkin’s includes a copy of the cards she used, notched with their telltale punch-outs. So far, it has been downloaded 50 times.

The digitization project is ongoing. Though theses written prior to 1923 are in the public domain, the library continues to seek permission from alumni or living relatives for any written after that. Interested alumni can fill out an online form.

Ferenc Gyorgyey Research Travel Grant

~This post is courtesy Melissa Grafe, Head of the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Historical Library at Yale University.

The Medical Historical Library of the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library at Yale University is pleased to announce its eleventh annual Research Travel Award for use of the Historical Library.

The Ferenc Gyorgyey Research Travel Grant is available to historians, medical practitioners, and other researchers who wish to use the collections of the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library. In any given year the award is up to $1,500 for one week of research.  Funds may be used for transportation, housing, food, and photographic reproductions. The award is limited to residents of the United States and Canada.

The Medical Historical Library holds one of the country’s largest collections of rare medical books, journals, prints, photographs, and pamphlets. It was founded in 1941 by the donations of the extensive collections of Harvey CushingJohn F. Fulton, and Arnold C. Klebs. Special strengths are the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Vesalius, Boyle, Harvey, Culpeper, Haller, Priestley, and S. Weir Mitchell, and works on anatomy, anesthesia, and smallpox inoculation and vaccination. The Library owns over fifty medieval and renaissance manuscripts, Arabic and Persian manuscripts, and over 300 medical incunabula.  The notable Clements C. Fry Collection of Prints and Drawings has over 2,500 fine prints, drawings, and posters from the 15th century to the present on medical subjects, and the collection has expanded to approximately 10,000 items.  Themes include social justice, war, drug use, reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS, activism, and more.  Although the Historical Library does not house the official archives of the Medical School, it does own a number of manuscript collections, most notably the Peter Parker Collection, papers of Harvey Cushing, and the John Fulton diaries and notebooks. The Library also owns an extensive Smoking and tobacco advertising collection, the Robert Bogdan collection of disability photographs and postcards, medical imagery from popular publications donated by Bert Hansen, and smaller collections of patent medicine ephemera from noted collector William Helfand.

The application deadline is April 29th, 2018.  A committee will review applications and grant recipients will be notified in early June. Please apply through Yale University Grants & Fellowships website. 

A complete application comprises:

  • Research proposal (of up to 2000 words)
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Budget
  • 2 letters of reference

Please email Melissa Grafe, Head of the Medical Historical Library, with any

The MHL Welcomes the BIU Santé!

~This post courtesy Solenne Coutagne, manager of digital projects at BIU Santé.

Since October 2017, the Medical Heritage Library has a new contributor, the Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Santé (abbreviated BIU Santé).

The main reading room.

The BIU Santé (Paris) is the library of reference in the field of health in France. From its two Parisian sites (one site covering pharmacy, the other medicine and dentistry), it welcomes medical, pharmacy and odontology students, as well as health professionals (doctors, nurses, dentists, physiotherapists …) and researchers from France and the whole world.

The collection held in the site dedicated to medicine and odontology is the heir of the library of the former Faculty of Medicine in Paris (founded in the 13th century), of the Academy and College of Surgery and of the Royal Society of medicine. That library was first opened to the public in 1746. The collection was developed thanks to donations during the 18th century but also thanks to the confiscations during the French Revolution when the properties of the clergy and the nobility were confiscated and made available to increase the collections of the newly created public institutions (museums, libraries…).

The collection preserved in the site dedicated to pharmacy is inherited from the library of the Community of Apothecaries of Paris (1484-1777) which became the College of Pharmacy (1777-1796). The heritage collection was mostly extended by sales or donations at the end of the nineteenth century under the initiative of the librarian, Paul Dorveaux.  Both collections increased massively as document production and the scientific press exploded during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

As a result, the library maintains an incredibly rich heritage collection not only in the field of medicine and pharmacy, but also in other sciences and even in other fields (history, literature, law…): The BIU Santé is renowned for holding one of the three largest medical heritage collections (with the National Library of Medicine and the Wellcome Library).

Thesis of medicine from Jean Poisson, dedicated to Louis XIV (1682).

Immersed in the 36 kilometers of shelves, the heritage collection contains, among its particularities:

The essentials of occidental medicine are represented by tens of thousands of documents from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. These are mostly books but also archives, prints or original drawings (including the drawings from Gérard de Lairesse (1641-1711) which were used in the Bidloo’s Anatomia humani corporis or the original Sagemolen’s drawings (c. 1620-1669) for an unedited work directed by the Dutch anatomist Van Horn (1621-1670)).

The increase of printing production in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as the central position of France in medical research during this period make the BIU Santé a very important center of documentation for French and foreign researchers.

The digitization of the BIU Santé’s collection is not a new effort. In the last sixteen years, the library has digitized nearly 16, 500 documents from its collections, which represents more than 4 millions pages. All of this is already online in our digital library, Medica ( as well as in our image bank ( in which, in addition to the iconographic collection of the library, all the illustrations from Medica are available.

Sagemolen, Marten (drawing) / Van Horne, Johannes. Ms 28. (circa 1660).

All the material of our digital library which is in the public domain will be, step by step, uploaded into Internet Archive. We are very excited by this new project as it will enable our collection to benefit from the functionalities provided by Internet Archive and the Medical Heritage Library (full-text search …).

Offering the access to this massive collection in history of medicine in an unique place, the Medical Heritage Library will allow our collection to be highlighted, internationally better known and used.

Digitization Collaborative Provides Open Access to Over 100 Years of American Medical History through the Internet Archive

The Medical Heritage Library has completed its National Endowment for the Humanities-funded initiative Medicine at Ground Level: State Medical Societies, State Medical Journals, and the Development of American Medicine, 1900-2000

Boston, MA, October 2, 2017. The Medical Heritage Library has released 3,907 state medical society journal volumes free of charge for nearly 50 state medical societies, including those for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, through the Internet Archive ( The journals – collectively held and digitized by Medical Heritage Library founders and principal contributors The College of Physicians of Philadelphia; the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine; The New York Academy of Medicine Library; the Library and Center for Knowledge Management at the University of California at San Francisco; the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health; the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library at Columbia University and Columbia University Libraries; and content contributor the Health Sciences and Human Services Library, University of Maryland, Founding Campus, with supplemental journal content provided by the Brown University Library, the Health Sciences Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library System, and UT Southwestern Medical Center Health Sciences Digital Library and Learning Center –  consist of almost three million pages that can be searched online and downloaded in a variety of formats. State medical society journals document the transformation of American medicine at both the local and national level, serving as sites not only for scientific articles, but for medical talks, local news regarding the medical profession, pharmaceutical and device advertising, and unexpurgated musings on medicine and society throughout the 20th century.

Project supporter and former president of the American Association for the History of Medicine, Distinguished Professor of History Nancy J. Tomes, Stony Brook University, notes: “The value of this collection lies precisely in the insights state journals provide on issues of great contemporary interest. They shed light on questions at the heart of today’s policy debates: why do physicians treat specific diseases so differently in different parts of the country? Why is it such a challenge to develop and implement professional policies at the national level? How do state level developments in health insurance influence federal policy and vice versa? How do factors such as race, class, gender, and ethnicity affect therapeutic decision making? How have methods of promoting new therapies and technologies changed over time? These are issues of interest not only to historians but to political scientists, sociologists, and economists.”

The digitized collection offers unprecedented, centralized access to one of the richest resources concerning the evolution of American medicine and will open the texts to new forms of analysis in the digital humanities, such as those supporting the investigation of health trends and outcomes over time and region, as well as visualizations.

Journals were digitized between 2015 and 2017 through the National Endowment for the Humanities (grant number: PW-228226-15), with additional funding provided by the Harvard Library and the Arcadia Fund, as well as Harvard Medical School. All publications found in the collection are provided free of charge by individual journal publishers agreeing to open access for content currently under copyright. Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. For more on the NEH Office of Digital Humanities visit

Beyond the Internet Archive’s portal through which MHL content is delivered, the Medical Heritage Library hosts state-by-state links to the journals ( and the MHL’s advanced search interface (, which offers full-text, proximity, date, and language searching among other features.


About the Medical Heritage Library
Founded in 2010 with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to digitize 30,000 medical rare books, the Medical Heritage Library (MHL) is a digital curation collaborative among some of the world’s leading medical libraries that promotes free and open access to quality historical resources in medicine. The MHL’s 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 our understanding of the world in which we live. The MHL’s growing collection of digitized medical rare books, pamphlets, journals, and films number over 200,000, with representative works from each of the past seven centuries, all of which are available through the Internet Archive. Information about the MHL may be found on our website,


Media Contact
Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook

Upcoming Lecture: Weill Cornell Medicine: a “Brief” History of Cornell’s Medical School

~Post courtesy Lisa Mix, Head, Medical Center Archives Weill Cornell Medicine.

The lecture will be followed by a reception and book-signing at the Samuel J. Wood Medical Library, 1300 York Avenue.  The Cornell Store in the Library will offer a 20% discount on purchases of Dr. Gotto’s book, Weill Cornell Medicine.

Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., MD, DPhil, is Dean Emeritus of Weill Cornell Medicine, and Provost for Medical Affairs Emeritus of Cornell University. From 1997-2011, Dr. Gotto was the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean at Weill Cornell and Provost for Medical Affairs at Cornell University.  During his tenure, the Medical College saw an overhaul of its curriculum; record-setting fundraising campaigns; a renaming in honor of foremost benefactors Joan and Sanford Weill; the establishment of a branch campus in Qatar and of a medical school in Tanzania; affiliation with the Houston Methodist Hospital; and the development of state-of-the-art facilities including the Weill Greenberg Center and the Belfer Research Building.

Dr. Gotto’s postgraduate work included doctoral studies at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and residency training at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.  Dr. Gotto has played a leading role in several landmark clinical trials demonstrating that cholesterol-lowering drug treatment can reduce the risk for heart disease.  A lifelong supporter of educational efforts aimed at cardiovascular risk reduction, Dr. Gotto has been National President of the American Heart Association and President of the International Atherosclerosis Society. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Dr. Gotto has contributed more than 500 scholarly articles and books to the medical literature, and is coauthor of the Living Heart series of books that explain the origins and treatment of cardiovascular disease to the general public.  His latest book is Weill Cornell Medicine: a History of Cornell’s Medical School.

The Heberden Society, which seeks to promote an interest in the history of medicine, was founded at the medical center in 1975.  With funding from the WCMC Office of the Dean, the society sponsors a series of lectures during each academic year.

Please join us for Dr. Gotto’s lecture and the book-signing reception:

Thursday, September 28, 5:00 p.m.

Belfer Research Building, Weill Cornell Medicine

413 East 69th Street (between York and First Avenues)

New York, NY 10065

Room 204 A-C

The Center for the History of Medicine Presents: From Riding Breeches to Harvard

~This post courtesy Andra Pham, Records Management Assistant, Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library.

Join us for an evening discussion on the life and career of Linda Francis James Benitt, the first female graduate of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The presentation will begin by briefly exploring the context of women at Harvard at the turn of century, as well as Linda James’ life in Boston as a young student. Next, Bernice Ende, Linda’s great-niece, will share her personal insights on Linda’s life, as well how she inspired her toward ultimately becoming a “lady long rider”.

Linda Frances James was the first woman to graduate from the Harvard-M.I.T. School for Health Officers (predecessor of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), receiving her C.P.H. in 1917. As a young public health professional in Boston, Linda worked as a Medical Social Worker at Massachusetts General Hospital, and as the Director of the After-Care Division at the Harvard Infantile Paralysis Commission. Her professional life shifted in 1922 when she married William A. Benitt, a young attorney from Goodhue, Minnesota. The couple decided to leave their careers and become farmers on Apple Acres—a 200-acre farm in South Washington County, Minnesota. In addition to life on the farm, James remained an active advocate for education, public health, and community. A two-part blog series on Linda is available here.

Bernice Ende was raised on a Minnesota dairy farm where riding was always an integral part of her life. After pursuing a career teaching classical ballet on the west coast, Ende moved to Trego, Montana, a remote part of North West Montana where she continued teaching ballet. Her retirement in 2003 brought not a lack of activity, but rather a change in focus. Drawn back to riding, Bernice felt the pull of the open road and adventure inherent in serious riding. Her first ride in 2005 has continued into the present. Now thirteen years later, having acquired nearly 30,000 equestrian miles, she inspires and encourages female leadership with her travels. For more information on Ende, visit her website:


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Light refreshments will be served.

Minot Room, 5th Floor
Countway Library
Harvard Medical School

10 Shattuck Street, Boston MA 02115

Free and open to the public.

Registration is required. Register online now through Eventbrite or email us at

Teaching #HistSex with the MHL

~This post courtesy Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reference Librarian, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Photo is by Kathleen J. Barker. Used with permission.

Each summer, the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Center for Teaching History hosts a series of workshops for K-12 teachers seeking to incorporate primary sources and contemporary historical scholarship into their curriculum. For the first time this year, the Center offered a three-day workshop in teaching LGBT History. As one of the Society’s reference librarians, with some background in history of sexuality research, I volunteered to spend a morning with the group sharing topic-specific research strategies. In addition to talking about the Society’s own catalog and collections, we discussed the challenges of historically-specific terminology. I introduced them to the Homosaurus, a controlled vocabulary of terms related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lives, and we talked about the genres of material that might contain information about human sexuality: personal and family papers, visual materials, legal records, religious tracts, and medical literature.


After my presentation and a tour of the Society’s library, showcasing our own collections, the final third of the morning was spent on a research exercise in which I invited the sixteen workshop participants to search three different access tools: the Massachusetts Historical Society’s online catalog, the Digital Transgender Archive, and finally the Medical Heritage Library’s collections via the MHL’s full text search tool. My instructions were to


  1. Think of a research question or topic related to the history of sexuality.
  2. Brainstorm a handful of search terms (up to a dozen) related to your topic.
  3. Use these search terms in each of the three access tools.


To take the example search I performed for the group as a whole, we began with the question, “How did teenagers learn/think about sex in the 19th century?” Then, we brainstormed possible search terms, including:


  • Sex education
  • Teenager
  • Adolescent
  • Puberty
  • Family life
  • Marriage preparation
  • Premarital sex


Then, we performed a search in each of the three search tools listed above: the MHS catalog, the Digital Transgender Archive, and the Medical Heritage Library’s full-text search. For the Medical Heritage Library’s full-text search, we began with a broad search for “sex education” in literature published between 1800 and 1900. Because the MHL provides a full-text search, however preliminary, the search results were much different from the results in the DTA and MHS catalog and prompted fruitful conversation about how both the content of a collection and its access tools shape our approaches to finding materials.


The goal of this exercise was to prompt our workshop participants to think about how different types of tools produce different search results depending upon the controlled vocabularies used, the contents of the archive, and the type of search being conducted. These questions may seem basic to archivists and librarians who spend their workdays developing and using different types of search tools, but for many of our participants the discussion of historical terms and controlled vocabularies prompted them to think in entirely new ways about how to locate materials related to the history of sexuality in archival repositories and digital collections.


The Center for Teaching History plans to run this workshop again next summer and I look forward to expanding on this exercise, hopefully giving our participants a chance to delve into the actual items their searches uncover.