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.

Images from the Library

It’s a grey day here in Boston on this first posting Monday of 2018, so I thought to brighten it up a bit with one of my favorite herbals.

This is from an 1852 reprint of Culpeper’s complete herbal : with nearly four hundred medicines, made from English herbs, physically applied to the cure of all disorders incident to man; with rules for compuounding them: also, directions for making syrups, ointments, &c, a work originally published in the seventeenth century by English physician Nicholas Culpeper.

The herbal has a long reprint history as you can see from the 18 different versions we have in the MHL collection.