Medical Heritage Library Awarded NEH Grant for Digitization of State Medical Society Journals, 1900 – 2000

The Medical Heritage Library (MHL), a digital resource on the history of medicine and health developed by an international consortium of cultural heritage repositories, has received funding in the amount of $275,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for its proposal “Medicine at Ground Level: State Medical Societies, State Medical Journals, and the Development of American Medicine and Society.“ Additional funding has been provided by the Harvard Library.

The project, led by the Countway Library’s Center for the History of Medicine, will create a substantial digital collection of American state medical society journals, digitizing 117 titles from 46 states, from 1900 to 2000, comprising 2,500,369 pages in 3,579 volumes. State medical society journal publishers agreed to provide free and open access to journal content currently under copyright. Once digitized, journals will join the more than 75,000 monographs, serials, pamphlets, and films now freely available in the MHL collection in the Internet Archive.  State medical society journals will provide additional context for the rare and historical American medical periodicals digitized during the recently completed NEH project, Expanding the Medical Heritage Library: Preserving and Providing Online Access to Historical Medical Periodicals. Full text search is available through the MHL website. MHL holdings can also be accessed through DPLA (, and the Wellcome Library’s UK-MHL.

Five preeminent medical libraries, including three founding members of the MHL, are collaborating on this project: The College of Physicians of Philadelphia; the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard University; the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health at The New York Academy of Medicine; the Health Sciences and Human Services Library, University of Maryland, the Founding Campus (UMB); and the Library and Center for Knowledge Management at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).

State medical society journals document the transformation of American medicine in the twentieth century at both the local and national level. The journals have served as sites not only for scientific articles, but for medical talks (and, often, accounts of discussions following the talks), local news regarding sites of medical care and the medical profession, advertisements, and unexpurgated musings on medicine and society throughout the 20th century. When digitized and searchable as a single, comprehensive body of material, this collection will be a known universe, able to support a limitless array of historical queries, including those framed geographically and/or temporally, offering new ways to examine and depict the evolution of medicine and the relationship between medicine and society.

Project supporter and former president of the American Association for the History of Medicine, 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.

Not only will the state journals be of great use to researchers, but they also will be a great boon to teachers. I can easily imagine using the collection to engage medical students, residents, and practicing physicians in the conduct of historical research.”

Digitization will begin in August 2015; the project will be completed in April 2017.

About the Medical Heritage Library:

The MHL ( is a content centered digital community supporting research, education, and dialog that enables the history of medicine to contribute to a deeper understanding of human health and society. It serves as the point of access to a valuable body of quality curated digital materials and to the broader digital and nondigital holdings of its members. It was established in 2010 with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to digitize 30,000 medical rare books. For more about the Medical Heritage Library, its holdings, projects, advisors, and collaborators, and how you can participate, see

About the NEH/Digital Humanities Program:

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

Digital Highlights: Tour an “ultramodern” hospital in the year 1900

QuarterCwithFHW_picOnly_009A Quarter of a Century with the Free Hospital for Women is a small picture book published in 1900, not long after the hospital had finished construction of its grand, new facility by a pond in Brookline, Massachusetts. The volume, held in the rare books collection at Harvard Medical School, Center for the History of Medicine, was recently digitized by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives and made available online via the Medical Heritage Library. It will be of special interest to students of the history of institutional architecture, and to those interested in the history of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The Free Hospital for Women is one of BWH’s organizational “grandmothers.”

QuarterCwithFHW_picOnly_002If you’ve ever wondered what a state-of-the-art hospital looked like a hundred plus years ago, flip through the photographs in this little book. See elegant arches and woodwork, gas lights, fireplaces, a grandfather clock, and Tiffany windows. There is a patient sitting room with a piano, a dining room with linen tablecloth and flowers, patient ward beds with gauzy white curtains, and a sitting porch with a view of Riverdale Park. All together the hospital seems more like a resort found in the Berkshires than anything resembling hospitals as we have come to know them in the 21st century.


QuarterCwithFHW_picOnly_011Amazingly, this beautiful facility was designed exclusively forpoor women. From 1875 to 1919 those without means were taken care of by the FHW at no charge. By 1919 the hospital had become so successful at its core mission of treating the diseases of women that patients of all economic levels were eager to be admitted there and the by-laws were amended to allow some who could pay.

In 1966 the Free Hospital for Women and the Boston Lying-in, a local maternity hospital, merged to form the Boston Hospital for Women. In 1975, the Boston Hospital for Women merged with the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and the Robert B. Brigham Hospital. By 1980, all three hospitals had centralized operations and moved to one location in the Longwood area of Boston. The original FHW building was sold to a luxury condominium development company, but the enduring medical legacy of the Free Hospital for Women was reflected in the new name chosen for the combined institutions, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

Now Available! Recommended Practices for Enabling Access to Manuscript and Archival Collections Containing Health Information about Individuals

Medical Heritage Library collaborators  the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine are pleased to announce the distribution of their jointly authored recommended practices to enable access to manuscript and archival collections containing health information about individuals. These recommendations are intended to alleviate many of the concerns repositories have related to collecting and preserving health services records, especially those repositories that are not affiliated with hospitals or medical schools.

The recommendations are presented in four categories: 1) Determining an Institution’s Status and Policy Needs; 2) Implementing Policy and Fostering Process Transparency; 3) Communicating the Nature of Restrictions; and 4) Describing Records to Best Enable Discovery and Access. Those who care for and provide access to records containing health information about individuals are invited to test the recommendations and provide feedback on their utility; those who use such records in their research are equally invited to comment on their scope.

Researchers who have used or are seeking access to primary sources containing health information about individuals are encouraged to share their experiences and difficulties accessing health services records. Visit the MHL’s researcher access survey site and contribute to our efforts to improve access to these important records.

For more information, please contact the Medical Heritage Library at

This work was made possible through the generous funding of the Mellon Foundation through the Council for Library and Information Resources’ Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program (2012: Private Practices, Public Health: Privacy-Aware Processing to Maximize Access to Health Collections).

Our Reading List (#4)

Here are a few of the things that are catching our eye this week….

What have you been reading that we’ve missed out on? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter!

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

New to the MHL!

Here are a few highlights from the latest items added to our collection; you can add a RSS feed that will give you updates on our new items here.

First, a couple of items with rather immediate topical application:

And some mental health titles:

And lastly, the wonderfully titled….

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

Our Reading List (#3)

With the exciting news last week of the finding of one of the ships from Sir John Franklin’s last expedition, we decided to pull together some of the MHL’s resources on Arctic exploration in case this news stimulates your interest and while it’s still warm enough out that reading about the Arctic can be fun!

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