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NLM History of Medicine Division Announces Completion of Project to Catalog Imperial Russian Era Holdings

Pre-1917 Collection Includes Pamphlets and Dissertations on Spectrum of Medical Topics, Including Some by Future Nobel Laureates

The History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine is pleased to announce the completion of a five-year project to catalog its Imperial Russian Era (pre-1917) collection of 5,000 pamphlets and dissertations for degrees in medicine, pharmacy and veterinary science.

The core of the NLM collection is over 3,000 medical dissertations submitted to the Imperial Medical-Chirurgical Academy (later, the Imperial Military Medical Academy) in St. Petersburg. Dating from 1849 to 1915, they comprise the most complete run known to exist outside of Russia.

In general, the dissertations present the results of clinical medical research and reflect the common Nineteenth Century concerns of epidemic and war, and changing ideas of hygiene and health care. Pharmacological works investigated the therapeutic effects of drugs and veterinary treatises focused on the diseases of dogs, horses and livestock.

Dissertations became a requirement for medical degrees in 1858, during the widespread medical education reforms that resulted from the defeat of the Imperial Russian Army in the Crimean War (1853-1856). Rampant disease among the troops, rather than actual combat, produced exceedingly high numbers of casualties. Military officials blamed the high mortality rate, and the loss of the war, on the scarcity of military physicians and the poor quality of their training.

The Academy eventually produced a Nobel Laureate. In 1883, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936) wrote his doctoral thesis on the centrifugal nerves of the heart. His general observations of the physiology of the nervous system laid the groundwork for his later investigations into the role of the nervous system in digestion, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1904.

In the 1870s, the Academy agreed to admit women, due to a military need for female physicians to treat the wives of Muslim Bashkir troops. Syphilis was widespread and, for religious reasons, the women could not be seen by male practitioners.

Varvara Kashevarova-Rudneva (1844?-1899) became the Academy’s first female graduate in 1876. A certified midwife, she wrote her dissertation on the pathology of the vagina, and published the first description of vaginal sarcoma.

The pamphlets in the NLM collection cover a wide variety of medical topics, including works on alcoholism, anatomy, cholera, cultured milk products, mental or neurological disorders, metabolism, public hygiene, syphilis and tuberculosis.

The oldest item is an 1829 illustrated case report of a congenital heart defect by the eminent Russian anatomist and surgeon, Ilya Vasilevich Buyalski (1789-1866). Credited with being the first Russian surgeon to use anesthesia, Buyalski also invented several surgical instruments and developed an embalming technique to preserve anatomical specimens.

In 1906, Ilia Metchnikov (1845-1916) wrote a pamphlet entitled On Yogurt, which described his observation that yogurt was beneficial for maintaining a proper bacterial balance in the intestines. Metchnikov’s pioneering recommendation that yogurt be added to one’s daily diet to promote a healthy immune system is a mainstay of modern probiotic diets. In 1908 Metchnikov was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work on the role of phagocytes in the immune system.

The struggles and triumphs of 19th century women physicians are vividly described in Ekaterina Slanskaia’s (1853-1904?) 1894 memoir, House Calls: A Day in the Practice of a Duma Woman Doctor in St. Petersburg, published posthumously in 1904. Female medical graduates were generally hired by cities to attend to the health problems of the lower classes. Cities preferred to hire women, in part, because they would work for lower salaries, and because they were thought to be more effective with women and children, who were often too modest or too scared to seek help from male medical professionals.

The pamphlets and dissertations complement the NLM collection of 2,000 book-length monographs from the Imperial Russian Era.

As part of the cataloging project, bibliographic records were created by contract staff from VNS Group in NLM’s online catalogue, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=nlmcatalog or http://locatorplusv2.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&PAGE=First, and distributed to licensees of NLM bibliographic data.

Portrait of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov

Clockwise from upper left: Portrait of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov; cover, in Russian, of Pavlov’s doctoral dissertation entitled, On the Centrifugal Nerves of the Heart; portrait of Ilia Metchnikov; title page, in Russian, of Metchnikov’s pamphlet entitled, On Yogurt.

The National Library of Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health, is the world’s largest medical library.