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Collections: Rare Books & Journals

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  • A wide range of titles from the historical book collection have been digitized and more are being scanned every day. Digitized books are available for reading and download in the NLM Digital Collections. You can browse by subject, author, title, date, and more, or explore one of the collections below.

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  • The historical book collection provides a rich resource for studying every aspect of medicine and health in the past, including related areas of social, economic, and intellectual history.

    While not as current as the online LocatorPlus catalog, the following printed catalogs are useful.

    • Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office (U.S. Army, 61 volumes in 5 series, 1880–1961)
    • Richard J. Durling, A Catalogue of Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (1967)
    • Peter A. Krivatsy, A Catalogue of Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine. First Supplement (1971)
    • Peter A. Krivatsy, A Catalogue of Seventeenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (1989)
    • John B. Blake, A Short Title Catalogue of Eighteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (1979)
    • Dorothy M. Schullian, A Catalogue of Incunabula and Manuscripts in the Army Medical Library (1950)
    • Peter A. Krivatsy, A Catalogue of Incunabula and Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine, First Supplement (1971)
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  • The journal collection includes bound and unbound medical journals dating from the 17th century through 1870. To find journal articles in the history of medicine, in addition to the LocatorPlus catalog use the following online and print resources:

    Full Text Articles

    • PMC logo.

      PubMed Central®

      PubMed Central® (PMC) is a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM).

      Go to PubMed Central

    Article Citations

    • PubMed Logo.

      PubMed

      PubMed comprises more than 25 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites. To find journal articles in the history of medicine, click Limits on the PubMed homepage and select Subset 'History of Medicine'. For information about PubMed, see FAQ MEDLINE/PubMed and Other Databases. To learn more about finding older journal articles see the Index Medicus Chronology .

      Go to PubMed

    • IndexCat logo.

      Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office

      Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office (Print) or IndexCat (Online) – Includes journal articles in the history of medicine published from the 17th-20th century.

      Go to IndexCat

    • Index Medicus history title.

      Index Medicus

      Index-Medicus (Print) – From 1879 to 2004, Index Medicus was a comprehensive bibliographic index of medical journal articles.

      Go to a Chronology of Index Medicus

    • Bibliography of the History of Medicine

      Bibliography of the History of Medicine (Print) - Includes journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers and proceedings published from 1965–1993. The Bibliography, a printed version of the discontinued HISTLINE database, was published in six cumulative volumes (1965-1993), and is useful for pre-1993 material. The Bibliography can be consulted in the History of Medicine Reading Room and at many large research and medical school libraries.

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  • The NLM world-renowned collection holds over 580 incunabula titles on subjects relating to science and medicine, from printed classical works of Galen and Hippocrates to materials on the plague and other "pestilences." The word incunabula comes from the Latin word cuna (cradle) and refers to books printed during the infancy of printing, which dates from the invention of moveable type (c. 1455) until 1500.

    NLM is working to digitize and make freely available items from the incunabula collection. NLM Digital Collections includes over forty items from the collection. This digital collection will grow over time as the Library scans more incunabula titles.

    While not as current as the online LocatorPlus catalog, the following printed catalogs are useful.

    • Dorothy M. Schullian, A Catalogue of Incunabula and Manuscripts in the Army Medical Library (1950)
    • Peter A. Krivatsy, A Catalogue of Incunabula and Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine, First Supplement (1971)

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  • NLM historical collections house a large collection of archives and manuscripts related the history of medicine. Most of the archival and manuscript material dates from the 17th century; however, the Library owns about 200 pre-1601 Western and Islamic manuscripts. The oldest item in the Library is an Arabic manuscript on gastrointestinal diseases from al-Razi's The Comprehensive Book on Medicine (Kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb) dated 1094. For modern manuscripts (17th century to the present) please visit the Archives and Papers collection.


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  • The East Asian collection holds approximately 3,000 books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and pieces of ephemera from Japan, China, and Korea dating from the 15th-20th century. Nearly 1,000 items date from before 1850.
    The Library has recently begun a project to catalog the East Asian collection online using vernacular characters. We are also undertaking a project to microfilm the collection in order to make the texts available to other libraries in the U.S. and Asia. Texts of the online records have been transliterated to show romanized author and title information. The Library has recently begun a project to catalog the records using vernacular characters. The Japanese collection can be searched with keyword HMDJPN.
    See also Classics of Traditional Chinese Medicine Featured Collection.

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  • While many pamphlets, dissertations, and reports may be found in the LocatorPlus catalog, uncataloged dissertations, pamphlets, and unbound reports can be searched in the Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office (Print) or IndexCat (Online), and in the Library’s old card catalog. Patrons can use the old card catalog in the History of Medicine Reading Room, or Ask a Librarian for assistance with a particular title.

    Pamphlets (16th–20th century)

    The pamphlet collection includes over 100,000 pamphlets (short essays, treatises, articles, etc., often unbound) dating from the 16th-20th century, covering a wide range of medically-related topics. The majority of items in the pamphlet collection have records in LocatorPlus. All the pre-1801 and about 50,000 19th and 20th century pamphlets do not yet have records in LocatorPlus. Many of them can be found by searching in the Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office (Print) or IndexCat (Online)

    Dissertations (16th–20th century)

    The collection of dissertations and theses on medical subjects are primarily from American and European universities and date from the 16th–20th century. Some 20,000 dissertations in the collection were printed before 1801 and about 180,000 since 1800. Search the LocatorPlus catalog for pre-1801 dissertations and theses.

    Reports (19th–20th Century)

    The collection includes published reports of hospitals, medical schools, and organizations, as well as reports of state, local, and federal health-related agencies, mostly dealing with such matters as disease prevention, hygiene, and safety. Most of this material dates from the 19th and 20th century.

    Imperial Russian Era (pre - 1917)

    Collection of 5,000 pamphlets and dissertations for degrees in medicine, pharmacy, and veterinary science. Search the LocatorPlus catalog using keyword HMDRUS.

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  • Uncataloged dissertations, pamphlets, and unbound reports are not in the Library catalog (LocatorPlus). This material can be searched in the Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office (Print) or IndexCat (Online), and in the Library’s old card catalog. Patrons can use the old card catalog in the History of Medicine Reading Room, or Ask a Reference Librarian for assistance with a particular title.

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    • A collage of images and text from early Chinese publications.

      Classics of Traditional Chinese Medicine

      The National Library of Medicine (NLM) holds approximately 2,000 volumes of Chinese medical classics. Here we display a few of the earliest and most interesting texts from the NLM collection.

    • A detail of an anatomical engraving featuring a skeleton.

      Historical Anatomies on the Web

      Historical Anatomies on the Web is a digital project designed to give Internet users access to high quality images from important anatomical atlases in the Library’s collection.

    EXPERIENCE RARE VOLUMES FROM NLM

    • Book open to an illustration of a scroll.

      Turning the Pages Online

      The quest for the “real thing” is not always satisfied. Among the most beautiful and sought after objects of antiquity are the books and manuscripts created hundreds of years ago, and carefully preserved in libraries. Now you can experience some of The National Library of Medicine’s most treasured volumes from your own desk, tablet, or phone. And if you visit the National Library of Medicine, come to the History of Medicine Reading Room and see these volumes in person for yourself.

      VIEW THE COLLECTION

      DOWNLOAD THE IOS APP

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