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November 27, 2007 [posted]

New Web Site and Digital Project at NLM® - Cholera Online: A Modern Pandemic in Texts and Images

t he History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine® (NLM) is pleased to announce the launch of a new Web site featuring digitized historical literature on cholera.

Cholera is an acute, painful, and often fatal disease which ravaged populations all over the world in several pandemics during the 19th century. News of its spread and impending approach often sent panic into entire nations, and health professionals were largely at a loss as to how to treat or prevent it until modern epidemiological and laboratory techniques were developed later in the century.

NLM has to date digitized over 100 English-language pamphlets dating from 1817 to 1890 dealing with the cholera pandemics of that period. The selection of cholera was in part inspired by the 315-page "Bibliography of Cholera" compiled by John Shaw Billings in 1875 for the report by John M. Woodworth's Cholera Epidemic of 1873 in the United States. This extensive bibliography by Billings was meant to include all published monographs and journal articles "which relate mainly or entirely to cholera." The bibliography was a precursor, perhaps a "pilot project," to the Index Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office, which began coming out in 1880. (For more on the Index-Catalogue, click here: //

While the items chosen for this project were not chosen directly from Billings' bibliography, nearly all of them dating before 1874 appear there. Only monographic items, such as pamphlets and separate volumes, were selected for this project. Altogether, the Library plans to digitize nearly 400 English-language items on cholera from its collections, making it one of the most comprehensive online collections of cholera literature available anywhere.

Billings did not mention images in his bibliography, but because NLM has the opportunity to show them separately from the texts, we have chosen to do so on the Web site (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). The cartoons and social satire regarding cholera are primarily from the Images from the History of Medicine database, as are the photographs of physicians who contributed to the debate about cholera.

For more information about the project, please contact Michael North, Head, Rare Books & Early Manuscripts, History of Medicine Division, NLM, or 301-496-9204.

By Michael J. North
History of Medicine Division

North MJ. New Web Site and Digital Project at NLM - Cholera Online: A Modern Pandemic in Texts and Images. NLM Tech Bull. 2007 Nov-Dec; (359):e7.

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