In the past few months, we have been featuring a series of libraries and museums, all of which utilize digital platforms for outreach. These archivists, librarians, and curators–keepers of the historically significant–will be joining us to talk about the role of narrative and image in the first upcoming roundtable. Narrative, you ask? Yes! Because history is part of the humanities, and here at the Dose we promote and honor the intersections between health and humanities, broadly conceived.
Today, I am very pleased to present the New York Academy of Medicine’s Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health!
The Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health
The Center promotes the scholarly and public understanding of the history of medicine and public health, as well as the history of the book (often defined as the history of the creation, dissemination, and reception of script and print). The Center’s mission is threefold: 1. preserve and promote the heritage of medicine and public health 2. explore the connections between history and the humanities and contemporary medical, health policy, and public health concerns; and 3. make the history of medicine and public health accessible to public and scholarly audiences. The Center was established in 2012 and encompasses the Library, Historical Collections, and Gladys Brooks Book and Paper Conservation Laboratory
The Center is a division of the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM), which was founded in 1847 as an independent organization with an interest in regulating the medical profession in New York City and promoting public health. The library has been an integral part of the NYAM from its earliest days, having been founded at the Academy’s second meeting in January of 1847. In 1878, the library was opened to the public and NYAM continues to be the only medical library in New York freely accessible to the general public.
This collections comprise over 550,000 volumes, 275,000 portraits and illustrations, and approximately 400,000 pamphlets. The collection focuses primarily on the western medical tradition, with especially strong holdings in materials of the 16th, 17th and 18th century. Major strengths include anatomical atlases, especially works by and about Andreas Vesalius; cardiology, especially works by and about William Harvey; dermatology; surgery; women’s medicine; epidemic diseases; public health; and extensive collections of herbals, domestic medicine, and cookery. We also hold approximately 90 percent of the books, pamphlets, periodicals, and broadsides of medical interest printed in North America between 1683 and 1820. Our archival holdings include significant numbers of personal and institutional records documenting the practice of medicine in New York from the early 19th century to the present. NYAM also holds extensive runs of journals in medicine and public health of the 19th and 20th century from around the world. These holdings are supported by extensive secondary sources in the history of medicine and science, and a reference collection of medical bibliography, biography, and books on the history of books and printing.
Upon its founding in 2012, the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health expanded its online outreach efforts. Our blog Books, Health, and History features items from our collections, updates on activities, and news of events. It is a collaborative project, and staff members across the Center contribute. We’re also excited to share the scholarship coming out of our reading rooms, and several of our researchers have written fantastic guest posts on topics such as recreating medieval libraries and an influential, but hard to find book on the dangers of sugar. Currently, Morbid Anatomy’s Joanna Ebenstein is writing a series of guest posts in anticipation of our Festival of Medical History & the Arts being held here on October 5th. Additionally, we maintain a calendar of local events related to the history of medicine, public health, and the book, which we hope is a useful resource for the NYC medical history and humanities community.
The Center also has a Facebook page and Twitter account, where we promote the activities of the Center and engage with similar organizations. These platforms have brought about connections we may not have made otherwise. A favorite example: Thanks to twitter retweets, the New York Botanical Garden helped us identify plant leaves found in a 19th-century American manuscript recipe book. We make a point to share images from our collections, in hopes that these tidbits spark interest, and often they do.
The Center has a few digital collections and online exhibits and we are currently laying the groundwork for an expanded digitization program that will include a more robust array of online exhibitions, educational tools, and preservation imaging, which would provide improved and continued access to some of the collections’ most fragile items.
Lisa O’Sullivan, PhD serves as Director of the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. O’Sullivan most recently served as Senior Curator of Medicine at the Science Museum London, where she curated the Wellcome collection, one of the world’s preeminent historic medical collections. She joined the Science Museum in 2003 and worked on permanent and rotating exhibitions, including the Living Medical Traditions gallery. She was Head of Research for the Wellcome Trust-funded Brought to Life website highlighting the global reach of the Wellcome and Science Museum’s medical collections. Responsible for issues relating to human remains and culturally sensitive materials in the collections, she led the Science Museum’s repatriation work.
Dr. O’Sullivan completed her PhD in the Department of History at Queen Mary University of London, examining issues of health, environment, displacement, and identity, explored through the history of clinical nostalgia in 19th-century France. Her undergraduate degrees are in history and history of philosophy of science. On research sabbatical from the Science Museum over 2010 to 2011 she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sydney, investigating the material cultures of anthropological and anatomical collecting within the context of scientific studies of race.
Paul Theerman is Associate Director for NYAM’s Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. He has over 30 years’ experience working in museums, libraries, and archives, the last 20 in managerial positions. Prior to joining NYAM, he was at the Smithsonian Institution Archives as Associate Archivist; and at the National Library of Medicine as Head of Images and Archives. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, did exhibition research and development work at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, and served as an editor of The Papers of Joseph Henry, at the Smithsonian. He took up his current position of Associate Director of the Center for History of Medicine and Public Health at NYAM in May 2013.