167th

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Glass slide from the Osler Library archives shows Osler as a young medical student at McGill University, 1871.

Today marks the 167th birthday of Sir William Osler. In celebration this year, we thought we would highlight several invaluable resources and digital collections that McGill University Library – with the help of generous donors – has made accessible for researchers around the world.

McGill Library William Osler Letter Index — This on-going project at Osler Library provides a wealth of information for researchers to access an index of thousands of letters to and from Sir William Osler. It also provides biographical materials gathered by Dr. Harvey Cushing for his 1925 Pulitzer Prize winning biography The Life of William Osler.

William Osler Photo Collection — Browse the photographic collection, read the accompanying biographical notes, and get a sense of the visual history of William Osler and those who were close to him throughout his life.

Osler Library Archives — Retrieval number P100 will direct you to the William Osler fonds. If you prefer to browse, the subject “Osler, Sir William, Sir, 1849-1919” will provide the many fonds collections containing archival material associated with Osler – fonds that include some of William Osler’s friends, relatives and colleagues throughout his life in Canada, USA, and United Kingdom.

Enjoy your Osler celebrations today from all of us here at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine!

History of biology in the Osler Library

The history of natural history and biology is heavily represented in the collection of the Osler Library, not just because of their important place in the history of medicine, but also in the life story of the library’s founder.

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson. William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson.
William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

William Osler (1849-1919) grew up in Bond Head, Ontario, surrounded by books. His father’s theological library had around 1,500 items. The young Osler had his first glimpse of a scientific library when he left home to attend Trinity College School (located today in Port Hope, Ontario). The Warden of the school, Reverend W.A. Johnson (1816-1889), according to Osler, “a good friend, botanist, a practical palaeontologist, an ardent microscopist,” inspired Osler with a passion for natural history.

While studying Anglican divinity at Trinity College, Toronto, Osler spent two years living with James Bovell, the Chair of Natural Theology at Trinity College and a member of the Toronto School of Medicine faculty, assisting him in his work. He would often go out to collect various samples of algae and other specimens to fix onto slides for Bovell. His first publication, “Christmas and the Microscope” (1869) demonstrated his love for and proficiency at microscopy. Osler transferred from Trinity College to the Toronto School of Medicine, and then ultimately to the Medical Faculty at McGill University to pursue the greater clinical opportunities available to medical students in Montreal.

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson. William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

Coloured sketches by W. A. Johnson.
William Arthur Johnson Fonds, P139, Osler Library

Osler’s affinity for natural history flourished during his stay at McGill. Through another mentor, Dr. Palmer Howard, Dean of the McGill Faculty of Medicine, Sir William was introduced to some of the foundational works in the field of life sciences, including those of Laennec, Stokes, and Graves. Osler’s thesis was based on the preparation of gross and microscopic slides from twenty autopsies. After graduation, he considered the India Medical Service, but opted to remain in Montreal, so as to pursue his work in microscopy. He was offered the Chair of Botany at McGill because of this expertise, but turned the position down in favour of a lectureship in Physiology. He became Chair of Clinical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1884, where he was a member of the Biology Club. His bibliophilia was inspired by places such as the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. Osler moved to the Johns Hopkins University in 1889, where in 1893 he played an instrumental role in the creation of the Johns Hopkins Medical School and teaching hospital.  He was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University in 1905. At Oxford he served equally as a curator of the Bodleian Library and was heavily involved in the work of the Bibliographical Society of London. In Oxford, he had the leisure time to devote himself to his passion for book collecting, designing a library that would contain the most significant works produced in the history of medicine and science.

Come see a selection of works of natural history and biology in a special exhibition up now in the Osler Room of the Osler Library.

 

Dr. Rolando Del Maestro to Give McGovern Award Lecture

American Osler Society MeetingDr. Rolando Del Maestro, Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the Osler Library, has been honoured with the John P. McGovern Award Lectureship by the American Osler Society at the 45th Annual Meeting to be held in Baltimore from April 26 to April 29. The Lectureship was established in 1986 in honour of physician and historian of medicine Dr. John P. McGovern through the generosity of the John P. McGovern Foundation. The Lectureship is awarded yearly to a significant contributor to the field of medical humanities and the Oslerian legacy. Dr. Del Maestro is the first to receive the Lectureship from McGill University and one of only a few Canadians to be awarded the distinction. His lecture, entitled “Leonardo da Vinci and the Search for the Soul,” will be given on Monday, April 27th, and will focus on both the historical and present concepts related to neurological cognitive integration.

 

Here is a list of all of the recipients of the John P. McGovern Award Lectureships since its inception in 1986:

McGovern Award Award

Reprints of past John P. McGovern Award Lectures can be found in the pamphlets collection of the Osler Library. A complete listing can be found here. A collection of 18 past McGovern lectures was published in 2004 by Lawrence D. Longo: Our lords, the sick: McGovern Lectures in the history of medicine and medical humanism.

The American Osler Society was founded in the 1960s as for the purpose of bringing together members of the medical and allied professions who are, by their common inspiration, dedicated to memorialise and perpetuate the just and charitable life, the intellectual resourcefulness, and the ethical example of Sir William Osler. Since January 9, 1981, the Osler Library has been the official repository for the archives of the American Osler Society, a full description of which can be found here.

 

 

 

New database available from the Osler Library

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Our newest database is now live! The William Osler Letter Index provides a way of locating information about the letters and other material that Dr. Harvey Cushing (1869-1939) gathered for his Pulitzer-winning biography The Life of William Osler (1925)Cushing collected thousands of letters to and from Osler, having them copied and returning the originals, and made many notes throughout his research. A guide to these was previously available only to on-site users. The online index contains descriptions of these letters, Cushing’s notes and manuscript excerpts, and further Osler material from other archival collections and fonds, including the Sir William Osler Collection (P100), the Malloch Family Fonds (P107), and the Maude Abbott Collection (P111). Each description provides information on the sender, the recipient, the place and year of writing, and a brief abstract of the letter’s contents. Please visit and let us know if you have any feedback!