Unsolicited advice: All about JSTOR

Now, I do use and appreciate JSTOR. After all, they have full-text articles! And mugs! But there is a time and a place for this particular resource. And it should never be the only article database you rely on. Consider this a public service announcement for those of you who are working on mid-term assignments to remember to use multiple databases for your research.

First, what is JSTOR?

A digital library. JSTOR aggregates content (journal articles, book reviews, and—new this year—books) from over 1,500 academic journals in a range of disciplines. It’s name is short for Journal STORage, meaning that they have compiled an enormous library of old issues of journals. Although they’ve been working on expanding the number of current journals, there is still often a delay between the time a journal article is published and the time it appears on JSTOR (often 3-5 years!). JSTOR “aims to expand access to scholarly content around the world and to preserve it for future generations,” is a not-for-profit organization, and all-around good guy.

But what is it not?

A research tool. JSTOR, unlike many other databases, doesn’t have abstracts or subject headings. That means, your options for searching and finding relevant information are limited. JSTOR’s primary function is as an archive, which means that their indexing2 is not overly strong. This means, to find the best sources, you are better off searching in a database with better indexing and THEN going to JSTOR to retrieve the article. (Though this might not work if your article is too recent.)

So when should you use JSTOR?

When you have an author or title that you know already. When you have a good idea already of what you need and a simple keyword search will suffice. When you’re looking for an easy way to find historical articles (JSTOR has journal archives going back to the 1840). When you don’t need the most up-to-date research (say, in fields like history or literature, where scholarship from 5+ years ago can still be relevant).

Bottom line?

JSTOR is really great resource. And has nice mugs. You need to be aware of what you’re getting when you’re using it and recognize its limitations. But more than anything, you need to always be using other databases in addition to make sure you’re not missing the most up-to-date research or missing other relevant resources because of limited search capability.

The librarians at McGill provide you with lists of resources (including databases!) relevant to the subjects you’re studying. Just go to this page and look up the topic you’re researching here.

For example, here’s one of our subject research guides for the history of medicine.




1. This is called a “moving wall.”

2. This means, how they organize their articles by topic. Think of this as the equivalent of a hashtag. Normally, librarians tag all of the articles and books entered into a database or library catalog, using a list of predefined terms.

Spotlight on: Wellcome Film

In this series, I’ll be highlighting a digital resource or collection of primary resource materials in the history of medicine. You can find a lengthy list of these at our history of medicine subject guide and feel free to share any resources you’ve found useful!

The Wellcome Library, one of the world’s most important medical libraries, is home to a number of specialized collections representing the history of medicine and medicine in society, including a substantial Moving Images & Sound collection.  A digitized collection of these films dating from 1912 on called Wellcome Film in particular is a fantastic resource in the history of public health and medical training during the 20th century and makes its A/V material freely available to researchers for download as part of the Internet Archive, (they have a YouTube channel as well).

Check out the Wellcome’s film of the month for February, a 1954 short technical film entitled “Relief of Pain in Childbirth.”


New resource: Annual Announcements of the Medical Faculty of McGill College

Early Canadiana Online is an online collection featuring digitized books, articles, pamphlets, and government publications, over 80,000 items published in Canada from the 1600s to the 1950s. Their Health and Medicine collection now contains 9 complete issues of the Annual Announcement of the Medical Faculty of McGill College from 1852/53-1862/63.

The Annual Announcements were used to lay out the course of lectures for the following academic year and update faculty and students on changes in regulations. They included lists of current students and graduates for the given year.

Want to know how much your medical education cost 160 years ago?

The 1853/54 session announcements reports:

“The fee for each class shall be three pounds, Halifax currency; except for the Anatomical and Chemical classes, for each of which the fee shall be three pounds fifteen shillings, of the same currency; and for the classes of Clinical Medicine and Surgery, and of Medical Jurisprudence, for each of which the fee shall be two pound ten shillings.” (p. 9)

Darwin, Osler, and McGill

Forget Valentine’s Day, did you wish someone Happy Darwin Day this week? International Darwin Day, which the Darwin Day Foundation describes as a “global celebration of science and reason,” is marked annually on February 12th, the birthday of the intrepid naturalist himself.

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) was an admirer of Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) and counted in his personal library many of Darwin’s works, including a 3rd edition of his On the origin of species, containing the theory of evolution based on a process called natural selection, his 1871 The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex, examining the process of natural selection of humans, and his Journal of researches (also known as “The voyage of the Beagle”), a compilation of zoological and geological notes and observations made while on expedition with the HMS Beagle.

In his introductory essay to the catalogue of his collection, “The collecting of a library,” Osler shares some personal recollections that point to Darwin’s influence on his own intellectual development. As a student at the Toronto School of Medicine during the 1860s, the future Sir William lived, worked, and studied with Dr. James Bovell, for whom he kept the books and prepared specimens for microscope slides. Osler writes of the “mental tumult” of the sixties, during which “really devout students, of whom Dr. Bovell was one, were sore let and hindered, not to say bewildered, in attempts to reconcile Genesis and Geology.” Dr. Bovell himself was the sort of instructor, according to Osler, “more likely to lecture on what was in his mind than on the schedule, and a new monograph on Darwin or a recent controversial pamphlet would occupy the allotted hour.” Osler also waxes nostalgic over his student vacations spent with a microscope and copies of Darwin’s “’Voyage’ and the ‘Origin.’” (Bibliotheca Osleriana, xv-xxvi [McGill users])

In his catalogue notes for his copy of Darwin’s On the tendency of species to form varieties (1858), Osler recounts a meeting with Charles Darwin:

I only saw Darwin once. During the winter of 1872-3 his son Francis worked at the table next to me in Burdon Sanderson’s laboratory at University College. Several times in the spring he talked on taking me to Down for the week-end, but his father was ailing. It was, I think, the next spring, I mean in ’74, that I saw him at the Royal Society reception (?) He spoke much of Principal Dawson of McGill, for whose work on fossil botany he had a great regard. I remember how pleased I was that he should have asked after Dr. Dawson. He was a most kindly old man, of large frame, with great bushy beard and eyebrows. (B.O. 1565)

From the Osler Library Prints Collection. Photo-mechanical reproduction (photogravure). Published in Leipzig by Georg Thieme in 1909.

From the Osler Library Prints Collection. Photo-mechanical reproduction (photogravure). Published in Leipzig by Georg Thieme in 1909.

Nickerson Fellowship in Neuro History

Hello all! A quick reminder that we’re accepting applications for this fellowship in neuro history until March 15th. The Mary Louise Nickerson Fellowship will provide a researcher with up to 10,000$ to support research in the neuro history archival and artifact collections at the Osler Library (home of the Wilder Penfield Archive), the McGill University Archives, and the Montreal Neurological Institute. Early career scholars, graduate students, and professionals are equally encouraged to apply. More information on the website!


New resource: Cases database

“Embrace ‘information overload’” with a new open access database of medical case reports. BioMed Central is an open access, online publisher in the field of science, technology, and medicine. They publisher 220 OA, peer-reviewed online journals. Their new research tool, Cases Databases brings together patient case reports from a variety of journals and makes them freely available and searchable.

See their blog entry here, which talks about the usefulness of medical case reports for evidence-based medicine and makes some interesting notes about open access in scientific publishing.



Some new titles – January

Carter, Neil. Medicine, sport, and the body: a historical perspective. London; New York : Bloomsbury, 2012.

From bloomsburyacademic.com:

This book provides a history of the relationship between sport, medicine and health from the mid-19th century to today. It combines the sub-disciplines of the history of medicine and the history of sport to give a balanced analysis of the role of medicine in sport and how this has evolved over the past two centuries.

Harrison, Mark. Contagion : how commerce has spread disease. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

Find a review from Times Higher Education here.

Jacques, Jouanna. Greek medicine from Hippocrates to Galen : selected papersLeiden ; Boston : Brill, 2012.

A selection of Professor Jouanna’s papers on Greco-Roman and late antique medicine in English translation.

Leonardo da Vinci, anatomist. [London] : Royal Collection Publications, 2012.

See a write-up about this book on fantastic culture, ideas, and ”interestingness” blog Brain Pickings (with pictures!)

Lessard, Renald. Au temps de la petite verole : la medecine au Canada aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siecles. Québec : Septentrion, [2012].

Listen to an interview with the author from Radio Canada.

Ross, John J. Shakespeare’s tremor and Orwell’s cough : the medical lives of great writers. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

Did writing 1984 kill George Orwell. Physician John Ross investigates (and the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases reviews – [McGill users]).

Wise, Sarah. Inconvenient people : lunacy, liberty, and the mad-doctors in Victorian England. London : Bodley Head, 2012.

Find a review from the UK’s The Guardian here.