History of Medicine on Overdrive

Looking for some reading over the long weekend? Like listening to audiobooks during your commute? Check out some medical history titles now available on Overdrive.

Overdrive is a digital media library that McGill subscribes too. You can borrow and download e-books and audiobooks for a lending period of up to 3 weeks.

Here are a couple of newly available titles for history of medicine:

The medical book: from witch doctors to robot surgeons, 250 milestones in the history of medicine, by Clifford Pickover.

            Touching on such diverse subspecialties as genetics, pharmacology, neurology, sexology, and immunology, Pickover intersperses “obvious” historical milestones—the Hippocratic Oath, general anesthesia, the Human Genome Project—with unexpected and intriguing topics like “truth serum,” the use of cocaine in eye surgery, and face transplants.


The iMinds series has short, readable on Bubonic Plague, Epidemics, Penicillin, and other medical topics.

Medical detectives: the lives and cases of Britain’s forensic five, by Robin Odell.

            The development of forensic pathology in Britain is told here through the lives of five outstanding medical pioneers. Spanning seventy years, their careers and achievements marked major milestones in the development of legal medicine, their work and innovation laying the foundations for modern crime scene investigation (CSI). Sir Bernard Spilsbury, Sir Sydney Smith and Professors John Glaister, Francis Camps and Keith Simpson were the original expert witnesses. Between them, they performed over 200,000 post-mortems during their professional careers, establishing cruicial elements of murder investigation such as time, place and cause of death


Nothing but the tooth: a dental odyssey, by Barry Berkovitz.

            This book offers facts and figures regarding famous historical figures, such as John Hunter, Dr Crippen, Doc Holliday, and Paul Revere, exploring how their connections to dentistry shaped them, as well as the story of the two young dentists who discovered the principles of general anaesthesia. Other chapters focus on the amazing ranges of teeth in animals, from the teeth in piranhas to the tusks and ivory of elephants and narwhals, looking at their biological and cultural significance.


Check out the Getting Started guide to download the software you’ll need (Mac/Ipad users take note: you will need to download the free Overdrive Media Console from the app store). You’ll need to sign in with your library account number.

Find more information about e-books here.


“Nous portons tous des microbes”

World Tuberculosis Day fell yesterday, March 24th. The choice of date commemorates the day Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of the TB bacillus, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In 1882, the year of Koch’s announcement, TB was responsible for seven million deaths.

Cracher à terre est un Danger. From the Osler Library Prints Collection.

Cracher à terre est un Danger. From the Osler Library Prints Collection.

This “image d’Épinal” is part of a series called “Propagande pour l’hygiène publique.” It was part of a wide campaign in the first half of the 20th century to sensitize the French public to tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, infant mortality, and alcoholism: the inevitable scourges that decimate humanity. “Images d’Épinal” were popular prints that illustrated traditional or country life. In this example, entitled “Cracher à terre est un Danger (Spitting on the ground is a danger),” a young instructor named Monsieur Ledoux visits a country home, where he is alarmed to see the sick grandfather spitting on the floor. He explains that tuberculosis germs are found in saliva and can be easily be transmitted through the air, as when the young wife sweeps the floors and sends up microbe-filled dust.

Monsieur Ledoux’s three crucial pieces of advice? Don’t sweep the floor when it’s dry, make sure people don’t spit on the floor, and give pocket spitoons to sick people.



Robert Koch and Tuberculosis: Robert Koch’s famous lecture. December, 2003. Nobelprize.org.

Albert Calmette. La propagande pour l’hygiene sociale par le cinematographe. L’art à l’école. Bulletin de la Société Française de l’art à l’école, 78 (1922): 81-82.

The historian of medicine’s blogroll (part 1)

William Osler keeping up-to-date pre-blogosphere. From the Osler Photo Collection, CUS_064-048_P.

William Osler keeping up-to-date pre-blogosphere. From the Osler Photo Collection, CUS_064-048_P.

The world of academic blogging keeps getting better and better and, indeed, a more and more important way of engaging with scholarly communities. Here are just a couple highlights for the historian of medicine.

Center for Medical Humanities blog: This longstanding blog from the Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University is definitely one for the RSS.  It’s an important distributor of calls for papers and announcements of conferences, talks, and new publications in medical humanities and history of medicine.  It’s also a collaborative blog that features scholarly content from guest contributors ranging from profiles of researchers to introductions to current work.

Remedia is a beautifully designed new blog devoted to all things history of medicine, particularly topics that help to illuminate contemporary issues. Entries so far touch on obesity and death and dying (see, for example, this interview about assisted suicide) and although it’s young, it looks like a promising blog to follow.

Contagions: Subtitled “Thoughts on historic infectious diseases,” this is an  impressive blog by biologist Michelle Ziegler of Saint Louis University that provides an account on her work on “old germs” and public health. Current research topics of her include a bioarcheology of plague, particularly a study of the early medieval plague of Justinian, and inflectious disease in the Americas. Have a look at her entry on gerbil plague!

Next in our series of professor blogs comes William Eamon’s site, featuring his blog Labyrinth of Nature: “occasional thoughts and random reflections on the history of Renaissance science.” Eamon, a professor at New Mexico State University and author of two excellent and eminently readable books on Renaissance scientific and medical culture, writes a great blog. The posts are on various topics or events in early modern medicine or science; all are illustrated with images and provide further readings. Check out his study of 16th century Italian surgeon Leonardo Fioravanti and his drug of choice, Precipitato (mercuric oxide), which he prescribed liberally for purgation.

Medical History: In this blog, our host, Dr. Turkey, obstetrician by day and historical storyteller by night, shares photographs, anecdotes, and diagnoses (see, for example, her brief history of anesthesia or her opinion on Attila the Hun’s death. A fun read for the historically curious.

The Medicine Chest is devoted specifically to early modern and 18th century medicine from Dutch historian Marieke Hendriksen. Her posts span a range of subjects from medical material culture to pharmacy, and topics from harelips to mercury.



Dr. Charlotte Ferencz fonds

The Osler Library is happy to announce that we have a new addition to our Harold Segall archival materials. The Charlotte Ferencz collection contains correspondence between Dr. Ferencz and Dr. Segall from the early 1960s until his death in 1990. It contains letters, cards, postcards, and photographs reflecting nearly 30 years of friendship.

Dr. Charlotte Ferencz was born in Budapest, Hungary on October 28, 1921. She obtained her education in her native country until an employment opportunity for her engineer father brought the family to Montreal, Canada in May 1939. She entered McGill University that fall and earned a Bachelor of Science degree with Distinction in 1944 and a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree in 1945. After various internships across Canada, she became a resident in pediatrics at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Montreal and obtained a research fellowship in the Cardiology Department in 1948-49. She went to the U.S. as a Fellow in Pediatrics in Baltimore and held appointments in Pediatric Cariology at two American universities before earning a degree at the John Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1970 and becoming Professor of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at University of Maryland.

Dr. Harold Segall, a McGill graduate and Professor of Medicine, was the first full trained cardiologist to practice in the Montreal. He worked at the Montreal General Hospital where he established a cardiac clinic, one of the first in Canada. He participated in the founding of the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and was Head of Cardiology

For more information, see the Charlotte Ferencz Fonds Inventory List, the Dr. Harold Segall fond, or contact the library.

Exhibition: Designing Doctors



Royal Victoria Hospital inkwell. Photo by Don Toromanoff.

A new exhibition highlighting the contributions of physicians to hospital architecture is up now at the Osler Library.

Designing Doctors showcases the Osler Library’s outstanding collection of architectural advice literature on hospital architecture.   Its focus is on the development of the so-called pavilion-plan hospital, a ubiquitous typology for hospitals in the English-speaking world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which maximized ventilation and daylight; their signature detail, however, was the Nightingale ward, a large, open space which typically housed about thirty patients.

Two sub-themes shape the organization of the exhibition:  the role of physicians in the design of pavilion-plan hospitals and the position of hospitals as tourist destinations.  Consequently, Designing Doctors presents a series of classic books written by doctor-architect teams or physicians who saw themselves as architectural experts. Several of these books are dedicated by or to famous figures, including Florence Nightingale, Henry Saxon Snell, and Edward Fletcher Stevens.  Included here too are delightful souvenir items featuring hospital imagery:  an inkwell, a soup bowl, hospital postcards, and a humorous board game as reminders of the wide reach of hospital architecture images in twentieth-century popular culture.

The exhibition is curated by Professor Annmarie Adams, Director of the School of Architecture, McGill University, and member of the Osler Library’s Board of Curators.

Through August 2013.

New resource: Scientific Instrument Society

Back issues of the Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society from The British Society for the History of Science are now freely available online.

There’s no search capability, but back issues from 1984 to 2004 are available for download as PDF from the Scientific Instrument Society’s website.

Here’s one example of historical medical instruments found on the pages of the Bulletin: Roland Wittje, “Centrifuges and Ultracentrifuges in Medical, Chemical and Microbiologic Laboratories,” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society 80 (2004).

Engraving of medical instruments, likely to replace broken bones, by Carlo Cesi, 1626-1686. From the Osler Library Prints Collection, OPF000047.

Engraving of medical instruments, likely to replace broken bones, by Carlo Cesi, 1626-1686. From the Osler Library Prints Collection, OPF000047.



New resource: Codebreakers, makers of modern genetics

The Wellcome Library announced the launch of an important new digital collection yesterday. Codebreakers: makers of modern genetics brings together the papers and archives of twenty leading researchers and organizations in biochemistry and genetics, including the personal papers of James Watson and Francis Crick, two scientists credited with discovering the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953.

Lots of other archival material provides the context for this discovery. From the Wellcome Library blog:

We also have collections that help place their work in a broader context. From the first half of the 20th century we have the archive of the Eugenics Society, made available by kind permission of the Council of the Galton Institute, and the papers of J B S Haldane, a leading figure in pre-war British science and the first Professor of Genetics at University College London. From the post-war period we have, amongst others, the collections of Guido Pontecorvo and his students Malcolm Ferguson-Smith and James Renwick, who helped make Glasgow a leading centre for the study of medical genetics. We’ve also digitised over a thousand books covering the science, history and social and cultural aspects of genetics and related disciplines, mostly from the 20th century.


Have you had a chance to look through this collection yet? What did you think?


Some new titles – February

Happy March everyone. Let’s check out a selection of titles that we acquired in February. Take a look!


Barefoot doctors and western medicine in China / Xiaoping Fang. Rochester, NY : University of Rochester Press, 2012.

From the University of Rochester Press:

In 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party endorsed a radical new system of health-care delivery for the rural masses. Soon every village had at least one barefoot doctor to provide basic medical care, creating a national network of health-care services for the very first time. The barefoot doctors were portrayed nationally and internationally as revolutionary heroes, wading undaunted through rice paddies to bring effective, low-cost care to poor peasants. This book is the first comprehensive study to look beyond the nostalgia dominating present scholarship on public health in China and offer a powerful and carefully contextualized critique of the prevailing views on the role of barefoot doctors, their legacy, and their impact.

Lotions, potions, pills, and magic : health care in early America / Elaine G. Breslaw. New York : New York University Press, 2012.

Historian Elaine Breslaw explores the health crises of early American settlements and identifies the array of Western medicine and indigenous healing techniques practiced side-by-side, together, or in conflict in the period following the American Revolution.

Conserver la santé ou la rétablir : le rôle de l’environnement dans la médecine antique et médiévale : actes du colloque international, Saint-Étienne, 23-24 octobre 2008 / textes réunis et présenté par Nicoletta Palmieri. Saint Étienne : Publications de l’Université de Saint Étienne, 2012.

This volume of proceedings from an international colloquium contains work by scholars Jacques Jouanna, Heinrich von Staden, and Klaus-Dietrich Fischer among many others.

Chinese traditional healing : the Berlin collections of manuscript volumes from the 16th through the early 20th century / by Paul U. Unschuld and Zheng Jinsheng. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2012.

An impressive three volume set consisting of one volume of essays and two volumes containing a survey of over 800 Chinese medical manuscripts produced for private use from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

Urban planning and public health in Africa : historical, theoretical and practical dimensions of a continent’s water and sanitation problematic / Ambe J. Njoh. Farnham, England ; Burlington, VT : Ashgate, 2012.

The author investigates hygiene and sanitation policies in Africa, and the resulting state of public health, in the light of European colonial urban planning.

Have you had a chance to read any of these yet? What did you think?