World No Tobacco Day, 31 May

Today seems a fitting day to take a look at an oldie-but-goodie from the Osler Library Newsletter, no. 15, February 1974.

An article by then-cataloguer Janis Shore describes an exhibit on the history of smoking:

Prompted by a suggestion from one of our overseas correspondents, the Library staff organized an exhibit on the history of smoking. There was little problem in finding sufficient materials within the Library as Dr. Osler expressed great interest in the use of tobacco and selected 30 books for the Osleriana collection that dealt with this subject.


One sixteenth-century book in particular was responsible for much of what Europeans knew about tobacco.

Monardes, Nicolás, ca. 1512-1588. Historia medicinal. En Seuilla : En casa de Alonso Escriuano, 1574. 4º. Osler Library, B.O. 3431.

Monardes, Nicolás, ca. 1512-1588. Historia medicinal. En Seuilla : En casa de Alonso Escriuano, 1574. 4º. Osler Library, B.O. 3431.

Written by Nicolas Monardes in 1574 and titled ‘Primera y segunda y tercera Partes de la Historia medicinal de las cosas’, it states that the tobacco plant would cure coughs, asthma, headache, cramp in the stomach, gout… and malignant tumours.



Another book,  ‘A Counterblaste to Tobacco’ issued by King James I of England, represents one of the earliest stop-smoking campaigns, highlighting an important premodern reason to quit.

Many monarchs were as concerned as King James because smoking had drastically increased the hazards of fire and hundreds of European villages were being destroyed because of careless smokers.


Reader's annotation in a 1644 compendium including a Latin translation of James's Counterblaste, among other works. Osler Library, B.O. 2550. "Tobacco! Injurious herb, an oily plant with horrible smoke."

Reader’s annotation in a 1644 compendium including a Latin translation of James’s Counterblaste, among other works. Osler Library, B.O. 2550. “Tobacco! Injurious herb, an oily plant with horrible smoke.”


William Osler himself recognized certain dangers related to over-indulgence in tobacco and warned against it (though he was far from a non-smoker himself).


Lady Nicotine in William Osler's speech "A Way of Life", 1913. Typed manuscript, Osler Library, B.O. 7653.

Lady Nicotine in William Osler’s speech “A Way of Life”, 1913. Typed manuscript, Osler Library, B.O. 7653.

Read the whole article here.

To check out other issues of the OLN, see our website.


Osler Library Guide: Archives

This is part of a series of posts designed to expose readers to the range of materials we have here at the Osler Library and provide tips on how to find and use specific resources. These various installments will form the basis of a comprehensive Osler Library user guide. Your questions and feedback are welcome!

Pile of PapersAbout

The Osler Library holds nearly 200 individual archives. These include both fonds—bodies of documents accumulated by a person or institution during the course of their activities—and collections—groupings of materials arranged thematically.

The majority of the archives are fonds received from physicians and medical professionals attached to McGill University and the Faculty of Medicine. The most notable example would be the collection of William Osler material. Other fonds or collections relate to medicine and medical practitioners in Quebec or in Canada, such as the James Bell Johnston Fonds or the AIDS Collection. There are a small number of institutional archives (such as the Royal Victoria Hospital Women’s Pavillion Collection).


Finding information

Information about particular fonds or collections in the Osler Library can be accessed in two ways: in a specialized archival database or through the McGill Library’s online public access catalogue. The archival database can be found here. The database provides fonds-level descriptions of each fonds or collection (that means, a brief overview of the materials included, a biography or history of the person of institution that created the documents, the date range of material, and information about its provenance.) Many also have links to inventory lists, available in PDF, which provide information about each folder or item in a fonds or collections. These are linked to from the description.

The same information is also found in the McGill Library Catalogue. An easy way to find archival material in the library catalogue is by using the Classic Catalogue (also linked to on the library homepage). Once in the Classic Cataloge, you can select an Advanced Search, which will give you the option of selecting “Types of materials.” Select “Archive” then enter in your search terms above and only archival material will be retrieved. The same information is provided, except that if there is a link to a PDF inventory list you will have to copy and paste the link.


User information

Visitors to the archives are welcome during our opening hours. It’s recommended to make an appointment, but not necessary. You will be asked to leave coats and bags in our coatroom, fill out a form with your information, and leave a student card or other piece of identity with us during the time that you’re consulting materials. Only pencils can be taken into our reading rooms and staff will instruct you on proper handling of fragile materials.


Happy researching!



McGill professor wins history of science book award

Professor David Wright of the History Department and the Institute of Health and Social Policy has been awarded the biennial Dingle Prize from the British Society for the History of Science. The prize is awarded to the best recent book that succeeds in both engaging non-specialist audiences and making a sound scholarly contribution to the history of science.

Have a look here.



Bring a Child to Work Day at Osler

And continuing with our recent theme of special visitors to the library, we had some real VIPs last Friday.

In the Osler Room

We hosted an event here for McGill’s campus-wide Bring a Child to Work Day. The first part was a tour of the Osler Room and a peek at some of its treasures, including a 19th century surgeon’s kit and a couple very precious scientific and medical books.


Next, our visitors took on an accelerated training program in medieval medicine, complete with urinalysis and patient case histories.

BYCTWD7BYCTWD6Analyzing the "urine" of a very ill patientUsing a urine wheelBYCTWD8
Here are some of our graduates for the degree “Magister medicinae medievalis.” Look one of them up the next time your humors are acting up!



Photos: Lily Martin and Sabrina Hanna


Anatomical atlas donated in honour of outgoing principal

This Tuesday, April 30th, at Osler, Principal Monroe-Blum was presented with a significant rare work donated in her honour. The Exposition anatomique de la structure du corps human by Jacques Fabien Gautier d’Agoty (1716-1785) was published in France in 1759. D’Agoty was an artist who trained in colour printing with Jacob Christoph Le Blon (1670-1741), a German painter and engraver who developed the technique of colour mezzotint printing. D’Agoty took on the difficult and elaborate project of printing a complete, life-sized anatomy in colour. The resulting book is an elephant folio with nineteen pages of text and twenty colour mezzotint plates.

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Mezzotint is an intaglio printing technique, meaning that a design is incised into a surface and the resulting image is created by the ink in the grooves. In mezzotint printing, the negative space in the image on the plate is roughened up and pitted with a tool called a rocker in order to achieve half-tones and shading. Le Blon’s colour mezzotint process involved making multiple engravings, one for each colour of ink, and then overlaying them. His original technique involved the use of red, blue, and yellow inks to create a range of colours and he later added a fourth layer of black.

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This copy of the Exposition anatomique now held at Osler is among only a handful of existing copies. Others are held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Yale University, Harvard University, and the University of Edinburgh, among others. It is also the only known copy in Canada. The atlas was acquired thanks to several generous donors and presented in recognition of Professor Heather Munroe-Blum’s ten years as Principal and Vice-Chancellor.

Photos: Sabrina Hanna