New database available from the Osler Library


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!


Online resource: Travel Journals of Martin Lister

A new online resource brings together the travel journals and memoirs of English physician Dr. Martin Lister (1639-1712): Every Man’s Companion: Or, a Useful Pocket-Book.

As a medical student in Montpellier, Lister kept pocket books of his lessons and observations. Here he closely documented, among other things, the medical texts and recipes he used and acquired and the many observations on natural history that were the mark of a gentleman-naturalist. This site, by medical historian Dr. Anna Marie Roos, traces Lister’s peregrinatio medica, his travels for the purposes of medical education, from England to Montpellier and home again via Paris. Also included on the site is a page detailing the books that accompanied Lister on his travels and during his schooling

Detail from Dr. Roos' interactive map of Lister's travels.

Detail from Dr. Roos’ interactive map of Lister’s travels.


Further reading:

For more about medical travel and foreign medical education in the early modern period, see Ole Peter Grell, Andrew Cunningham, and Jon Arrizabalaga’s edited volume Centres of Medical Excellence?: Medical Travel and Education in Europe, 1500-1789. Burlington, VT : Ashgate, 2010.

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.

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.

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.



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.

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)