Getting started: William Osler Medical Students Essay Awards

Essay Awards season is upon us! We are currently accepting proposals for essays as part of the William Osler Medical Students Essay Awards, established by the Osler Library and the Osler Society of McGill and endowed by Pam and Rolando Del Maestro.

Here are a couple hints and links to get started in researching a potential topic:

The History of Medicine subject guide, Medical Sociology subject guide, Biomedical Ethics subject guide are librarian-curated guides to the fields, with links to catalogues, databases, image and digital text collections, and references sources like encyclopedias.

Do you have a general interest in a topic but aren’t sure where to go with it? Start by a simple search in the McGill Library catalogue to locate a book on the subject. Particularly if you’re interested in a more historical or humanities topic, books are still a key source of information. Instead of jumping immediately to journal literature, try skimming a book on your general topic (or look through the subject guide to find a relevant encyclopedia), and see what piques your interest.

Are you interested in working with historical materials at the library? Get inspired by one of our numerous collections:

Anatomical atlases (potential sources for projects related to history of anatomy, surgery and its specializations, medical illustration, history of the body, history of medical education)

Paris Medical Theses Collection (a massive collection, for readers of French, covering many different medical topics from 1786-1920s)

Osler Artefacts (a rich collection of historical medical artifacts. See another example from our blog here)

Wilder Penfield Fonds (an archival collection, partially digitized, about the history of neurosurgery and the Montreal Neurological Institute)

Almanac Collection (ephemeral or informal publications like pamphlets that are filled with health and home tips and pharmaceutical advertising,19th and early 20th centuries)

Sir William Osler Collection (a collection of books, notebooks, letters, lectures, photographs, and many more archival records of the great physician himself)

Find more rare books and pamphlets by searching in the McGill Library Classic Catalogue. This catalogue only contains print holdings (no e-books or articles) and you can use it to narrow down your search only to materials in the Osler Library: Click the “Sub-catalogues” tab, then click “Osler Library of the History of Medicine” under the Library and Collections category.

Discover archival materials by searching in our Archives Database. You can search by a keyword in the description or browse by subject. Popular subjects include McGill medical student life through history, Montreal doctors, and WWI medical history. Additional archival materials about McGill can be found at the central Archives.

Proposals are due May 24th! Please don’t hesitate to contact the library at if you’d like to make an appointment to view materials or meet with a librarian.


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!