The University of Bristol announced today that it partnered up with the London-based Wellcome Library on a digitization project covering nineteenth-century medical books and pamphlets. Bristol is now one of nine UK universities that opened up its own archives, special collections, and library holdings to assist in building what’s being dubbed as the “UK Medical Heritage Library.” When complete (sometime in 2020), over 50-million pages of “historical medical books, archives, manuscripts, and journals” will be made searchable, and for free.

 

Typical "Phrenology Chart" popular with the British bourgeoisie, ala the Victorian Era.

Typical “Phrenology Chart” popular with the British bourgeoisie, ala the Victorian Era.

For scholars looking at the History of Medicine/Science, this is a most positive movement.  But cultural historians should take a look here as well. With the added digitization of books and pamphlets on medicine, especially during the Victorian Era, culturalist can gain key insights into how medicine and science progressed within the confines of “English” culture. For example; phrenology – now considered a pseudo-science – was all the rage in Victorian England as the medical and scientific fields sought justifications of Empire, an attempt to answer the most basic of questions: why is England able to subjugate others and not the other way around. Tailored also for a culturalist’s delight is the fact that “science lectures” pandered to the middle-class during Queen Victoria’s reign: the popularity of “going out” to a lecture where “phrenologists” informed you that the answer to the previous question was “because you’re English,” might certainly had something to do with the mass appeal of that science, or any medical science for that matter.

The UK Medical Heritage Library is searchable now, without the benefit of Bristol and eight other lending institutions. Just go to http://www.medicalheritage.org/ and search away. But imagine what it’ll look like a mere five years away. Can’t wait!

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