Collection Highlights: New York Academy of Medicine Collection of International Medical Theses

By Dawne Lucas May 30, 2017

This collection, acquired from the New York Academy of Medicine, consists of approximately 200,000 theses in multiple languages from leading medical schools throughout the world, ranging in date from 1801 to the early 1980s. Europe is well represented, with many theses originating from universities in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Countries with lesser quantities in the collection include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Algeria, Indonesia, and others.

Map showing all of the cities represented in this collection.

Map showing all of the cities represented in this collection.

Spanning the spectrum of medical disciplines, the collection is of interest to scholars in many academic specialties including the history of the health sciences, anthropology and other social sciences, and interdisciplinary fields such as queer studies, women’s studies, and science, technology, and society. Many are concerned with the authors’ cutting-edge research or the medical issues of the times, such as the spread of tuberculosis or the effectiveness of Salvarsan in treating syphilis. Some, such as those from Africa and Latin America, have a heavy emphasis on public health and sanitation. There are several from veterinary colleges, including a particularly heavy concentration in Paris, that examine the interchange between animal and human ailments, which has become a popular subject to explore in recent times.
A few highlights from the collection include:

• The thesis Susan J. Dimock, who was born in 1847 in Washington, North Carolina. Rejected at Harvard, she was subsequently admitted to the University of Zürich and completed her medical degree in 1871 with a defense of her dissertation on the various forms of puerperal (or “childbed”) fever that she observed in Zürich maternity clinics.
• The thesis of Thomas Aitchison Latta (Edinburgh, 1819). Although Latta published his thesis about scurvy, he is best known as the pioneer of the intra-venous saline drip that he invented in 1832 at the Edinburgh Cholera Hospital after seeing many patients die of dehydration. While Latta reported his relatively positive results in a Lancet article, others did not have the same level of success, and the method fell out of favor until 1902, when electrolyte balance and hypovolemic shock were better understood.
• The thesis of Charles Nicolas Aubé (Paris, 1836). Aubé was a French physician and entomologist who began his academic career studying pharmacy, went onto to earn his doctorate in medicine in 1836, and ultimately is known for founding and directing the Entomological Society of France. His thesis on scabies was the first to show that the arcus, the mite attributed to causing scabies, is nocturnal, explaining why contagion during the day is rare, as well the fact that scabies is contagious only by the transmission of the arcus. This thesis enhances the earlier work of J.C. Gales and François Renucci, whose theses are part of the collection.
• The thesis of Hermilio Valdizán (Lima, 1915). After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1909 from the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos, Valdizán became a medical surgeon. Soon after, the Peruvian government awarded him a scholarship to travel to Europe to study psychiatry and neurology, which were not taught in Peru at the time. He returned to Lima upon the outbreak of World War I, graduating in 1915 with his thesis about mental alienation amongst primitive Peruvians. Valdizán created the first external clinic of nervous and mental illnesses in Peru at the Hospital Dos de Mayo and founded the chair of Nervous and Mental Illnesses in the Greater University of San Marcos. He is credited with spearheading the Victor Larco Herrera Colony for the mentally ill and played a role in reforming the techniques of treating mentally ill patients. In addition to his medical career, Valdizán published treatises on the history of Peruvian medicine and medical folklore as well as worked as a journalist.
• The thesis of Carl-Göran Hedén (Stockholm, 1951) is representative of the laboratory-oriented works in the collection. Hedén was a professor at the Karolinska Institute, the same place he earned his doctorate. He was also the founder and first president of the International Organization for Biotechnology and Bioengineering and the first Chair in biotechnology in Sweden.
• This thesis of Cheikh Ibrahima Niang (Dakar, 1964) explores Nephrotic Syndrome, a kidney disorder, in African children. Like many theses from post-colonial countries held in the collection, his thesis is based on clinical evidence and focuses on an issue afflicting the local population. Following graduation, Dr. Niang has worked as a medical and social anthropologist at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, overseen studies on the social aspects of health issues, and most recently served as a member of the World Health Organization Advisory Group on Ebola.

The HSL has scanned some of the theses, with biographical information about the authors provided. Please refer to the finding aid for a more detailed inventory. You can also view an interactive map. To request items from this collection, please contact HSL Special Collections. Materials from this collection are available in the Benson Reid Wilcox Historical Collections Reading Room (5th floor), 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Appointments are strongly encouraged.

Last modified: 10/11/17