Special Collections

Need to schedule an appointment?

Dawne Lucas
Dawne Lucas, MA, MLS
Special Collections Librarian

Visit HSL Special Collections in the Wilcox Reading Room, located on the 5th floor of the Health Sciences Library!

Special Collections at the Health Sciences Library (HSL) includes materials such as:

  • printed works (books, pamphlets, journals, broadsides, posters, and ephemera)
  • manuscripts
  • letters
  • photographs
  • student notebooks
  • medical illustrations
  • medical instruments
  • pharmacy artifacts


These materials range in date from the 1500s to the present day, encompassing the history of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, public health, and the allied medical sciences. The history of the health sciences in North Carolina is strongly represented.


A few noteworthy items among many are:


The mission of Special Collections at the HSL is to provide a secure and controlled environment for materials of historic value, fragile condition, or those requiring special treatment, and to provide research services and related programming in the history of the health sciences, such as exhibitions, lectures, workshops, and other events.

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Biennial Wormwood, image taken from Curtis's Botanical Magazine (in the UNC HSL Special Collections)

'Expedition Doubling Cape Barrow' (1821) by George Back, image in the public domain, taken from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Back

It’s not often we stop to think about the history of a plant–and yet, the history surrounding Biennial Wormwood’s journey to Europe from the “inhospitable regions” (Curtis) of North America is incredibly mysterious and intriguing.  The seeds of Artemisia Biennis were collected by Scottish naturalist Dr. John Richardson during the ill-fated Coppermine Expedition (1819-1822) under Captain John Franklin.*  This expedition’s goal was to explore the uncharted Northern coastline of the North American Continent.  Before they could sufficiently explore the region, however, Franklin and Richardson lost half their crew-mates to starvation and exposure (because of improper provisioning, the men had to eat their own shoes to survive).

Given the extreme conditions, I’m shocked Richardson even held on to the seeds–but as a lover of botanical history, I’m glad he did.  Along with bringing back the biennial wormwood seeds from their native Arctic climate, John Richardson made great contributions to botany, ichthyology, geology, and ornithology through his observations during the Coppermine Expedition.

Unfortunately, Captain Franklin didn’t fare quite as well as Richardson.  Franklin vanished without a trace on yet another disastrous arctic expedition in 1845…. but honestly, with two ships named the Erebus and the Terror, it seems almost inevitable that he met with a mysterious end.

*Botanical illustration and text cited from Curtis’s Botanical magazine vol. 51,1824, UNC HSL Special Collections