View from the 5th


December 2016 –  History Come Alive


As 2016 draws to a close, it is a natural time for reflection. There has been a lot to be proud of for our team at the Health Sciences Library this year. We made a number of improvements to our spaces, welcomed our colleagues from the Carolina Health Informatics Program into our building, built numerous connections within the digital health landscape through the Carolina Digital Health Research Initiative, and collaborated with partners across campus to create resources pertaining to important topics such as the opioid epidemic, Zika virus, and Interprofessional Education, to name a few.

In this issue, we are taking time to reflect a little further into the past as we highlight some of the accomplishments of the HSL Special Collections. Through generous donations of materials and gifts, the HSL has built robust holdings of rare books, manuscripts, and medical instruments. We work hard to make these materials available to scholars and researchers, and to integrate them into the teaching curriculum at Carolina. We are just scratching the surface of how we can partner with professors using items from our New York Academy of Medicine Collection of International Medical Theses. We are also forming Special Collections partnerships on campus and sharing digital collections with other institutions internationally. Finally, we carefully curate items from our collections to create interesting exhibits highlighting the history of the health sciences.

We are so grateful for the generosity of all of our donors, especially those who have allowed us to collect and curate our wonderful Special Collections. Our donors allow us to preserve the past, and to help shape the future of the health sciences at Carolina. Your generosity allows the HSL to form creative partnerships in established and emerging areas of health care, and supports ground-breaking research in the health sciences. Thank you so much for supporting our Library!

Dr. Nandita Mani
Director of the Health Sciences Library
Associate University Librarian for the Health Sciences


In this Issue:

New York Academy of Medicine Collection of International Medical Theses

Special Collections Partnerships

Special Collections on Display 

New York Academy of Medicine Collection of International Medical Theses

This past year the Health Sciences Library has made great strides in processing and digitizing a unique collection of tens of thousands of international medical theses. Almost 150,000 theses from 40 different countries have been processed so far, with thousands more to go.

This group of international medical theses was originally collected by the New York Academy of Medicine. The entire collection was given by the Academy to the HSL in 2004, with the provision that the collection be made available to scholars and researchers under the name New York Academy of Medicine Collection of International Medical Theses.

The collection consists of tens of thousands of post-1801 theses (approx. 3,500 linear feet) in multiple languages from leading medical schools throughout the world. Europe is well represented, with many theses originating from universities in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Other countries with smaller representation include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Algiers, Indonesia. The collection even includes over 3,300 theses from Prussia.

The HSL Special Collections blog has highlighted individual items from the collection on several occasions, and will continue to do so as more items from the collection are processed and scanned. There is also an online finding aid for the collection.

The collection would be useful for anyone tracing the development of clinical and scientific inquiry in medical schools in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Of particular note, the collection provides an important record of the entry of women into the profession of medicine, including some prominent early American women physicians. Women denied entrance into American medical schools sometimes turned to Europe for a chance to pursue their studies. One such pioneer is Dr. 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.

Scholars studying the humanities will also find the collection useful for analyzing the evolution of languages, customs, and social mores in a given country or region. Some of the theses have already been integrated into an English Composition and Rhetoric class this fall.

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Special Collections Partnerships

The Health Sciences Library has formed a number of collaborative partnerships on campus and online leveraging our impressive Special Collections. In addition to integrating materials into class curriculum, we are finding innovative ways to bring historical materials to life through special events and digital collaborations.

  • HSL Special Collections has partnered with English 105/105i: Composition and Rhetoric to provide students first-hand access to rare books, historical medical instruments, and items from the New York Academy of Medicine Collection of International Medical Theses.
  • HSL Special Collections has also partnered with Biology 217: The Physician’s Garden to improve and maintain the Sam W. Hitt Medicinal Gardens outside of our library. The course was created and is taught by Dr. Alan Jones, Kenan Distinguished Professor in the UNC Biology Department. The course combines human cell biology with classical botany and allows students to learn about a certain plant, then about the chemical makeup of the plant and how that affects the human cell. Students from the Fall 2015 iteration of the course established a student group to improve and maintain the gardens called the Gardening and Ethnobotany in Academia Project.
  • In addition to integrating our rare materials into courses, we also host special events to give the Carolina community access to Special Collections. This October we hosted our third annual Halloween Open House and gave students, faculty, and researchers an opportunity to view books, photographs, and medical equipment that make them appreciate modern medical and dental practices. We also hosted our first Anatomy Day, giving about 50 pre-med undergraduate students, medical students, and faculty a chance to compare what they saw in gross anatomy lab with historical representations of human anatomy over the centuries.
  • Beyond campus, the HSL recently added the North Carolina History of Health Digital Collection (NCHHDC) to the Medical Heritage Library, which is a digital curation collaborative among some of the world’s leading medical libraries. The NCHHDC contains more than 1,000 books, journals, reports, bulletins, minutes, proceedings, and histories covering topics in medicine, public health, dentistry, pharmacy, and nursing, dating from 1849 to the present. These materials thoroughly document the development of health care and the health professions within North Carolina and are a significant part of the state’s cultural heritage and history, helping to reveal manifold health problems and how these problems were perceived, understood, and treated over time. The digital collection provides consolidated online access to resources that were difficult to find and utilize in print.
  • Other digital efforts include a partnership with the Florence Nightingale Digitization Project to include the Nightingale letters in our collection in their digital holdings; The Diane McKenzie Hospital Postcard Collection, which highlights former HSL Special Collections Librarian Diane McKenzie’s collection of hundreds of hospital postcards from the United States and throughout the world; and digital images from HSL’s first edition of the landmark text of modern human anatomy De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (On the fabric of the human body in seven books), by anatomist and physician Andreas Vesalius.

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Special Collections on Display

The Health Sciences Library regularly has exhibits that include special collections materials on display in our building. In recent years, we’ve highlighted “Medicine in War, 1861-1945”, Carolina’s new Physician Assistant program, and 60 years of Radiological Sciences at Carolina. In 2017, we are excited to supplement locally curated exhibits with two traveling exhibits from the National Library of Medicine.

In January and February 2017, we will host “From DNA to Beer: Harnessing Nature in Medicine and Industry.” This exhibit explores how bacteria, yeasts, and molds can cause sickness and restore health, as well as how scientists have harnessed these microbes to manufacture new medicines. It also examines some of the processes, problems, and potential inherent in technologies that use these tiny organisms.

From August to October 2017, we will host “Physician Assistants: Collaboration and Care.” The exhibit highlights how the profession of physician assistant developed as a solution to the social and health care needs of the mid-20th century, and how the profession continues to evolve today.

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Last modified: 12/02/21