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Fact Sheet
History of Medicine Division

The National Library of Medicine's resources for historical scholarship in medicine and related sciences are among the richest of any institution in the world. Collected over many years, the material in the History of Medicine Division (HMD) provides researchers with sources both rare in availability and exhaustive in scope. The History of Medicine Division also produces exhibitions, public programs, symposia, and educational resources for students, teachers, and the general public.

Public Programs

The History of Medicine Division develops:

  • Major exhibitions based on original scholarship that combine artifacts, prints, and multimedia that explore social and cultural issues related to health, medicine, science, and technology.
  • Public programs for visitors of all ages including film series, lectures, symposia, and specialized tours.
  • Teaching aids and lesson plans for educators related to specific exhibition topics.
  • Traveling exhibitions.
  • Online exhibitions.


The History of Medicine Division holds:

  • All book-length material in the National Library of Medicine (NLM) printed before 1914, thousands of later pamphlets and dissertations, and all pre-1871 journals. About 70,000 of these items were printed before 1801, and about 550 before 1501.
  • Ninety early western manuscripts (before 1600) and microfilm copies of about 600 manuscripts held by European libraries.
  • Modern manuscripts numbering an estimated over 10,000 linear feet, including about 149 oral histories.
  • Prints and photographs, including portraits, pictures of institutions, caricatures, genre scenes, and fine graphic art in a variety of media. The collection illustrates social and historical aspects of medicine, and totals approximately 82,900 items.
  • Historical audiovisuals, including films, videocassettes, slide-tape programs, film strips, and audiocassettes numbering about 5,000 titles produced between 1910 to present.
  • A collection of 139 Arabic and Persian medical manuscripts.
  • An East Asian collection of more than 2,000 printed books, manuscripts, and visual material in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean dating from the 17th to the 20th century.


All HMD material is available for use within the Library, except for certain modern manuscripts under temporary restrictions. While some material is available for use outside the Library, generally it is necessary for investigators to visit the Library if they wish to undertake extensive research in the collections.

HMD develops special programs and tailored tours of the exhibitions and the Library that respond to visitors' requirements.

Printed Works: Items in microfilm or other photocopy format may be borrowed through interlibrary loan. Individuals should submit interlibrary loan requests through the library of their choice, preferably a medical library that uses DOCLINE®. When available, microfilm may be purchased through the NLM Microfilm Sales Program.

Early Manuscripts: Most early Western, Persian, and Arabic manuscripts are on microfilm, and are available for loan or purchase.

Modern Manuscripts: Recent collections, because of their size, copyright, and use restrictions, may not be copied extensively or in their entirety. For more information about restrictions, contact HMD.

Prints and Photographs: The Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) database includes approximately 59,000 images from the NLM collection. The IHM is available for searching at URL See Fact Sheet Images from the History of Medicine.

Historical Audiovisuals: Material from this collection is available for viewing at the NLM. Copies of most titles are also available through interlibrary loan. In some cases, arrangements may be made for the production and purchase of copies of audiovisuals. For more information contact HMD.

Reference Services: HMD staff provides reference service in response to specific questions about the Library's holdings or other aspects of medical history. Staff is unable to undertake research projects or compile bibliographies. Contact Reference staff at

The Exhibition Program develops special programs and tailored tours of the exhibitions and the Library that respond to visitors' requirements.

Online Access to Library Resources

Most of HMD monograph and serial titles, the Library's incunabula, Arabic and Persian manuscripts, and most early western and modern manuscript collections, may be searched in NLM's online catalog, LocatorPlus, as well as in RLIN and OCLC. LocatorPlus is available via NLM Web site and at URL

For material from the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office, U.S. Army, the foundation for the NLM collections, use IndexCat™, the digitized version of the Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office, 1890-1961. IndexCat includes items dated from the 15th century to the first half of the 20th century. It is a primary resource for un-cataloged pamphlets and, dissertations, and is essential for searching early journal articles. It also contains references to books, portraits, letters and reports. IndexCat is available on the NLM Web site at For full details, visit the Indexcat Home Page.

Modern manuscripts can also be searched by type at Manuscript Collections Sorted by Type. Look for manuscript finding aids at Finding Aids for Selected Manuscript Collections. Manuscripts can also be searched in the RLIN (Research Library Information Network) AMC (Archives & Manuscripts Control) national database.

A selection of digitized materials from HMD's Modern Manuscripts collection are available online through the Profiles in Science Web site. Collections feature leading innovators in the fields of science, medicine, and public health. Documents include unpublished letters, manuscripts, photographs and audiovisual materials, as well as published articles and book excerpts.

PubMed® includes citations to more than 250,000 journal articles in the history of medicine and related fields published since 1964.

Ninety European manuscripts in NLM written before the 17th century are listed at Early Western Manuscripts in the National Library of Medicine: A Short Title List (1989). Paper copies are available from HMD.

Exhibitions and their related educational resources and activities are available online including: full exhibition text, images, videos, lesson plans, and interactive games. Access to this material can be found at through the Exhibition Program Web site.

The Online Syllabus Archive Web site is the world's largest collection of college and university syllabi in the history of medicine, public health, the biomedical sciences, nursing, and related areas. It offers a selection of current approaches to teaching in these subjects, from prehistory to the present, and from all parts of the globe. The archive is intended both as a historical record of teaching in the history of medicine and as an online syllabus exchange for college and university educators.

Other Catalogs and Finding Guides

For searching many HMD materials, especially pamphlets, dissertations, and journal articles from the 19th and early 20th centuries, this title is invaluable: Index Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office, U.S. Army (61 volumes in 5 series, 1880-1961). (NLM was formerly the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office.)

The Bibliography of the History of Medicine, a printed version of the HISTLINE database, was published in six cumulative volumes (1965-1993), and is useful for pre-1993 material. The Bibliography of the History of Medicine can be consulted in the HMD Reading Room and at many large research and medical school libraries.

While not as current as the online catalog, the following printed catalogs are still useful: Richard J. Durling, A Catalogue of Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (1967); Peter A. Krivatsy, A Catalogue of Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine. First Supplement (1971) and A Catalogue of Seventeenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (1989); John B. Blake, A Short Title Catalogue of Eighteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (1979).

Free copies of Early Western Manuscripts in the National Library of Medicine: A Short Title List (1989) are available from HMD. This publication is also available online.

For further description of medieval manuscripts acquired by NLM before 1950, consult: A Catalogue of Incunabula and Manuscripts in the Army Medical Library (1950) by Dorothy M. Schullian. Includes pre-16th century printed books, early Western manuscripts, and pre- 20th century non-Western manuscripts.

Many of these manuscripts are also described in Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts (1937) by Seymour De Ricci and W. J. Wilson and its Supplement (1962) by C. U. Faye and W. H. Bond. Cataloging data for modern manuscripts are reported to and published in The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections.

For more research resources and additional information, visit the HMD home page at URL or contact:

History of Medicine Division
National Library of Medicine
Bethesda, Maryland 20894

Phone: (301) 496-5405
FAX: (301) 402-0872

A complete list of NLM Fact Sheets is available at:
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Or write to:

Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Library of Medicine
8600 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20894

Phone: (301) 496-6308
Fax: (301) 496-4450