Institute of the History of Medicine |

Institute of the History of Medicine


The Historical Collection and
The Johns Hopkins University Department of the History of Medicine





Library of the Institute of the History of Medicine

The building at 1900 East Monument Street houses two living memorials to the first Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine: the William H. Welch Medical Library, and the Institute of the History of Medicine. The Institute, founded in 1929 with Dr. Welch as its first Director, contains the Historical Collection and the Department of the History of Medicine. The Department offers courses to medical, nursing and public health students. Along with the Department of the History of Science and Technology in the Kreiger School of Arts and Sciences, it administers the Program in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology, training historians at the baccalaureate, masters and doctoral level.


Dr. Welch and other planners of the library building deliberately sought to make a place for medical history within it. They envisioned the Welch Library not only as a central nodal point for the retrieval and transmission of the most current clinical, epidemiological and laboratory findings, but also as a repository for the accumulated culture of medicine. Thus a separate Historical Collection was established within the Welch Library, to serve as the library of the Institute of the History of Medicine. The books that comprise the Historical collection are located in several rooms and vaults in the Institute's quarters on the third floor of the Welch Library building, as well as on the top two of the Welch Library's eight levels of book stacks.


The Historical Collection ranks among the best such collections housed in American medical schools, and is one of the few to be directly linked with a major research and graduate teaching program, The collection contains about forty thousand volumes, including runs of more than 300 journals. It has one of the most comprehensive collections of secondary literature in the history of medicine; and the 108 periodicals to which the collection now subscribes include almost all currently published titles in history of medicine, history of science and social studies of medicine. We attempt to acquire all new English-language monographic works in the history of health care and the biomedical sciences, as well as selected material in foreign languages, and in medical anthropology, art and medicine, literature and medicine, religion and medicine, gender issues in medicine, bioethics, and the history and sociology of science.


The rare book collection of some ten thousand volumes has scattered strengths, largely concentrated in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and primarily in western medicine (although the collection does own some important Asian texts). Among its treasures are a copy of the 1500 edition of Johannes de Ketham's 1491 Fasciculus Medicinae, and first editions of Andreas Vesalius's De Fabrica (1543), William Harvey's De Motu Cordis (1628), Robert Hooke's Micrographia (1665), and Giovanni Battista Morgagni's De Sedibus (1761). The collection contains some of the earliest printed editions of the works of classical and medieval medical writers. Our oldest medical text is a six-hundred-year-old manuscript copied from a tenth century treatise written in Salerno, Europe's first center of medical education. We also own fifteen incunabula (books printed in the fifteenth century), about six hundred books published between 1501 and 1600, and over one thousand seventeenth century editions.


The rare book collection was assembled largely from other collections that had been donated to Hopkins before the establishment of the Institute of the History of medicine and the Welch Library. One early donor, the noted bibliophile Leonard Mackall, provided extremely rare copies of several works of Miguel Serveto, the sixteenth century heretic who first suggested that the blood circulates between the heart and the lungs. The lion's share of our rare books came from the private collection of Howard A. Kelly, Hopkins's first professor of Obstetrics. William H. Welch also contributed to the collection, as did the two of Hopkins's famous "four doctors": William Halsted and William Osler. A particularly extensive and useful group of rare books was provided by Dr. Henry Barton Jacobs, a Baltimore philanthropist who served as a trustee of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in the first decades of this century. Jacobs's main interest was in French medicine of the nineteenth century, with additional interests in Rabelais, tuberculosis, and smallpox.


The Institute of the History of Medicine is open to all, for visits to its quarters and exhibits, and for use of its resources. The Historical Collection is generally open during normal working hours, but special arrangements can be made for visits at other times.


For further information, contact:

Christine Ruggere
Curator and Lecturer in History of Science, Medicine and Technology 410-955-3159 or