Wellcome and Jisc take 19th-century medical archives online

University libraries join project to extend UK Medical Heritage Library online resource

August 7, 2014

Source: Wellcome Library, London

Valuable archive: showcasing 19th-century medical publications online

The Wellcome Library and Jisc have announced a digitisation programme that could transform knowledge of medicine in the 19th century.

In 2013, Wellcome embarked on an ambitious project with Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library, to digitise its own collection of 19th-century medical books as the basis for an online resource known as the UK Medical Heritage Library. This is now being extended – to about 15 million pages of printed books and pamphlets – with the support of Jisc and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Simon Chaplin, head of the Wellcome Library, said it put out an invitation for potential partners to all research libraries in the UK and Ireland, including those run by universities and other organisations.

“We eventually chose nine partners who were best able to participate and give a good balance of institutions and material. I think we will be able to show we have put together a pretty comprehensive collection of 19th-century medical books, which we can then map against other collections,” he said.

The partners include six universities (Bristol, Glasgow, King’s College London, Leeds, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University College London) alongside the Royal College of Surgeons of England and both the London- and Edinburgh-based Royal Colleges of Physicians.

The UK Medical Heritage Library will include work on practices from phrenology to hydrotherapy, consumer health, sport and fitness, and even food and nutrition. The collections of the royal colleges offer guidelines about what would have been considered “medical” at the time.

The process will take two years, with partner institutions required to send material to the scanning centre at the Wellcome Library for four to six weeks to minimise disruption to their own collections.

The online library will be made available to researchers and the public under an open licence through the Internet Archive, the Wellcome Library and Jisc Historic Books. Browse a selection of examples from the current library, below.


Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical

Source: Wellcome Library

Manual for the Medical Staff Corps

Source: Open Library

The Portable Gymnasium

Source: Open Library

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