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The Past and Understanding the Present: NLM’s History of Medicine Division

Posted by on December 21st, 2020 Posted in: NLM Resources
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We talk a lot about resources like MedlinePlus or PubMed, but one of the things we don’t talk about as much is the fact that the National Library of Medicine is a physical library that includes a large collection of historical documents, records and more.  And these resources are available to the public through the History of Medicine Division databases.

The History of Medicine Division (HMD) includes digitized archives of:

  • Films and videos
  • Prints and photographs
  • Rare books
  • History Talks

HMD also creates and oversees the exhibition program that includes traveling exhibits that bring museum quality exhibition banners to partner organizations allowing community members to learn about health, wellness, medicine and more throughout history.  There are also digital exhibits, lesson plans for teaching about different topics to your community and more.

These resources are interesting on their own, but they can also help us understand current events through relevant historical documents.  Recently the HMD blog, Circulating Now, posted “Collections Tour: Epidemics” that highlights the resources available from the collections about past epidemics, public health measures undertaken and other interventions.

Here in New England, we also have the additional resource of the NER funded partner, The Public Health Museum (PHM). PHM is a physical museum in Tewksbury, MA that also reaches the next generation of public health professionals through their historical records and displays (including an iron lung) and programming around current public health practice in context.

PHM has also used their resources, web archives and resources from HMD and other trusted sources to create digital exhibits, including one on pandemics. The timeline section includes well-researched and well-cited write-ups of key events in outbreak history, as well as links to outside resources such as the HMD traveling exhibits related to Yellow Fever and HIV/AIDS.

Check out these great resources to learn more about the past and better understand the basis of our current thinking on topics from outbreaks to historical contexts for specific diseases to graphic medicine.

Image of the author ABOUT Sarah Levin-Lederer


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NNLM New England Region
University of Massachusetts Medical School
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This has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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