History of medicine

Manchester has played a pivotal role in the development of medicine since the mid-eighteenth century. Long-standing, close ties between the University of Manchester, the influential Manchester Medical Society, Manchester Royal Infirmary and other major teaching hospitals, have encouraged the Library to develop an outstanding collection of manuscript and printed resources for studies in the history of medicine.

Our holdings are a particularly rich source for the medical history of the Manchester region, but they have considerable potential for broader interdisciplinary social, economic, cultural and intellectual histories.

On this page:

Manuscript collections

The Manchester Medical Collection documents many aspects of the medical history of the Manchester area.

It contains biographies of over 5,500 local medical practitioners, as well as documents relating to the history of medical education, hospitals, public health, medical societies, charities and welfare associations in the Manchester region.

This is complemented by the Stirland Public Health Collection, which documents the history of public health in Manchester and of the University of Manchester Public Health Laboratory.

In addition, the Library holds the archives of several local medical associations, including the Manchester Medical Society, the Manchester Odontological Society Archive, the Manchester Paediatric Club, the Pathological Society of Manchester, the Manchester Surgical Society, the Manchester branch of the National Medical Union, the North Western branch of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and the Charles White Club. All provide valuable insights into medical politics and the development of medical specialisms.

The Library also holds the personal papers of several Manchester doctors. Two archives are of particular importance: those of the orthopaedic surgeon, Sir Harry Platt (1886-1986), and the neurosurgeon, Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (1886-1961).

The Manchester Medical Society Manuscripts comprise a large number of 18th and 19th-century medical manuscripts, including physicians' notebooks, pharmacopoeia and lecture notes.

Elsewhere, there are 19th and 20th-century medical records among the Hibbert-Ware Papers and the Heald Family Papers, while earlier material is to be found within the Greek, Irish, Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscript collections and the Genizah fragments among the Hebrew Manuscripts.

Finally, the Records of Henshaws Society for Blind People document the history of a charity involved in the education and welfare of the blind and partially-sighted.

Printed resources

The Library’s holdings of printed material for the history of medicine are among the most important in Britain.

The library of the Manchester Medical Society forms the basis of the Medical Printed Collections. Under two outstanding librarians, John Windsor, librarian from 1858 and then his son Thomas, the Society amassed an outstanding collection of rare and early printed books including many incunabula.

The JRUL’s printed medical collections now include some three thousand medical books printed before 1701 (among them two hundred incunables) and a further four-thousand eighteenth-century items.

The Bullock Collection contains Italian medical texts from the sixteenth century onwards.

All the major figures in the history of medicine in Europe are represented in the Library’s printed holdings. The Library holds the earliest editions of the ancient physicians and philosophers Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aulus Cornelius Celsus, Galen and Soranus of Ephesus.

There are early translations of the ground-breaking treatises of the great Muslim physicians of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, such as Avicenna, ‘the prince of Muslim physicians’, the renowned Spanish surgeon Abū al-Qāsim (Albucasis), and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who was appointed physician to Saladin.

There are later editions of texts by the pre-eminent surgeons and philosophers of medieval Europe, such as Albertus Magnus and Guy de Chauliac, who were so indebted to their classical antecedents.

And of course the Library has an excellent collection of editions of the leading physicians and scientists of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, such as Paracelsus, Girolamo Fracastoro, Girolamo Cardano, Michael Servetus, Andreas Vesalius, Ambroise Paré, William Harvey, Thomas Sydenham (‘the English Hippocrates’), Hermann Boerhaave, brothers William and John Hunter, and Edward Jenner.

The publications series within the Manchester Medical Collection comprises nearly ten thousand articles, reports and papers of a medical nature, written by Manchester-related medics since the nineteenth century; many are exceedingly rare.

The Marie Stopes and Birth Control Collection deals extensively with issues of birth control and eugenics in the first half of the twentieth century.

Finally, the Deaf Education Collection is the most important collection on surdo-mutism in the British Isles.