Collections Research Short read

From Hair Restorer to Industrial Health: Cataloguing the Manchester Medical Collection (1801-1949)

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I joined the Special Collections team in March as part of an exciting new project to catalogue and promote engagement with the Library’s 1801-1949 printed medical collections. Generously funded by a Wellcome Trust grant, the project aims to unlock access to the collections for academics working in medical humanities and those undertaking interdisciplinary research, enrich teaching and learning across a range of disciplines and facilitate public engagement.  All access starts with high-quality catalogue records, and I am currently working my way, one book at a time, through a fascinating array of material to put that foundation in place. Some highlights so far are photographed throughout this post.

Hair cropped
“Why many persons permanently submit to the vexations and unsightly appearance of grey hair”, an advertisement from Toilet Medicine (1881), F8.3 W41

Largely drawn from the library of the Manchester Medical Society, which itself ingested the libraries of Manchester Royal Infirmary and St Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children in the early 20th century, the collection of over 30,000 printed volumes has been designated one of the major UK research collections in the field.  Until now, however, access to the vast majority of the collection has been significantly hindered by its omission from online catalogues.  This project focuses on a targeted group of subject areas: public health, pathology and clinical medicine.  In total, approximately 7000 items!

When the Manchester Medical Society was founded in 1834, the provision of a medical library and reading rooms for its members was deemed a “necessity” for “members of the Profession residing in the North of England”.  From the devastating effects of first epidemic of cholera on British soil 1831 to the founding of the National Health Service in 1948, the Society’s medical collections lay at the heart of its professional activity and reflected new developments in both medical practice and professional organisation regionally and nationally.

Under the direction of leading Manchester ophthalmologist and avid bibliophile Thomas Windsor (Honorary Librarian, 1853-63 and 1879-1883), the library quickly acquired the status of the most valuable collection of medical books outside London.  The number of volumes and pamphlets rose from 2558 in 1858, to 12594 in 1863, and greatly expanded in areas of particular interest to Windsor – rare early-printed medical texts and foreign, especially continental and American, publications.  Rich pre-1801 holdings are now housed at the John Rylands Library.

Map showing numbers of prostitutes recorded throughout France from De la Prostitution dans la Ville de Paris (1836), F8.132 P10

It is both surreal and immensely satisfying to contribute to the current life of the collection, knowing its history as a cutting-edge resource for the burgeoning Manchester medical profession in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the rich network of local practitioners that informed, and in turn were informed by, its development.  It has huge potential to prove as valuable to current researchers, students and those interested in the scientific heritage of Manchester, as it was to those physicians responding to the challenges of modern healthcare in their time.

Physiological experiments on school boys in Healthy Growth (1927) by medical officer of Manchester Grammar School, Alfred Mumford, F5 M67

The first project milestone is cataloguing the ‘Public Health’ section of the collection, approximately 1000 books, which will be completed soon.  Highlights, curious finds and #histmed titbits are shared live from the cataloguing desk on Twitter @ManMedProject.  Follow and join the conversation! For any queries, qualms or comments about the Printed Medical Collections (1801-1949) please get in touch:

The collections are open to anyone with a research interest by appointment.  Please see this guide to consulting special collections at the Main Library. All books that have been catalogued online are searchable via LibrarySearch.

A rare work on the impact of work on physical and mental health: Work and Worry, from a Medical Point of View (1884), F8.36 K28d


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