Syphilis in the Library

Special Collections recently discovered that the University of Glasgow possesses perhaps the third strongest collection in the United Kingdom of printed works on syphilis before the early nineteenth century, containing many extremely rare medical treatises, some of which are unique in Britain.

This excellent collection has flown under the radar until now due to its being poorly catalogued and dispersed throughout several collections, making it difficult for researchers to access this material. In terms of number, depth, and variety the collection ranges from the earliest syphilis incunabula at the end of the fifteenth century to dissertations and debates on whether syphilis and gonorrhoea were separate diseases—a debate in which Scottish surgeons, principally John Hunter and Benjamin Bell, took centre stage.

Recognising the significance of this collection in aiding research in the medical humanities, funding was obtained from the Wellcome Trust to have these ca. 250 items catalogued to international standards to aid academic researchers in discovering this material. We will also be creating a web-based teaching resource and hosting a one day event to promote this collection.

The Wellcome Trust was founded in 1936 by Sir Henry Wellcome and has been committed to improving human health and driving research in science and the humanities ever since. You can find out more about the history of the Trust here.

With incidences of syphilis on the rise in several countries today, the words of William Fordyce in his 1767 work A Review of the Venereal Disease and its Remedies on ‘The present state of the pox’ are still relevant and very delicately put.

The opinion of WIlliam Fordyce on whether or not numbers of cases of syphilis are on the decline (Sp Coll Bi8-f.12; item 4 of 7)

The opinion of WIlliam Fordyce on whether or not numbers of cases of syphilis are on the decline

If you would like to know more about the project, or are interested in taking part in any upcoming event, just get in touch (sonny.maley[at] There will be further blogs on the progress of the project over the coming months.

Categories: Library, Special Collections

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1 reply


  1. Exploring Special Collections | University of Glasgow Library

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