A Picture of Health: the UK Medical Heritage Library


Frontispiece of Album de photographies pathologiques… (Sp. Coll. Dougan Add. 88)

The University of Glasgow has recently completed its role in the UK Medical Heritage Library digitisation project. Over 5,000 of our texts are now freely available to everyone at the Internet Archive!

In 2014 the digital UK Medical Heritage Library was founded by the Wellcome Trust and JISC, building upon the successes of its American counterpart. The University of Glasgow was one of nine partner institutions from which relevant material was selected, and sent to the Internet Archive’s digitisation centre in London. In all, over 15 million pages covering all aspects of health will be made easily accessible to researchers across the world.

Many of the most significant texts for medicine in the nineteenth century are included. University of Glasgow alumnus Matthew Baillie’s Morbid Anatomy…for instance, marked a major departure from humoral imbalance-based medicine by identifying individual organs as the sites of specific diseases.


Ossification of the heart’s surface, from Baillie’s later-published volume of illustrations to The Morbid Anatomy (Illustration volume Sp. Coll. f286; Original text Sp. Coll. 1558)

The annotations, doodles, and marginal scrawlings which some of these have accumulated over the years provide a fascinating insight into how readers interacted with texts. The thumbnail view makes checking for these annotations much quicker than browsing the physical volumes.


‘John Bell writes well’


‘I have perused this book with a great deal of pleasure and can recomend [sic] it to students’ from Engravings… (Sp. Coll. N.G.3)

Take John Bell’s Engravings, explaining the anatomy of the Bones, Muscles, Joints (1794) for example. It contains many studious annotations – even including a lovingly re-drafted four word lyric praising the author!

However, users were not always as reverent; one wrote key words and phrases in an apparent effort to memorise them but on one page seems to have become distracted and just written the word ‘so’ nine times instead! We also find some delightful doodles, and even the author being reprimanded for his atrocious Latin. All this suggests a pattern of fairly heavy use by medical students of the University, even if not all its readers were enraptured as our budding poet above.

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But it is not just classic medical textbooks that have been digitised. By including works covering all aspects of health in the nineteenth century, the UK Medical Heritage Library has captured a wide array of perspectives – from hypnotists through plumbers to vegetarians and home cooks!

The transport and digitisation process also highlighted some of the quirks of bookbinding. For instance, our copy of A treatise on the primary symptoms of lues venerea: with a concise critical and chronological account of all the English writers on this subject by George Rees has been bound in marbled second-hand paper: specifically Philip Doddridge’s sermon The Absurdity and Iniquity of Persecution for Conscience-Sake.


Marbled board of A treatise on the primary symptoms of lues venerea… (Sp. Coll. NF.4.2)


The same page of Philip Doddridge’s sermon (from Sp Coll Mu22-d.1)

Doddridge was a prominent Puritan preacher in the early 18th century, perhaps best known for the influence of his work on the leading abolitionist William Wilberforce. I suspect he would not have been best pleased to learn that his work was used to cover a work on syphilis!

These examples come from just 4 of the 5,393 texts from the University of Glasgow which have been digitised – and  this is from a total of 93,494 texts currently available via the UK Medical Heritage Library!


We’ll also be tweeting out a few more examples from the UK Medical Heritage Library today – follow us on @UofGlasgowASC to see them.

You can consult these texts online now thanks to this great resource but if you’d like to visit our collections, please get in touch with us at: special@lib.gla.ac.uk



Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library

1 reply


  1. Whewell’s Gazette: Year 3, Vol. #30 | Whewell's Ghost

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