Skip to Main Content

Rare Books in Science and Medicine

Highlighting rare science and medicine books at UBC. The History of Science and Medicine guide is also available.

Introduction to Book History in Science and Medicine

undefinedMedical and scientific books have been produced, read, and used for hundreds of years. Where they were produced, by whom, and who read and used them can tell us a lot about how medical and scientific information and knowledge changed over time. Late medieval medical manuscripts, which Rare Books and Special Collections have a few of, often contained a miscellaneous collection of knowledge. Medical information would be mixed with other, possibly related information, such as religious texts. Illustrations were often present, and were used to convey the anatomy of the human body when access to live and deceased human subjects was difficult or impossible to come by. Annotations, or marginalia, in books can tell present-day researchers about the owners and users of these books, often including multiple people over large periods of time. The translation of medical texts between Latin and various vernaculars in Europe allowed medical knowledge to spread geographically, and to various classes of society. In addition, the invention of new technologies and the professionalization of the fields of medicine and science brought about increased reproduction of books. The history of medical fields such as anatomy, pharmacy, epidemiology, surgery, midwifery, and more, can be traced through books on these subjects. In the above image, Sir William Osler holds open an anatomy book. Osler, while famous for creating residency programs for doctors in training, also highly valued medical books as a source of knowledge and training. Over his lifetime he collected hundreds of medical books and was influential for other medical bibliophiles and collectors such as Sinclair and Leake. This collection is now held at the Osler Library of Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University, and is described in the Bibliotheca Osleriana.   RBSC at UBC library invites you to explore these collections through the subjects, discoveries, and people who shaped this growing field.

Image in the public domain: