Digitizing Medical Journals of State Societies

By Robin Naughton, Ph.D., Head of Digital

State medical journals digitized for the MHL collective project.

State medical journals digitized for the MHL consortium.

The New York Academy of Medicine Library is digitizing state society medical journals as part of a mass digitization project with the Medical Heritage Library (MHL), a digital curation consortium. The Academy Library is one of five collaborators on the project, along with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia; the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard University; the Health Sciences and Human Services Library, University of Maryland; the Founding Campus; and the University of California at San Francisco.

Together, the MHL team is actively working to digitize 48 state society journals, more than 3,800 volumes that span much of the 20th century. Digitizing the state medical journals will provide open access to quality historical resources in medicine for researchers and the general public, letting them explore connections between medicine and society.

State medical journals digitized for the MHL collective project.

State medical journals digitized for the MHL collective project.

Evenly splitting the volumes among the MHL team makes the process of mass digitization more manageable and very collaborative. The Academy Library has already digitized almost 50% of the state medical journals assigned to it since Fall 2015. The journals are scanned by the Internet Archive (IA) and are publicly available as part of the Library’s and MHL’s collections on the IA site. Our digitized assets are open for anyone to access and use. Thus far, we have digitized journals representing 24 states and almost 238, 000 images.

The volumes are digitized in their entirety, showing the journals’ articles and  advertising. For example, in Alaska Medicine (vol. 29, 1987), as you read the article “Alaska State Hepatitis B Program – Past, Present and Future” by Elizabeth A. Tower, you can’t help but notice the advertisement for medical transcription. It is hard to resist the “Hello …. Museum of Primitive Civilizations and Hieroglyphs?”

Scan from Alaska Medicine, vol. 29, 1987.

Scan from Alaska Medicine, vol. 29, 1987.

State medical journals are valuable resources that should lead to many new and novel projects for researchers in the history of medicine. Look for more on the project as it progresses.

Explore our collection.

The Advent of the New York Surgical Society

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director, The Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

In last Friday’s episode of The Knick, the main character, Dr. John Thackery, worries about being upstaged at an upcoming meeting of the New York Surgical Society. Indeed, that was (and is) a real society. It met at the New York Academy of Medicine, and NYAM’s archives hold its early minute books.

A portrait of Dr. Robert Fulton Weir.

A portrait of Dr. Robert Fulton Weir.

The New York Surgical Society was founded in 1879 at the home of prominent surgeon Dr. Robert Fulton Weir, later a president of The New York Academy of Medicine. By the early 20th century, membership had grown from an initial 12 members to 60. Its early founders were also instrumental in the establishment of the American Surgical Association in 1880. The surgeon on whom the Thackery character is based, Dr. William Halsted, was a member, as he worked in New York until joining the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 1889.

Schedule of papers in the New York Surgical Society Minutes, 1880-1897.

Schedule of papers in the New York Surgical Society Minutes, 1879-1897. Click to enlarge.

The rise of surgical societies reflected a two-fold movement: the increasing prominence of surgery within the medical profession, coupled with increasing medical specialization overall. That is, surgery was becoming glamorous, and more and more surgeons wanted to mingle, and learn from, like-minded professionals. General medical societies date at least from the 1840s—NYAM and the American Medical Association were both founded in 1847, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia a full 60 years before that. But in the 1870s and 1880s, specialized medical societies began to flourish, motivated by sociability and professional advancement. Presenting papers on their work, members began building a publication record and a reputation. Societies prized innovation and skill—in some organizations, priority for one’s work could be established through the minute books of the meetings, even before publication.

The New York Surgical Society still exists. Find out more about it here.