Student resources

Discovering the History of Medicine

Vesalius_ZAd 25_page-164
Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, 1543. Call no ZAd 25.

The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is proud to support student research for all projects, including National History Day 2016.  The College of Physicians of Philadelphia was founded in 1787 “to advance the science of medicine and to thereby lessen human misery.”  The Library’s holdings include over 325,000 books; 15,00 journal titles; and  2,200 linear feet (that’s around 5,500 boxes!) of manuscript collections and archives – all covering the history of western medicine comprehensively from classical antiquity through 1980.  To make an appointment to use the Library’s materials, please see the information under “Hours and Info” on the right-hand side of this page.


Why study the history of medicine? Studying history helps us understand the present by understanding the past. It helps us connect events, people, and cultural traditions that came before us to the world in which we currently live. Like all topics in history, the history of medicine can help us gain a deeper understanding of our society.

Ads for prescription medicine in medical journals during the early second half of the 20th century give us insight into the way women and women’s healthcare were viewed. A longitudinal study of Civil War soldiers who had a leg or an arm amputated allow us to see the long term effects of war wounds and amputations on the human body and mind. Letters written by doctors who served in France during World War I detail the devastation the fighting had on the civilian population as well as those working behind the lines caring for the soldiers. Lecture notes and recipe books on the use of herbal remedies help us trace the advancement of medicine.

Studying the history of medicine can tell us so much about where we came from, who we are now, and where we are going. Explore our collections at the Historical Medical Library, encounter new people and ideas, and discover how the history of medicine can speak to you.


Watch our Librarian, Beth, talk about some of the exciting materials in our collection!