Disease and Medicine in American History

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Kelly Cannon
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Recommended search directories

    To find rated web sites, try web directories like Librarian's Index to the Internet (http://lii.org) and Intute (http://www.intute.ac.uk/).

    tip: Because these directories are highly selective, cast a wide net. Search on broad terms: "epidemic" or "influenza" or "epidemic and history."

Evaluating web sites

    Selected criteria:

Authority of site source/host
Legibility of document
Accuracy of document
Editor's notes
Descriptive notes
Maintenance
Contact information
Meets expectations
Substantive content

Two sites that meet many or all of these criteria are Relief of Pain and Suffering (http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/his/painexhibit/), an exhibit sponsored by the libraries of UCLA, and The Living City (http://www.tlcarchive.org/htm/home.htm), a medical history project at Columbia University.

Sites that contain primary historical documents relating to medical history in America

The National Library of Medicine is a good starting point, providing reliable primary documentation in the form of Images from the History of Medicine (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/ihm/) and Exhibitions in the History of Medicine (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/projects/bydate.html). Another highly recommended site for its scholarship and searchability is the Philadelphia Historical Digital Image Library (http://jeffline.tju.edu/archives/phdil/phdil.html). See also the Public Health Image Library (http://phil.cdc.gov/Phil/home.asp) sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control. The Library of Congress also has Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pp/mdbquery.html), though the images on the screen may be too small for immediate viewing. A site containing thousands of primary texts and images on disability is the Disability History Museum (http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/).

Additionally look at the Breath of Life Exhibit (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/breath/breathhome.html), the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine (http://www.swsbm.com/homepage/), and the Emergence of Modern Medicine in 19th Century America (http://www.utoledo.edu/library/canaday/exhibits/quackery/quack1.html).

Epidemics receive some attention in this directory. See the Cholera Epidemic of 1873 (http://www.uab.edu/reynolds/cholera.html) and Yellow Fever and the Reed Commission (http://www.hsl.virginia.edu/historical/medical_history/yellow_fever/).

The premier locator for primary documents in American history is American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html), sponsored by the Library of Congress. Search by keyword, and limit to desired format or collection. A simple search on "medicine" brings up many documents on a variety of diseases and treatments from earlier times.

Magazines and newspapers as primary sources

Poole's index to periodical literature, 1882-1908 (Index shelves, Level A) and Readers' guide to periodical literature, 1900-1997 (Index shelves, Level A) index U.S. magazines, some of which will be held in Trexler Library. Consult the guide Trexler Library Periodical Holdings by Decade (reference desk) to find out what the library has from a particular time period.

Trexler Library subscribes to the online index  19th Century Masterfile, found at Trexler Library Home Page (http://www.muhlenberg.edu/library) > Databases A to Z .  This index covers the New York Times and several magazines, all from the 19th century, many of which Trexler Library has full text in its print and microfilm collections.

Magazines from earlier times have on occasion been scanned and loaded onto the web, as they have been at Cornell University's Making of America (http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/moa/). Use in conjunction with a print index, such as the aforementioned Poole's or the Reader's Guide.

Government documents as primary source material

Trexler Library holds a wealth of government documents, in print, fiche, and online. Nearly all of these are listed in the Trexler Library Catalog (path: Trexler Library Home Page (http://www.muhlenberg.edu/library) > Catalog ).  Search example: "hiv and history."

Finding statistics

The subscription database Historical statistics of the United States (http://0-hsus.cambridge.org.library.muhlenberg.edu/) is the standard resource for all manner of statistics dating back to colonial times. Another option is the Statistical Abstracts of the United States, dating back to 1886 ( Govt Docs C 3.134:886).

Or try Mortality Statistics and Vital Statistics of the United States, 1910 to present, (Govt. Docs HE 20.6210). See also Fedstats (http://www.fedstats.gov/).

Journal articles as secondary sources

A reliable online index for scholarly journal articles and books dealing with medical history is the History of Medicine portion of PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/advanced), a database from the National Library of Medicine. To use, limit to subsets: "History of Medicine."
The items indexed in this database can then be ordered through Interlibrary Loan, (path:  Trexler Library Home Page (http://www.muhlenberg.edu/library) > Interlibrary Loan).

Use of the PubMed database is facilitated by the National Library of Medicine's Medical Subject Headings Guide (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/MBrowser.html). Use this guide to look for subject headings on your topic. Try a search on "epidemics," for example.

Another choice for more current history, say of AIDS/HIV, is the U.S. Government's Medline Plus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/), which indexes publications from the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Trexler Library subscribes to several online indexes that are particularly useful for finding scholarly journals and book chapters on environmental history.  These indexes, some with full text, can be found by following the path Trexler Library Home Page (http://www.muhlenberg.edu/library) > Databases A to Z.  One reliable online index for scholarly journal articles and books dealing with medical history is the America History and Life database.  Another resource likely to be useful is  the standard index to social science journals, SocAbs.  See also Academic Search Premier and Health Source.

Books as secondary sources

The Trexler Library Catalog (path: Trexler Library Home Page (http://www.muhlenberg.edu/library) > Catalog) can prove useful for medical history topics. Try a keyWORD search to bring up all records on a particular topic, or to combine terms. Example: "disease and american."

To expand your book search considerably, try WorldCat; follow the path Trexler Library Home Page (http://www.muhlenberg.edu/library)> Library Catalogs. WorldCat is a powerful search tool for books on any subject. Use WorldCat in conjunction with Interlibrary Loan. From within WorldCat, click on the "ILL" icon that appears on any book record and fill out the required fields.

Secondary sources on the web

Many web sites that provide secondary historical comment are in fact cursory in content, and scarcely documented. On the other hand, scholarly sites tend to be
--affiliated with an academic institution,
--offer content that has been published in print beforehand, and
--undergo peer review.

One example of quality secondary resources on the web is the doctoral dissertation The American Discovery of Alcholism 1933-1939 (http:www.roizen.com/ron/disshome.htm).

  Style guides

For tips on citing print and electronic sources in a bibliography according to the Chicago (Turabian) style, follow the path Trexler Library Home Page (http://www.muhlenberg.edu/library) > Citation Guides.

© Muhlenberg College
Last modified: 19 January 2010