What’s Old is New to Discover!

Guest post by Kristina Dunne, Pathways Intern for the History of Medicine Division (HMD) at the National Library of Medicine; Kenneth M. Koyle, MA, Deputy Chief of HMD; and Jeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, Chief of HMD.

As NLM Director Dr. Brennan mentioned last summer, from 2014 to 2019, our library worked with Wellcome to digitize and make freely available in PubMed Central (PMC) hundreds of complete back issues of historically significant biomedical journals, along with their human- and computer-readable citations, so their digitized contents can be a part of our ever-expanding digital ecosystem and can support research.

Thanks to the time and talent of an outstanding interdisciplinary team of librarians and technical specialists, NLM continued this work through the COVID-19 pandemic by selecting for digitization back issues that fall under the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark. PMC now makes available the machine-readable full text and metadata of these digitized journal issues and their articles, including titles, authors, and any affiliations, as well as volume, issue, publication date, pagination, and license information. Such article-level digitization also enables us to link data—that is, to connect individual and associated articles with corresponding catalog records and sometimes even with Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs)—to improve interested researchers’ ability to discover and use the articles in their research.

Among these recently released journal titles, encompassing more than 55,000 individual articles, are some remarkable ones that researchers across disciplines will appreciate having conveniently on hand through PMC.

Take The Homoeopathic Physician, first published in January 1881. The journal was conceived as an homage to Constantine Hering, a physician and “the father of American homoeopathy,” who had died just six months before its inception. Hering had brought German physician Samuel Hahnemann’s homoeopathic medicine to America and established the country’s first homoeopathic college in 1835. Through more than 4,000 articles spanning nearly two decades, this journal provides researchers with a trove of information about the rise of this branch of medicine, which today has millions of adherents in the United States.

The Dental Register, published from 1847 to 1923, and its supplementary title The Dental Reporter, published from 1856 to 1859, might seem to have value only for those interested in the history of dentistry. But like all journals, they are much more than just a review of the practices and techniques of a specific field. They are also a view on the overall milieu of the time of publication, providing unique perspectives on social, economic, and even political aspects of life. For example, issue 12 of volume 71, published in December 1917, includes an article about the value of professional nurses in dental practice. This reflects a broader movement of the early 20th century to professionalize nursing in general. The American Nurses Association (ANA) (then called the Nurses Associated Alumnae) had formed in 1896, and the U.S. Army Nurse Corps had been established in 1901. Shortly thereafter, in 1917, the ANA lobbied the U.S. Congress to provide military rank to uniformed nurses. Nurses were politically active, organized, and gaining influence, and dental nurses were active participants who advocated for themselves in the pages of the journals of the dental profession.

The Buffalo Medical Journal, published from 1895 to 1918, and its predecessor titles dating back to 1845, offers countless perspectives on the medical practices and communities of the city of Buffalo, New York, including its universities and professional associations and societies and their interaction with other communities around the state of New York and southern Ontario, Canada. Among the thousands of articles comprising these titles is an especially interesting one that helps to document a seminal moment in American history, The Official Report on the Case of President William McKinley, who was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901, and died eight days later following a surgical procedure meant to find and remove the bullet from his abdomen. Also in these pages are proceedings of the American Medical Association during the middle of the 19th century and an article on the implications of poor handwriting and the use of Latin in medical prescriptions (which turned out to influence modern-day medical advancements!).

Another city-specific journal now available in PMC is the Atlanta Journal-Record of Medicine, published from 1899 to 1918, and its predecessor titles dating back nearly five decades. Therein you can learn about turn-of-the-century approaches to treating fractures, discover how the Medical Association of Georgia helped the medical world expand and prosper, and read reflections on the question of whether medicine should be administered with or without food.

And there are many more titles, including Hall’s Journal of Health, published from 1854 to 1893; The Farrier’s Magazine; or, The Archives of Veterinary Science, published in 1818; and The Bistoury, published from 1869 to 1885.

For text miners out there, you will be interested to learn that all of this newly available content, along with previously released historical back issues, can be downloaded in bulk by title through the PMC FTP service.

So if we’ve tempted you to explore PMC for your own research, what are you waiting for? What’s old is new to discover at the world’s largest biomedical library!

Kristina Dunne

Pathways Intern, History of Medicine Division, Library Operations, NLM

Ms. Dunne began her NLM Pathways experience in HMD during the summer of 2019 following her junior year of high school. She continued to work for NLM through her graduation and into her summer and winter breaks as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland. Throughout her internship, she has had the pleasure of contributing to a variety of research, writing, and web-design projects that have advanced NLM’s collections-focused engagement with its diverse stakeholders. Ms. Dunne will be graduating from the University of Maryland in May 2024 with dual degrees in accounting and finance. She has accepted a full-time auditor position at KPMG.

Kenneth M. Koyle, MA

Deputy Chief, History of Medicine Division, Library Operations, NLM

Before joining NLM, Mr. Koyle served as a medical evacuation helicopter pilot and as a historian in the U.S. Army. He is the co-editor with Dr. Jeff Reznick of Images of America: U.S. National Library of Medicine, which is a collaborative work with HMD staff.

Jeffrey S. Reznick, PhD

Chief, History of Medicine Division, Library Operations, NLM

Dr. Reznick leads all aspects of HMD and has over two decades of leadership experience in federal, nonprofit, and academic spaces. As a cultural historian, he also maintains a diverse, interdisciplinary, and highly collaborative historical research portfolio supported by the library and based on its diverse collections and associated programs. Dr. Reznick is author of three books and numerous book chapters and journal articles including as co-author with Ken Koyle of History matters: in the past, present & future of the NLM, published in 2021 by the Journal of the Medical Library Association.

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