History of medicine and surgery
The Royal College of Surgeons' Library in Lincoln's Inn Fields closed to visitors in May 2017 as part of a major refurbishment project due to be complete in 2020.
During the redevelopment period, we will be working with partner institutions to provide managed access to our collections for study and research.
Find more information on changes to Library Services.
The library has an extensive collection of books, tracts and journals concerning the history of surgery, dentistry and medicine. These relate to:
- Histories of science and medicine in particular countries
- Histories of medical societies, institutions, services, etc.
- Histories of hospitals, medical schools and universities
- Histories of specific medical subjects
- Biographies of fellows, medical and scientific people, and people connected with the College
- Medical illustrations in history
Material for the library was initially purchased to support staff working with the Hunterian Collection now housed in the Hunterian Museum. The first recorded purchases were Stubbs' 'Anatomy of the Horse' and Camper's 'Description d'un Elephant'. Please see Library History for further information.
Many items published before 1800 can now be found using the Library catalogue.
For information about research appointments, or for help with finding out about our collection, contact us.
Our collection includes:
- 57 incunabula, including one of the first ever printed medical books (Nicolaus, Antidotarium, Venice, 1471) classical texts, and early herbals ('Incunabula in the Library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England',Annals of Medical History, new series, 3(6), pp. 674-676)
- Over 600 foreign 16th century books, including anatomical atlases and surgical texts, editions of classical and Arab medicine, zoology texts, and books by British writers (eg Turner on birds, Cologne 1544; Wotton on animals, Paris 1551-2; and Kinloch's Lucretian poem on generation, Paris 1596)
- Over 600 English books from the periods covered by STC and Wing, listed in English books printed before 1701 in the Library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (Edinburgh: Livingstone, 1963)
- Many foreign 17th century items, mainly anatomy and surgery, with the principal physiological texts (eg Aselli, Descartes, Harvey 1628, Malpighi and Pecquet)
- English and foreign 18th century books, including important first editions in most branches of medicine
- Comprehensive series of editions of the leading British surgeons
- Later 19th century books including the chief French and German anatomy and physiology texts
- Select modern books of scientific importance, rarity or special association; especially prominent British surgeons, with extensive collections of the Spanish neurologist Ramon y Cajal (1852-1934) and the pioneer American neurosurgeon Harvey Williams Cushing (1869-1939)
The tracts collection
The tracts and pamphlets collection comprises an estimated 28,000 items ranging over all aspects of medicine and dentistry, not only surgery. Natural history and other scientific subjects are represented, reflecting the work of nineteenth century College museum curators. The majority of the collection dates from the 19th century, but there are works from as far back as 1570. British, American and continental European items are joined by exotica from Calcutta, Shanghai and Rio de Janeiro.
Many of the pamphlets are unique to this library. The collection is rich in individual case reports, university dissertations and addresses to medical societies. Please use the Library catalogue to find out more about the collection.
The Library was awarded two grants from the Research Resources in Medical History scheme set up by the Wellcome Trust to digitise the majority of the collection of tracts and pamphlets. They are available via the JISC-funded UK Medical Heritage Library and can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF.
- epidemic diseases: smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, syphilis, leprosy
- the Contagious Diseases Acts
- public health, sanitation and sewerage; industrial diseases
- military and naval medicine, especially after the Crimean War
- forensic medicine
- reform of the medical profession
- anaesthesia, particularly in obstetrics
- medical dissension: homoeopathy, electrotherapy, mesmerism, phrenology; spas, rest cures and medical climatology
- demography and medical statistics
- natural history, anthropology and palaeontology
The tracts collection includes pamphlets on a single topic assembled by interested doctors: William Bulloch's collection on haemophilia, Arthur Maude's on Graves' disease and John Tweedy's on ophthalmology.
The tracts incorporate the Maxwell Collection of Russian Dissertations, nearly 500 dissertations on aspects of physiology and pharmacology from the Imperial Military Medical Academy of St Petersburg between 1884 and 1891. Titles have been transliterated in the catalogue.