Searching the literature

Effective literature searching skills are essential to the historian’s toolkit along with meticulous note-taking and careful textual analysis.


The Wellcome Trust has a useful guide to finding early printed books online

More to go here….useful links

Remember that relevant information can occasionally be found by widening your search, sometimes useful information can be found in unexpected places and do not be afraid to explore medical archives and museums. Most historians will admit to making some very fortunate, inexplicable, serendipitous finds, like the example below!

Be as exhaustive as possible in your search …

A note written by Midwife Lomas and found in her midwifery bag (circa 1916)

The above note for example, was made by Midwife Lomas (circa 1916) and found in her midwifery bag, which was kindly donated to De Partu, History of Childbirth Group by her family. While very simple, this note could be highly significant to a historian exploring the management and prevention of a condition called ophthalmia neonatorum, as it gives the name of the solution she used, perchloride of mercury, and the strength used for various midwifery treatments including care of the eyes of newborn infants. Alternatively, these descriptions of antiseptics used by midwives in the early twentieth-century, may be of interest to researchers exploring aspects of contemporary public health strategies or the history of pharmacy.

It is also important to remember that provincial medical libraries and archives, can contain some very valuable material which may not have been so widely consulted as the materials found in London’s medical libraries. Inclusion of such material can add interest and originality to your study. Libraries may promote and publicise selected material; for instance, the John Rylands Library Special Collections, University of Manchester, claims to hold ‘the second most significant university special collections after the University of Oxford’. Its electronic gateway ELGAR, provides access to materials from the medical collections and includes a section on Manchester medical men.

Rare Books

Many university libraries, such as the York medical library offer access to rare books and of course there are online collections of rare books accessible through academic library membership. The key resources which most special collection libraries host are, Eighteenth Century Collections Online ECCO and Early English Books Online EEBO, which will save you many journeys to special collections libraries when you are immersed in writing. These electronic resources contain digitised texts from a vast number of health libraries. The Wellcome Library in London offers access to a wide range of these electronic resources.

Hospital records...

Unlike textbooks which offer instruction, case books, and later, hospital records allow one to explore what practitioners actually did.While earlier case notes exist and can be found in archives, Hospital records have been preserved (to varying degrees) by health authorities in the U.K., a clear example being the archives of York Hospitals Trust. Some records contain treatment charts, observations, photographs of patients and their medical conditions, x-rays and electrocardiographs, scans and so forth.

Vital statistics

Vital Statistics, 0verview includes definitions from McGill University

Vital statistics: meaning and uses from Sociology Discussion

Green – means incomplete

National vital statistics, which commenced in ( Put the date in and a ref ) can be used to demonstrate trends, and in more recent times the NHS has made available hospital episode statistics available, too.