Historical Collections at HSLS

Historical collections at HSLS comprise about 20,000 volumes that include the medical texts of our past and books on the history of medicine, of the medical profession, and of hospitals and healthcare. They are able to enrich many aspects of medical research and education, so consider exploring our historical collections!

The circulating history of medicine collection is currently in storage, and the books are not available to borrow. However, they remain discoverable in PittCat (online catalog) where patrons can request a scan of a chapter or to borrow the book from another library (services provided by HSLS Document Delivery).

The older texts, published between 1496 and 1945, are housed in the library. Due to their age, they do not circulate, but patrons can use them in our Rare Book and Special Collections room. They provide an opportunity to explore the origins of our current medical knowledge and discover valuable links between state-of-the art treatments and their humble beginnings. Sometimes, a true surprise will await the researcher. Among many interesting old books, we have the first plastic surgery manual from 1597, in which its author, Gaspare Tagliacozzi, described a new method of grafting a flap from the arm, not from the forehead, in nasal reconstruction. The procedure invented by him had a short-lived popularity in the 16th century, but was revived in England two centuries later. Today, Tagliacozzi’s method is still used in plastic surgery — the most recent report of grafting a flap from the arm in nasal reconstruction in a young child comes from 2019! Four centuries later, it is still useful. Knowing the origins of state-of-the-art treatments can be extremely rewarding. The HSLS Rare Book Collection is only accessible by appointment, but it is quite easy and convenient to schedule a visit by phone or email. We are always happy to accommodate visitors.

The Rare Book Collection can be browsed on the HSLS Rare Books and Special Collections page, where some of the historical books are grouped by subject and content. These “topical collections” can also be searched via the PittCat Collections, with options to search or browse by sub-collection.

~Gosia Fort