We have outstanding resources for research on the history of medicine generally, and in the areas of anatomy and obstetrics and gynaecology in particular. This is largely owing to the superb library of Dr William Hunter, the 18th century physician, man-midwife and medical teacher:

  • Over 3,000 of the books in Hunter's library deal with medicine
  • Highlights include unique medieval manuscripts (the earliest dating to the 8th/9th century), early printed editions of Vesalius, Hippocrates, Galen, and Harvey, and the work of Hunter's 18th century contemporaries such as William Smellie and Albinus.
  • Hunter himself wrote an important obstetrical atlas, The anatomy of the human gravid uterus (1774). The superb drawings that were made for this are also preserved in the collection, together with other working papers.

For more information, see:

  • Hunterian collection: particularly strong in manuscript and early printed texts on general medicine, anatomy and obstetrics. Other medical topics (such as naval medicine, the deficiency diseases, inoculation against smallpox etc) are also represented in Hunter's library.
  • Douglas Papers: the medical and scientific papers of Hunter's mentor, Dr James Douglas (1675-1742), including medical case records and anatomical studies
  • See also this website from the University of Alcalá de Henares for a useful introduction to medical manuscripts in the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, featuring items from our Hunterian and Ferguson collections

The following collections are also highly relevant:

  • Cullen papers: 18th century papers of William Cullen, Professor of Medicine (at Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities), including drafts of lectures, medical notes, and letters
  • Lister Library: a small number of books from the library of surgeon Sir Joseph Lister (NB not all medical in nature)
  • Old Library: texts as used at the University for teaching and research up until the end of the 18th century, including some medical works; supplemented by 19th century holdings of the Anatomy and Medical Class Libraries
  • Syphilis collection: from the earliest syphilis incunabula produced at the end of the fifteenth century, to dissertations and debates on whether syphilis and gonorrhoea were separate diseases at the end of the 18th century
  • Thomson Papers: medical papers, lecture notes, drawings and correspondence of Allen Thomson (1809-1884), his father, John Thomson (1765-1846), and half-brother William Thomson (1802-1852)

We also hold a number of manuscript 'receipt' or 'recipe' books, dating from as early as the 5th century, some of which contain descriptions of domestic medical 'cures'. To locate these try the following search:

  • Choose Document Search from the manuscripts search
  • Type medical in the Word or phrase box
  • Choose Receipt or Recipe from the Document Type drop-down menu
  • Narrow your search by date (optional)
  • Re-run the search as necessary




We have one important collection of modern medical papers, dealing largely with psychiatry:

  • R. D. Laing collection: library and papers of Ronald David Laing (1927-1989), the psychotherapist and writer. The collection includes his personal library, medical correspondence and case notes, financial papers, diaries, appointment books, notebooks, press-cuttings, drafts of published works, unpublished writings and lectures, interviews, films and recordings. Please note that access to the manuscript material in this collection is by application in advance.

Relevant material for both medicine and psychiatry is dispersed throughout the collections. To search across all our collections, by name or keyword, please use the rare books search (for printed material) and the manuscripts search (for unpublished material including notebooks, papers, photographs and drawings).

Several web exhibitions and book of the month articles have featured medical items: