New York Academy of Medicine Archives Visit

Humanities for STEM: Using Archives to Bridge the Two Cultures Divide



Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room

On January 19, 2018, collaborative member and Librarian Arlene Shaner and Rare Books Curator Anne Garner hosted us at the New York Academy of Medicine Library and Archives. The Rare Book and Manuscript Collection contains archives documenting the history of the Academy as an institution since its founding in 1847, the papers of medical organizations and societies, and collections of personal papers, as well as letters, student notebooks, diaries, and physicians’ case records.

We viewed some materials in the collection in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, which which contains most of the rare book collection as well many secondary sources in the history of medicine and the history of books and printing.

1873 Prize Notebook from Dr. Gaillard Thomas’ class at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

The manuscript collection includes notebooks from medical students as they studied to become physicians.These notebooks containing class notes, clinical reports, drawings, and lab notes provide great insight into 19th century medical education and notetaking. Some of the notebooks were used as prize notebooks through 19th notebook contests in which students were awarded cash prizes from institutions and faculty members for notable notebooks. Faculty members began to question the integrity of the prize notebooks competitions as it became unclear if students were creating notebooks themselves and the notebooks proved more of a distraction than an enrichment.

Photos from Committee of Twenty on Street and Outdoor Cleanliness collection

In the 1920s and 30s the Academy developed the Committee of Twenty on Street and Outdoor Cleanliness to combat dirt and disease and improve sanitation in New York City. Some of the committees projects included the creation of the sealed garbage trucks and a competition to create public trash cans.

Records on Mount Sinai hospital from the Health and Hospital Planning Council archives


NYAM’s largest collection of over 500 boxes and blueprints is the Health and Hospital Planning Council of Southern New York Archives. The collection includes correspondence, building blueprints, population surveys, studies on disparities and employee handbooks.


Lastly, we viewed the case records of Dr. J. William Littler, founder of the hand surgery unit at what is now St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, a teaching hospital of Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. His patient notes were very unconventional in that he  often created detailed drawing of patients’ cases rather than keeping written records.



Drawings from Littler’s case records



Research Collaborative members and greater Humanities for STEM community, please be sure to check out the New York Academy of Medicine’s Digital Collections or stop by for visit of your own and add your thoughts to the comments!



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