About the History of Medicine Collections

Mission

The Duke University History of Medicine Collections acquire, preserve, interpret, and make available for research and instruction materials documenting the history of 

  • medicine
  • biomedical science
  • health and disease

in the global context of the Westen medical tradition. The collections seek to bring historical perspectives to bear on contemporary health issues and to facilitate an interdisciplinary understanding of the history of medicine.

History

Two major gifts formed the foundation of the History of Medicine Collections. In 1931, the Georgia Medical Society of Savannah donated its library of 8,000 volumes to Duke University. In 1956, Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans donated the collection of her late husband, Dr. Josiah Charles Trent. This collection, known as the Trent Collection, includes more than 4,000 print volumes and 2,500 manuscripts as well as remarkable medical artifacts. Today the collections continue to grow through donations and acquisitions.

Holdings

The collections document the history of health sciences from the 12th-century to the 20th-century. Collection strengths include:

  • anesthesia
  • human sexuality
  • materia medica
  • pediatrics
  • psychiatry
  • vivisection
  • yellow fever

Collection Highlights

  • a significant 12th-century copy of the Pantegni, a Latin translation of an Arabic text that became the leading Western medical textbook
  • first edition of the classics of medical history including De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius and De motu cordis by William Harvey
  • The Four Seasons, a unique set of seventeenth-century copperplate engravings with moveable flaps illustrating human anatomy along with allusions to alchemy, astronomy and botany
  • manuscripts by Benjamin Rush, an 18th-century physician and U.S. founding father 
  • the largest collection of ivory anatomical manikins in North America