Where is the history of medicine in Texas?

Texas has a rich history of medical education, research, and innovation. Yet, much like the candy-cane, striped shirt-wearing Waldo, the history of medicine, public health, and its allied sciences is often hidden in plain sight.

This history can be found in the architecture of hospitals and medical schools like Cooks Children’s iconic blue roof in Fort Worth and Old Red at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Or the minor procedures and major surgeries that comprise Western medicine today like the heart transplant pioneered by Houston surgeons Denton Cooley and Michael E. DeBakey. It can also be found in the programs and educational resources available to Texans, like those for diabetics and their families, coordinated by the Texas Diabetes Council.

Medical Arts_Dallas

Postcard of the Medical Arts Building in Dallas, TX. Built in 1923, it was demolished in 1977. The National Library of Medicine has over 4,000 postcards related to medical history online. (Images from the History of Medicine, NLM)

When I was doing graduate research into the history of medicine and public health in Texas, I discovered a number of important local resources. However, a lack of transparency made it difficult to identify and access these resources. This frustration made me curious to learn more. Several medical librarians were kind enough to reply to my informal query about the types of resources they have and the most common reference questions they receive.

Here’s what I found out…

A good rule of thumb for the history of medicine is: it’s kept where it was created. Whether you are looking for old medical journals, biographies of physicians, or historical information on hospitals and medical associations, your best bet is to look for the nearest medical school or public health library.

Major medical centers and universities located in cities like Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Galveston are where the majority of historical resources can be found. Extensive collections exist throughout the state in places like the John P. McGovern Historical Collection and Research Center in Houston and the Special Collections at UT Southwestern Medical Center Library in Dallas.

For example, biographical information on physicians is a popular research request. Medical school yearbooks and directories, like Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register of the United States, are important genealogical resources. Biographers and family historians can take advantage of the Texas Physicians Historical Biographical Database online thanks to the library at UT Southwestern. The McGovern Library also has Polk’s Medical Register and Directory digitized and available online.

Archives of past medical journals sit on the shelf at many medical libraries, but assorted issues are online through digital portals like The Medical Heritage Library, Texas Heritage Online, and The Portal to Texas History. A quick PubMed search can help you identify specific articles and dates to help you in your quest for older journal articles on health and medicine in Texas.

TDCedu

“Controlling Diabetes One Day at a Time,” Texas Diabetes Council education packet c.1990s

The history of public health at the state level is often less visible. Current public health topics have historical background that may not be included in up-to-date information and statistics. Unlike books on the subject, many of the primary sources (past reports, public health education material, etc.) tend be accessible only in a handful of places. Within Texas, these include:

  1. the public university library system — Published conference proceedings, reports, and education pamphlets get circulated throughout the library system as well as in state and local archives.
  2. the creating agency, governing body or professional association — Many, like the Texas Diabetes Council and the Texas Medical Association, include publication archives on their websites.
  3. retracing the bureaucratic maze to locate records within the state, county, or city archives — I recommend the TARO database for a search of Texas collections.

For more resources, check out these digital catalogs and online exhibits dedicated to the history of medicine in Texas.

  • The Texas Medical Association’s website Sites for Genealogists and Medical Historians includes helpful links to the history of medicine inside and outside Texas. (Beware, it can be difficult to find from the main page.)
  • UT Southwestern Library’s online exhibit using Omeka, “Medical Milestones in Dallas, 1890-1975,” includes great examples of the history of medical care and education in Dallas, plus an image repository.
  • The Blocker History of Medicine Collections at the UTMB in Galveston’s Moody Medical Library includes The Centennial Oral History Collection, celebrating Texas’ first university medical school.
  • The P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio has special collections for the history of medicine and university archives, including a Digital Archive.
  • Texas Woman’s University’s Woman’s Digital Collection includes photos and oral histories on nursing and TWU’s health science program.

Want to find the history of medicine in another state? The U.S. National Library of Medicine maintains a Directory of History of Medicine Collections by state within the United States and other countries. Also, for another state perspective, check out the newly launched History of Medicine in Oregon website.

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Tip of the week: Easy ways to access academic journals

In this new weekly series, Finding Aids & Beyond offers quick tips and easy go-to resources that make doing historical research less stressful and more successful.

Books at Library Annex

The library annex, where bound copies of older journals are often kept (UNT Library, The Portal to Texas History)

The library card — that little piece of paper or plastic is an invaluable keycard even in today’s world of e-books and digital libraries. I recently discovered just that when I went in search of a journal article I needed for research.

The internet makes the contents of peer-reviewed journals more accessible than ever before. This methodology and historiography essential to any historian’s toolbox is, however, usually available only to paid subscribers. Most academic journal subscriptions come as a perk of membership to professional organizations. The depth and breadth of a discipline like history is evident in the variety of peer-reviewed journals (regional, topical, interdisciplinary, etc.) that populate the literature review. But no one is a member of all these organizations. That’s where libraries — and the library card — step in to serve a vital purpose.

Professors, staff, and students have access to academic journals from their educational institution. University libraries subscribe to online databases of compiled journal articles and e-books like the humanities databases Project Muse and JSTOR. These digital libraries have more titles than the typical brick-and-mortar library but may be limited in the number of issues covered for a particular journal. Sometimes, the quickest way to get an academic journal is the old-fashioned way: leg work. Head to the nearest university library that has a copy. And that’s just what I did. There the journal lay neatly on the shelf, waiting for me.

As for online context, there are a few different options. Open access journals do exist. A librarian friend recently introduced me to the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Some subscription-based journals also make a percentage of their articles publicly available on the publisher’s website or allow registered guests to download articles. In the humanities and social sciences, free access to book reviews is available through the discussion network H-Net Reviews.

A montage of NLM publications

An assortment of biomedical indices and catalogs from the National Library of Medicine (Images from the History of Medicine)

Accessibility seems to vary by discipline. As a historian of medicine and public health, I find medical and scientific journals easier to access online than some social science periodicals. Compiled reference databases like PubMed from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health offer abstracts as well as full text articles, depending on the year and the publisher.

Other ways to get access to academic journals include:
1. Set up article and citation alerts — you can do this on the publisher’s website, the digital database website or through a search engine like Google.
2. Use interlibrary loan. Often, ILL departments will send you a link to your email to access the journal online. (Warning: ILL requests usually have a longer turn around time.)
3. Invest in a subscription.

OR… There is another option. Your library card can get you into more places than you might expect. In Texas, the TexShare card enables patrons of one library to borrow books, access journals, etc. from other participating libraries throughout the state. To learn more about the TexShare Card program, visit the Texas State Library and Archives Commission website.

It may come as a surprise, but even in the digital age, a library card can still be the researcher’s best resource.

UPDATE This week, the American Historical Association published its Statement on Scholarly Journal Publishing on its blog AHA Today. The debate over open access to scholarly research continues as historians grapple with how their work is valued inside and outside the academy.

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