Cholera A Modern Pandemic In Texts And Images

November 2017

Research

Country of origin: USA

The History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has launched a new website featuring digitised historical literature on cholera.

Cholera is an acute, painful, and often fatal disease which ravaged populations all over the world in several pandemics during the 19th century. News of its spread and impending approach often sent panic into entire nations, and health professionals were largely at a loss as to how to treat or prevent it until modern epidemiological and laboratory techniques were developed later in the century.

NLM has to date digitised over 100 English-language pamphlets dating from 1817 to 1890 dealing with the cholera pandemics of that period. The selection of cholera was in part inspired by the 315-page "Bibliography of Cholera" compiled by John Shaw Billings in 1875. This extensive bibliography by Billings was meant to include all published monographs and journal articles "which relate mainly or entirely to cholera." The bibliography was a precursor, perhaps a "pilot project," to the Index Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office, which began coming out in 1880.

While the items chosen for this project were not chosen directly from Billings' bibliography, nearly all of them dating before 1874 appear there. Only monographic items, such as pamphlets and separate volumes, were selected for this project. Altogether, the Library plans to digitise nearly 400 English-language items on cholera from its collections, making it one of the most comprehensive online collections of cholera literature available anywhere.

Cartoons and social satire regarding cholera are included, taken primarily from the Images from the History of Medicine database, as are the photographs of physicians who contributed to the debate about cholera.

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