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Teaching the History of Medicine in Special Collections

This guide covers resources that can be used to teach the history of medical topics using Special Collections and digital materials.

Why use Special Collections in your teaching?

Special Collections is a laboratory for the humanities where students and faculty are welcome to research and explore. As part of a class session in Special Collections, your students will have hands-on access to the most inspiring and intriguing materials the Libraries have to offer. Our collections exist to be used, and they are open to everyone.

In particular, Special Collections class sessions foster primary source literacy and critical thinking skills. Students who visit Special Collections learn to interpret and evaluate historical sources and to read materials in their historical context. They learn about the materiality inherent in all documents and how to read the content of the page alongside physical evidence. Most importantly, they will discover an enthusiasm and engagement with their subject that will take their studies far beyond their textbooks.

What can we do for you?

Special Collections staff is here to help you incorporate rare materials research and primary source literacy instruction into your teaching, whether as a brief guest lecture, a class session, reference assistance during student projects, or a full-blown series of workshops. Some of the ways we have assisted faculty in the past include:

Preparing a Class. Special Collections staff have a deep knowledge of the collections and are available to brainstorm or offer suggestions on creative ways to use materials in student research projects and activities. Special Collections staff can also curate subject lists of materials for a specific topic of instruction.

Class Visits. The Special Collections classroom in Ellis 406 is able to accommodate classes of up to 35. The room is modular and can easily be adjusted to a variety of instructional formats. During these class visits, a librarian will be on hand to provide assistance with materials or to co-teach the class session with you.

In-Class Presentations. If a visit to Special Collections is not possible, librarians from Special Collections can visit your classroom to make presentations using PowerPoint and other visuals. Although it is preferable for students to experience the materials firsthand, presentations may prepare students for research in Special Collections or give a brief overview of the department.

You can arrange class visits with the Special Collections librarians by sending an email to