How should a medium-sized historical bibliography work on the Internet, and what should it look like? Since 2015 I have been experimenting with bibliographical form, function and content, developing and expanding a bibliography that originated in print over one hundred years ago. When I undertook this project I was unaware of any model on which to base the site. Most digital libraries are vastly larger and less focused than this site, their search and display methodologies are different, and online bibliographies tend to be much, much smaller and more specialized. I also wanted to preserve and enhance the aspects of the bibliography that made it widely used during its one hundred year prior existence in physical book form.
HistoryofMedicineandBiology.com is evolving from printed bibliographies of medical, biological, and dental classics that were originally compiled and published by the American medical historian and librarian Fielding H. Garrison (1870-1935) in 1912 and 1933. Garrison was inspired to initiate the work by a suggestion of Sir William Osler.
Garrison’s work, which followed a long tradition of bibliographical efforts to identify and organize the most significant and most useful books in medicine, was expanded and improved by English medical librarian Leslie T. Morton (1907-2004) in four successively expanded printed editions entitled A Medical Bibliography from 1943 to 1983. From Morton's time the scope of the bibliography was always unusually wide for a single volume printed bibliography: classics of primary sources covering all of the history of medicine and some of the life sciences, and secondary sources mostly about the histories of the same fields. Since Morton’s books built on Garrison’s foundation, Morton’s work became known as “Garrison & Morton” or “Garrison-Morton”. Following a suggestion of my father, Haskell Norman, a physician and book collector who often consulted Garrison-Morton, I contacted Morton who was then in his mid-80s, and after some discussion, took over the project in the late 1980s. Because of my father's interests as a collector, my informal study of the bibliography of science began in my childhood, and became more serious when I entered the rare book trade during college at the age of 19. My work on the fifth edition occupied me mostly full-time for about a year in 1989-1990. Working on the manuscript in a series of Microsoft Word files on an early laptop, and backing them up on a group of floppy drives, at the time I thought I was pushing the technology to its limits. Using data that I had accumulated in the book trade as well as ongoing research, and visiting institutional libraries, I was able to revise over 1000 of the old entries, and to add around 1000 new entries. However, there were problems entering diacritics, and the indices to the book, prepared by two professional indexers successively, were never satisfactory. In 1991 Ashgate issued my revised and expanded fifth edition as a 1243 page printed book retitled in Morton's honor, Morton’s Medical Bibliography. This and the preceding four progressively expanded editions by Morton became standard reference works for the history of medicine, biology, and dentistry. Each edition, including Garrison's original listings, and the present online version, chiefly represents the work and viewpoint of one person, building upon foundations established by predecessors.
As it evolved in print, the bibliography covered primary works, i.e. first publications of medical discoveries or other "primary sources", as well as significant secondary sources, or historical studies. Within each subject entries were listed chronologically by date of publication, providing many different chronological listings of classics and secondary sources. Printed editions included periodical citations and books for primary material, but coverage of secondary works, or historical studies, were mainly limited to books on these subjects rather than periodical citations; otherwise the number of entries would have become unmanageable. For the most part I continue to retain these constraints. New ways in which the work is evolving reflect fundamental differences between printed editions and databases. They include interactivity, improved searchability, greatly widened scope as a result of the increased availability of information on the Internet, links to other sites, including biographical references, and the possibility of editing and revising virtually ad infinitum. In the time I have for this project I am attempting to make this bibliography as functional as possible for 21st century users.
One might reasonably ask, with the availability of so many online databases, digital libraries, and search engines why an annotated bibliography like this remains useful. My view is that with the ever-increasing flood of information, and its vastly greater accessibility, this freely available selective guide to classics and historical studies over the whole range of the life sciences is more useful than ever, as a way of quickly and efficiently identifying and organizing works that matter, and in many cases outlining briefly why they matter. It cannot pretend to be fully comprehensive, and its coverage is inevitably better in some fields than others, but it should point you in the right directions, and provide many significant sources.
Apart from its interactive features, one of the significant advantages of the database versus the printed editions is that entries may be indexed to the several subjects with which they are often concerned, and if you click on a subject field under a specific entry you will see a listing, chronological by publication date, of everything in this bibliography indexed to that subject. Similarly, if you click on the name of an author associated with an entry you will see a chronological list of all the entries by that author, if there are more than one. Another advantage of the database is the extensive subject index. Besides the process of selecting content for this bibliography, the growing subject index may be the feature which most carries my personal stamp. Based originally on the limited subject arrangement in the contents pages of the printed editions, the subject index is the way that I personally organize this world of information. For information you don't find in the subject or author indices the keyword search is a powerful tool.
Between 1991 and 2014 I put aside work on this project. As the Internet developed I concluded that the data, which had already become too large by the fifth printed edition for convenient use in book form, would be most useful as an interactive database freely available on the Internet. When unexpectedly the copyright to Morton’s Medical Bibliography reverted to me in 2014 I decided to begin the construction of the present website. Previously I had experience developing and writing websites, first with www.HistoryofScience.com, and then with www.HistoryofInformation.com. Those ongoing sites, as well as HistoryofMedicineandBiology.com, are the result of a productive collaboration formerly with the imaginative web developer Jessica Gore, and more recently with master programmer Vann Miller.
Because “Garrison-Morton” entry numbers became established references in medical library cataloguing, as the printed book expanded through successive editions, Leslie Morton used decimal extensions, such as 4204.1, 4204.2, etc. to add new material while retaining the original numbers. I followed this awkward practice in the fifth edition. Thus the final entry number in the fifth edition was 6810 though the actual number of entries in the bibliography was significantly higher. To preserve the historical record we retained the entry numbers from the fifth edition in the database, though in the case of entries which had to be repeated multiple times with different entry numbers under different subjects in the printed book, I have tried to consolidate each as one entry, indexed under the multiple subjects with which it is concerned, and retaining all of the original different entry numbers. Entries added to the web version are numbered after 6810, and now serve only as identifiers, and also to show the order in which they were added to the database. Since the development of the online version I have revised, corrected or improved most of the earlier entries.
Another feature of the database that differs from the printed editions is the greatly improved author index. The database program displays the names of authors of individual entries in alphabetical order by their last name, so from time to time the order of authorship, in works with multiple authors, is different from the order in which it originally appeared in the publication. Using the author index you can display all the works by a given author in a single chronological sequence by publication date. This feature is one of the many significant advantages of the database format over the printed versions, in which one had to go back and forth from the author index to find entries for a single author that were scattered throughout the book.
Other significant advantages of websites versus printed books include expandability, and easy revisability. For someone who works on several projects simultaneously, the freeform aspects, versus the finality of a printed edition, is very appealing, and challenging. There is the perpetual desire to cover as much subject matter as possible, as well as possible, balanced with the constant awareness that the literature is far, far too vast for any individual to cover anywhere near comprehensively. As I expand this database, I regularly ask myself how I can maximize its usefulness most efficiently within the limited amount of time that I have for this project. If I remember correctly, in 2016 I asked Vann Miller to make it possible to associate links to outside biographical reference works online with author names in the database. By linking to these outside sources I can provide access to many historically valuable things like author portraits, images from books, significant further information about the author and his/her writings, and sometimes even useful information about the book or article cited in the bibliography. Of course links to sources outside the database may become broken, as the web is always in a state of flux, but by linking mainly to scholarly rather than commercial sites, and to the Wikipedia, my hope is reduce somewhat the number of future broken links. By linking to digital facsimiles I can also provide, with considerable efficiency, even more useful information.
In printed form this bibliography focused entirely on other printed sources. Maintaining that approach, when I began this database I limited its scope to printed sources and their digital equivalents. Only by the end of 2016 did I see fit to include other online research sources. Initially I called these "Electronic Resources," and placed them in the subject index under Bibliography. As is my process, learning more about references as I collect them, or by rethinking their organization as a subject category grows, I expand the subject index by dividing subjects into sub-categories. "Electronic Resources", as it evolved, contained entries for Digital Libraries, Online Bibliographic Databases, Blogs, and works about their history and development. Eventually, in February 2018 I created a set of Digital Resource categories in the subject index, and reorganized those growing categories of material, hopefully making access to them more meaningful. Because this bibliography organizes entries chronologically, I assigned a date of origin to digital projects, knowing that many of them, like this bibliography, are ongoing. This developing data set represents a partial outline or chronicle of the development of digital libraries in general, and more specifically of those relevant to the history of medicine and the life sciences.
In February 2018 I first reviewed the Place of Publication database and standardized place names. Up to this time the place names were a combination of foreign language or Latin names and their English language equivalent, such as Milan and Milano. To make searching by place name consistent I standardized these names to their English language version, when appropriate. Since some of the city names may be repeated in various U.S. states or countries (Birmingham, AL or Birmingham, England), I added U.S. state abbreviations to all U.S. places, except the most obvious, such as New York. I also added country names to cities in any countries where I thought it would be helpful to users searching the database by this method. Because these standardized versions of place names are included in the bibliographical entries they often do not correspond precisely to the spelling of place names on the imprints of publications. The Place of Publication database tabulates the number of entries published in each location, producing interesting statistics for anyone who cares about those details.
Another aspect of the evolution of this database is the widening scope of material included. Both Garrison's and Morton's selection process was heavily influenced by Whig historiography, so that, for the most part, primary works included made some positive advance in medicine or biology, and secondary works included typically were also written from the Whig point of view. Once Morton began expanding Garrison's relatively brief bibliographies, he was also contrained by the need to make efficient use of the space available in a single printed volume. No longer constrained by physical format limitations, and in keeping with the present approach to the writing the history of medicine and biology, which is often interdisciplinary and from the social / political point of view, and taking advantage of the vastly increased accessibility of information, I am expanding the bibliography in many directions, both from the Whig point of view, and beyond the traditional Whig approach, to cover topics such as alternative medicine, folk medicine, ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, etc. I am also developing the geographic aspect because it is now possible to provide at least limited references on the medicine and history of medicine in a very wide variety of places. These may be searched in the subject index under Countries, Continents and Regions. Voyages and travels by physicians were included to a very limited extent in the printed editions of the bibliography. Related to geographic, biogeographic and interdisciplinary aspects, I am also developing the historical documentation of voyages and travel accounts that concern medicine or life sciences, written by physicians or scientists. I am also expanding the coverage in zoology, and veterinary medicine. As the database grows I often add new topics.
While a hallmark of this bibliography has always been selectivity, with respect to catalogues of medical and natural history museums and their histories, it is difficult to select for significance since beyond date and location, and the person or persons who formed them. Because the significance of museums, and their catalogues, may depend on a wide variety of factors, for this subject I am documenting most of the catalogues of which I am aware.
Like it may have been for Garrison and Morton before me, this project is a personal quest, of increasing interest to me as it grows in complexity and detail. However I always appreciate advice when offered. Paul Blanc, Fritz-Dieter Söhn, Alain Touwaide, and Juan Weiss have been especially generous in providing corrections or recommending additions to the bibliography. I have also benefitted substantially from the historical writings of W. Bruce Fye and Larry W. Swanson. Please do do not hesitate to contact me regarding corrections or suggested additions.
In its five printed editions this bibliography took a unique place in the bibliography of the history of the sciences, with no equivalent work covering the physical sciences or mathematics. On the web HistoryofMedicineandBiology.com retains its unique role, now freely available to all. As it evolves and expands, I hope this database, like the five printed editions preceding it, will be of increasing utility to the widest variety of people interested in the history and bibliography of medicine and the life sciences.
Jeremy M. Norman