Visions of history: changing attitudes to the medical book as an historical source

Eric J. Freeman
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Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 1986;130:1656-60

Recorded history, as we all know, changes constantly. By that I mean simply that each new generation of historians sees the same past in a different light, asks new questions of old evidence, perhaps uncovers some new clues, and certainly subjects established facts to new interpretations. It is not necessary to surrender to a totally relativistic view of historical truth to admit that, in some fashion, each new present creates the past in its own image.

My purpose and hope in this paper is to illustrate, from the book collecting history of one large, comprehensive, specialist library, how some ‘visions of medical history’ have changed and evolved in the fairly recent past. Although I shall be drawing evidence from particular collectors and from the story of the growth of a single library, I do believe it is possible to draw conclusions of a general character illuminating the situation of the…


The Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BP.

Eric J.Freeman, Deputy Director & Librarian.

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