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Science and medicine

Early Science Subject Strength

Our medical and scientific collections are a rich resource for researchers from a variety of scientific disciplines. Using the collections, which date from the 16th to the 20th century, you can explore the history of science and medicine through printed books, periodicals, notebooks, diaries, drawings, photographs, personal and society papers, as well as correspondence.

The Brotherton Collection

The Brotherton Collection contains some 480 printed books, dating from 1600 to 1750.

Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy are strongly represented, but the collection also contains works on magnetism, monsters and melancholy.

Highlights include:

  • Newton's Principia (1687) and a collection of his other works including the first edition of his Opticks (1704)
  • William Gilbert's De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus (1600), which was the first work to demonstate a scientific understanding of magnetism and electricity
  • a copy of Robert Boyle's Works (1744) formerly owned by Edmund Burke.

All Souls Science

The All Souls Science Collection contains around 500 books and journals, principally from the 17th century, covering many different aspects of science. The main subjects include astronomy, botany, geometry, mathematics, medicine, chemistry and physiology.

There are also early works on types of medical therapy, such as hydrotherapy and wine therapy, and works on poisons and anatomy.

Early Science

The Early Science Collection contains around 2000 books dating from the 16th century onwards, ranging from general works to occultism, inventions, beer and horses. The periodicals held within this collection include copies of Memoirs of Science and the Arts, Scientific Memoirs and Communications to the Board of Agriculture, all dating from the late 18th century.

Chaston Chapman

The Chaston Chapman Collection consists mainly of sets of the Royal Society of London's Philosophical Transactions, from the founding of the Society in the 1660s onwards, along with some later histories and memoirs of the Society. There are also early texts on alchemy such as Roger Bacon's The Mirror of Alchimy (1597) and Dutch and German works on chemical lore, hermetic philosophy, astrology and religion.

You may also be interested in Alfred Chaston Chapman's collection of books on the history of brewing and fermentation.

Scientists’ papers

The work of a number of individuals at the University of Leeds has led to significant developments in scientific research. Special Collections holds the archives of several of these scientists.

William Bragg’s papers

William Henry Bragg was Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Leeds from 1909 to1915. His main research was in the fields of X-ray spectra and the structure of crystals. Much of his research was in collaboration with his son, William Lawrence Bragg, with whom he shared the Nobel prize for physics in 1915. One of his laboratory notebooks contains the results of research carried out in the old Physical Laboratory of the University, on the site of the Brotherton Library.

Arthur Smithells’ papers

The papers of Arthur Smithells relate to his work as Professor of Chemistry at Leeds. They include a vast amount of correspondence with scientific colleagues between 1875 and 1939, as well as personal correspondence and papers, research papers, pamphlets and press cuttings.

William Astbury’s papers

William Astbury was Professor of Biomolecular Structure at Leeds from 1945 to1961. His papers reflect his research interests in textile physics and x-ray diffraction photography. Documents include biographical and personal materials, notebooks and slides, lectures and publications, scientific correspondence, and his work for conferences, committees and societies.

Edmund Stoner’s papers

The papers of Edmund Stoner, a former Professor of Physics at Leeds, cover his early and personal life and scientific career.

The biographical materials include notebooks from his days at Cambridge, various diaries and personal notebooks, non-scientific writings and a collection of photographs.

These are complemented by a large amount of correspondence, both scientific and personal, dating from the 1920s up to 1968. There are also later papers relating to his scientific publications, work on committees, and his time at the University of Leeds.

Other notable collections

Special Collections also holds the papers of the physicist Richard Whiddington, the crystallographer Sir Ernest Cox, and the chemist Robert Spence.

Medical collections

The University of Leeds has a long history of teaching medicine. The institution we know today as the University of Leeds was founded as the Leeds School of Medicine in 1831. This heritage is well represented in Special Collections with a number of medical-related archive and book collections.

Medical Manuscripts Collection

Our Medical Collections contains numerous discrete manuscripts relating to medical practice and education. These have been grouped together as the Medical Manuscripts Collection to improve accessibility.

These include:

  • catalogues of medical libraries
  • lectures for medical students
  • case histories and clinical notes of physicians and surgeons, many at the Leeds General Infirmary
  • notes taken by medical students at the Leeds School of Medicine and other institutions, from the 19th and 20th centuries.

A particular highlight within the collections is a series of transcribed lectures given by William Cullen, Thomas Young, James Gregory, Joseph Black and Charles Bell at the University of Edinburgh in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Hey Family papers

Special Collections holds the papers of the Hey family, who were instrumental in developing medical provision and teaching in Leeds and who played an active role in teaching medicine in the city throughout the 19th century. The collection includes the patient case books of the surgeon William Hey (1736-1819)

Leeds School of Medicine Archive

Special Collections holds the records of the Leeds School of Medicine, dating from the founding of the School in 1831 through to the 21st century. They cover the merging of the School with the Yorkshire College in 1884, and its later move to become part of the University of Leeds Faculty of Medicine and Health.

The University Archive also holds the records of a number of the departments within the Leeds School of Medicine, including the Departments of Pathology and Bacteriology, Public Health Medicine, Rheumatology and Physiology, among others.

Health Sciences Historical Collection

Our Health Sciences Historical Collection includes a number of useful historic medical books printed between 1606 and around 1950. The subject matter ranges across anatomy, physiology, surgery, diseases, midwifery, and health remedies.

Particular highlights are:

Kathleen Raven archive

The archive collection spans the entire career of Dame Kathleen Raven (1910-1999), who was Matron at the Leeds General Infirmary, 1949; Deputy Chief Nursing Officer at the Ministry of Health, 1957; and Chief Nursing Officer, 1958-1972.

Frank Parsons and Leslie Pyrah Archives

We hold the archives of both the nephrologist Frank Parsons (1918-1989) and the urologist Leslie Pyrah (1899-1995). They worked together at the Leeds General Infirmary and set up the UK’s first kidney dialysis unit in 1956.

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A large number of the recipe books in our Cookery Collection contain not only culinary and household recipes but also medicinal remedies. In these texts, notes on cultivating and using herbs and methods for healing common injuries and ailments often sit beside recipes involving food preparation. These books were frequently used by those families who rarely sought formalised medical advice.