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  • Searching beyond the Medical Heritage Library:An Analytic Bibliography of On-Line Neo-Latin Texts
  • Karen Reeds

For medical historians who study the centuries when Latin was the primary language of learned discourse among Western physicians, the Internet era has opened startling new research opportunities. Rare book rooms have been generously digitizing their Latin medical books and manuscripts and sharing them online. The digital facsimiles are out there, but finding them is far from easy—unless you turn to the Philological Museum’s Analytic Bibliography of On-line Neo-Latin Texts.

On January 1, 1999—just a few months after a little start-up named Google was incorporated and years before Biodiversity Heritage Library, Medical Heritage Library, Internet Archive’s texts, The European Library, or HathiTrust got under way—Professor Dana F. Sutton, a prescient classicist at University of California Irvine, introduced his remarkable scholarly tool:

The enormous profusion of literary texts posted on the World Wide Web will no doubt strike future historians as remarkable and important. But this profusion brings with it an urgent need for many specialized online bibliographies. The present one is an analytic bibliography of Latin texts written during the Renaissance and later that are freely available to the general public on the Web (texts posted in access-restricted sites, and websites offering electronic texts and digitized photographic reproductions for sale are not included.)1

In essence, Sutton’s Neo-Latin Library, as it was known in its early years, offers a huge collection of links to open access digital reproductions of neo-Latin texts, written from the early Renaissance onward. Most of the entries are for printed works, but digital copies of some manuscript letters and prescriptions (one written by Erasmus Darwin) and Hieronymus Harder’s charming sixteenth century herbarium also find their way into the database.

The database entries are organized alphabetically by author and are utterly straightforward in format:

Author (usually with dates, often cross-referenced to other forms of the name)

Title and date of the work

URL linking directly to the digital copy [End Page 793]

Site of the digital repository

Subject matter of the work, broadly construed

Contributor of the entry (if a digital transcription rather than a facsimile)

Notes about other digital copies and editions, with links.

By May 2015, the number of titles listed in Neo-Latin Texts had surpassed the 50,000 mark. By my tally, roughly five percent of those entries are categorized as “medicine.” Still more works of medical interest are listed separately as anatomy (but not surgery), botany, physiology, pharmacology, zoology, chemistry, gastronomy, magic, natural science, and epistolography.

The chronological and geographical scope is larger than Sutton’s description suggests. Although he excludes classical and medieval authors, his entries for Galen, Hippocrates, and Dioscorides, for example, give cross-references to the neo-Latin commentaries that often accompanied editions and translations of those authors. (For digitized editions and translations of ancient Greek and Latin medical works, see the history of medicine website of Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Santé, Paris, a rich digital resource I first discovered through Sutton’s database.)

At the other end of the timeline, there are entries for late-nineteenth-century medical treatises and theses, and even more recent works in taxonomic botany. Most of the links connect to major European libraries, but a quick check of works for a prolific author reveals how far some books have traveled to reach the digitizers’ scanners: the anatomist/botanist Gaspard Bauhin (1560–1624) is represented with entries from libraries in his hometown of Basel, Uppsala, Madrid, Paris, Munich, Strasbourg, Kroměříž (an archbishop’s palace in the Czech Republic), and Kyoto, as well as e-Rara, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and of course, GoogleBooks.

The biggest inconvenience of the Neo-Latin Library is that, at present, the database cannot be searched easily in one trawl for anything except an author’s name. To find, say, all books with “anatom-” or “chirurg-” or “pestilenti-” in the title, each alphabetic section must be searched separately (in practice, a matter of minutes). By way of ample compensation, the database is an invitation to browse not only in the Latin medical works...


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pp. 793-795
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