Monday, 22 July 2013

Wellcome Institute - digitisation of archival collections

The Wellcome Library was founded on the collections from Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936), a pharmaceutical salesman. Wellcome was interested in the history of medicine as well as related subjects such as such as alchemy, witchcraft, anthropology and ethnography.

In the late 1890s he started forming his book and artefacts collections. He used agents from around the world to sources items and was almost obsessive in the pursuit of collection pieces. His intention was to create both a library and a museum accessible to the public, however he died in 1936 before this was realised. He left most of his estate and collections to a body of trustees, who formed the Wellcome Trust.

Ref: AWNS-19400501-36-6, nurse preparing medicine, 1940,  Sir George Grey Special Collections
The library was housed in different London locations as it developed during the early 1910s. Professional librarians were employed during the 1920s and 1930s and in 1945 it became accessible to readers by appointment only. It wasn't until 1949 that the public were finally able to freely visit the library, which was then known as the Wellcome Historical Medical Library.

The library continued to grow and in 1979,  a Contemporary Medical Archives Centre was formed to collect the archival records of important 20th-century medical organisations and individuals. The Wellcome  Institute has digitised 20 archival collections relating to genetics research and biochemistry and these are now available online. Including: Francis Crick (who discovered the double helix of DNA with with James Watson), Eugenics Society of London (which shows society's change in attitudes towards birth and breeding during the 20th century) and Rosalind Franklin (an X-ray crystallographer whose photograph of a fibre of DNA was critical to the discovery of the double helix structure).

The only restrictions placed on these resources, is that for archival documents less than 100 yrs old, you will need to  register for a login to view this type of information.

Ref: AWNS-19391025-41-5, in the chemistry laboratory, Sir George Grey Special Collections
The archives cover the period from 1863 to 2008, and includes collections from the Wellcome Library and our partner institutions. The archives along with a selection of digitised books also form part of 'Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics', an online research resource for the history of genetics.

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