Browse Exhibits (35 total)

A Broad Foundation

Conceiving the Pill

In 1883, Harvard Medical School moved into new quarters on Boylston Street in downtown Boston, and for the first time in a century, the school was able to provide adequate laboratory and clinical space for its students. A promotional brochure from that period describes the rationale behind the new building as “to secure for each student that direct personal supervision and instruction, forming such a marked feature of the courses offered, especially in the thorough laboratory training, which is so essential in securing a broad foundation for future clinical work.”

This “broad foundation” has been the hallmark of Harvard’s efforts in medical education from the origins of the institution in the late 18th century to the present day. Now, in the 21st century, with the centennial of the dedication of the Longwood campus and the opening of the New Research Building on Avenue Louis Pasteur, Harvard's tradition of providing excellence in medical education and research continues. This exhibit, “A Broad Foundation,” traces the evolving history of medical education at Harvard—its faculty, students, curricula, and facilities—from the establishment of the school and its earliest days down to its current flourishing state.

A Family Practice: The Warrens of Harvard Medical School

A Family Practice

The history of medicine in Boston and, in particular, at Harvard Medical School is often a sort of family chronicle. The same famous names—Putnam, Shattuck, Bowditch, Storer, Cheever, Wyman—appear over the years as members of new generations assume roles in the profession of their parents and grandparents.

But there is one Boston family—the Warrens—whose contributions range from the foundation and first lectures of Harvard Medical School and the construction of its campus to the development of innovative surgical techniques and the performance of one of the most famous operations in American medical history. The research, writing, teaching, and medical and surgical labors of the five celebrated Doctors Warren have left an indelible mark on the development of Harvard Medical School and indeed shaped the very course of medicine and medical education in this country over the past two hundred years. This fall, as the Countway Library of Medicine assumes responsibility for the exhibits, specimens, and instruments of the Warren Museum, a display of rare books, manuscripts, photographs, artwork, and artifacts from the collections of Harvard Medical School and the Boston Medical Library has been mounted at the Countway Library as a tribute to the members of this illustrious family and their tradition—in every sense, a family practice—of contributions to American medicine.

A Moment's Insight

An online exhibit partnering artifacts and osteological preparations from the Warren Anatomical Museum with the modern and historical photographic techniques of the student artists of the Art Institute of Boston. The exhibit was derived from a November 2011 photography workshop and a May/June 2012 physical display of the artifacts and photographs at the Warren Museum.

A Monumental Success: The Centennial of the Harvard Medical School Quad

A Monumental Success

When the Harvard Medical School moved into its new home on Boylston Street in the fall of 1883, the building was thought to be sufficient for "many generations" of students, but in fact the limitations of the Boylston building and the increasing number of both students and faculty prompted the decision to move and build again. By the opening of the 20th century, the Medical School had nearly 600 matriculants—nearly three times the number in 1883—and a faculty of 40 with over 100 additional instructors, lecturers, and assistants in 24 departments—with insufficient laboratory space for many of them. A new plan of study, adopted in 1899, increased the amount of student laboratory work as well.

At its meeting on February 3, 1900, the Faculty of Medicine resolved that, rather than spread the school out physically, "the interests of Medical Education in its broadest sense will be best served by the greatest practicable concentration in one locality of the buildings devoted to instruction, since by this means teachers will be helped, students stimulated, loss of time prevented, and a great dimunition of expense secured both for plant and for maintenance." The Faculty also proposed that a hospital be created under the care of the Medical School, following the model of Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore. Later that spring, the Faculty and the Harvard Corporation agreed to purchase the Francis estate for $600,000. This parcel of land—over 26 acres between Longwood Avenue and Francis Street— would be the site of the new medical campus.

Battle-scarred: Caring for the Sick and Wounded of the Civil War


Why, after 150 years, do we continue to find the American Civil War so compelling? Certainly the nature of the conflict and the appalling number of casualties--some 620,000 killed in action or dead of wounds or disease--have engrossed the attention of historians, researchers, and the public since the war itself. The war was also fought on home soil, with many battlefields near American cities and towns. Even more gripping, perhaps, is the array of documentation that survives from the war. Hundreds of books and memoirs of wartime experiences and military life have been published over the years, but there are also rich collections of official government and military records, personal letters and diaries, photographs, newspapers and periodicals, clothing, artifacts, relics, weapons and armaments, memorabilia, artwork, poetry, and music, documenting every conceivable aspect of the Civil War, from men and women, Union and Confederate, soldiers and civilians, that offer local and personal dimensions to an epic national political and military struggle.

Battle-scarred examines the Civil War from a particular perspective, drawing on the rich library and museum resources of the Countway's Center for the History of Medicine, to commemorate those who died in battle and also document the experiences of the wounded and the ill and the men and women who cared for them on the battlefield, in hospitals and prison camps, and on the home front.

Bigelow-Wallis and Warren-Kaula Teaching Watercolors

Bigelow and Warren Watercolors

The Bigelow-Wallis and Warren-Kaula watercolor collection is a series of works in Warren Anatomical Museum originally compiled by the Harvard Medical School Department of Anatomy for use in the anatomical lecture hall. The average size of the watercolors is 69 cm wide x 100 cm high and the works are mounted with metal grommets in the corners for hanging. The bulk of the collection is the 189 works commissioned by Harvard Medical School Professor of Surgery Henry Jacob Bigelow from lithographer Oscar Wallis between 1849 and 1854. The remaining 46 watercolors in the collection were painted circa 1894 by William Jurian Kaula for Harvard Medical School Moseley Professor of Surgery John Collins Warren. The Department of Anatomy combined the two physician-artist collaborations into one teaching series within the Warren Anatomical Museum in the early 20th century. 

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Body of Knowledge, A History of Anatomy (in 3 parts)

Body of Knowledge

Submissions from the Center of the History of Medicine to the physical and electronic components of the exhibition, Body of Knowledge, A History of Anatomy (in 3 parts), on display from March 6, 2014 to December 5, 2014 at the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments and in the companion Gallery Guide

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Charles Lowell's Hip: An Early Case of (alleged) Medical Malpractice

Charles Lowell infamously suffered a well-publicized and controversial hip dislocation. A young man at the time of the incident in 1821, he charged his physicians with malpractice and negligence, arguably helping to start a wave of medical lawsuits. The case was filled with speculation and accusation, but never arrived at a satisfactory conclusion. Years after the court was adjourned, however, Lowell stood to testify as the final witness when, upon his death, his pelvis was prepared and donated. Never pleased with the judicial resolution to drop the case, he advocated for a post-mortem examination in the hopes that the bone could expose all unanswered questions, and prove once and for all that he had been wronged.

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Complementary Therapies: Masterworks of Chinese and Botanical Medicine

Complementary Therapies Copmlementary Therapies

While large numbers of Americans are now seeking health care and therapies outside of mainstream Western medicine, there is a long and rich history of alternative medical treatments. Botanical medicine, which uses herbs and natural remedies, and traditional Chinese medicine, which combines botany with practices like acupuncture and moxibustion, are two of branches of alternative medicine – "complementary therapies" – that are believed to work alongside conventional treatment. Complementary Therapies brings to light some of the treasures of the collections of the Center for the History of Medicine and includes the first Western texts dealing with Chinese medicine and acupuncture; a copy of John Gerard's 1636 Herball; rare publications from the Thomsonian botanical movement; Lam Qua watercolor studies of tumor patients treated in Canton in the 1840s; and a model of Aké, a Chinese youth with a parasitic twin, and an account of his case from 1821.

Conceiving the Pill

Conceiving the Pill

The work of John C. Rock was central to the development of the science of reproductive medicine. His biographers Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner point out that in 1926, when Rock became the director of the sterility clinic at the Harvard-affiliated Free Hospital for Women,

"Surgeons could view a woman’s pelvic organs only if they cut open her abdomen… Doctors had no way to predict accurately when a woman would ovulate. Medical researchers and practitioners understood only dimly the process in which a human sperm fertilized an egg. They knew even less about such things as the length of time it took the newly fertilized egg to find its way into the uterus and successfully implant. And although scientists knew about the existence of the so-called female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, they had not yet figured out how to isolate the latter or synthesize either of them." (The Fertility Doctor, 3)

This exhibit, Conceiving the Pill, follows the work of John C. Rock and other notable scientists like Arthur T. Hertig and Gregory Pincus as they endeavored to conceive and deliver the birth control pill.