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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 25, 2004 | Vol. 34 No. 9
Celebrating a Dual Legacy of a Johns Hopkins Luminary

Nancy Roderer, director of the Welch Medical Library, and Randall Packard, director of the History of Medicine Institute, in the library's Henry Barton Jacobs Room.

History of Medicine Institute and the Welch Medical Library turn 75

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The legacy of William H. Welch, the School of Medicine's first dean and a Johns Hopkins Hospital founder, will be respectfully honored this month, as two Hopkins institutions that the illustrious physician helped to establish will celebrate milestone birthdays. Both the Institute of the History of Medicine and the Welch Medical Library will turn 75.

The History of Medicine anniversary was celebrated on Oct. 18 at a reception following the Gibride Memorial Lecture held at the School of Medicine's Mountcastle Auditorium. The Welch Medical Library's 75th anniversary celebration will take place from 3 to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 3, also in the Mountcastle Auditorium. The event will feature keynote speeches from Randall Packard, William H. Welch Professor and director of the History of Medicine Institute; Peter Agre, professor of biological chemistry and 2003 Nobel Prize laureate; and David Nichols, vice dean for education at the School of Medicine.

The Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins was the first department of its kind in the United States, and it became a prototype for similar departments within leading medical schools.

Founded in 1929, it was modeled after the History of Medicine and Natural Sciences Department at the University of Leipzig, Germany, where Welch did part of his medical training. Previously, the School of Medicine had a History of Medicine Club, founded in the 1890s, and in place of a library, the school's medical books and journals were housed in several collections located throughout the campus.

Packard, who will talk about the Welch Medical Library's history at the Nov. 3 event, said that it was Welch's vision to create both a permanent History of Medicine Department and a library that would promote scholarship on the history of medicine, disease and the health sciences, and their relationship to society.

Welch, who died in 1934, was the pathologist in chief when The Johns Hopkins Hospital opened in 1889. When the School of Medicine opened in 1893, Welch was named its first dean. Welch also helped organize the School of Public Health, becoming its first director, and founded and served as the first director of the Institute of the History of Medicine.

Packard said that institute today serves the same basic purpose and function that it did 75 years ago under Welch's leadership.

"Essentially, it has always been a place that is dedicated to promoting scholarship in the history of medicine and excellence in the teaching of medical history," Packard said. "The main differences between then and now are the size of the department--we have the largest number of faculty in our history right now--and that we cover a more diverse area, examining medical history in Europe, Africa, Russia and China, in addition to the United States."

Today, the institute, located on the third floor of the Welch Medical Library, houses the largest history of medicine faculty in the United States, with eight full-time members in addition to visiting faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. Research at the institute ranges from the history of early modern medicine, to the history of disease and public health, to the role of genetics in medical education and practice. The institute also is the home of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, the official journal of the American Association for the History of Medicine.

The institute incorporates both the School of Medicine's History of Medicine Department and the Historical Collection, the institute's rare book library. The institute's director also oversees the Alan Mason Chesney Archives and JHMI's Cultural Affairs Program.

The History of Medicine faculty teach a range of courses, with special emphasis on history of medicine in early modern Europe, U.S. medical history in the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of the biomedical sciences in the United States and Russia, the history of disease and public health, and the history of colonial medicine and international health.

Dedicated a day before the History of Medicine Institute opened, the Welch Medical Library was named to honor Welch's role in the library's creation and the founding of the Institute of the History of Medicine. Welch envisioned the library as an epicenter for the retrieval and transmission of the most current clinical, epidemiological and laboratory findings, while also being a repository for the accumulated culture of medicine. Before the library opened its doors, Welch personally traveled to Europe to collect thousands of books to be housed in its stacks.

Its first year, the library had eight staff members and total holdings that amounted to 79,264 volumes. Today, its collections contain more than 400,000 bound volumes, 3,400 e-journals, 500 e-books and 1,300 print journals. The collection covers health, the practice of medicine, nursing, research literature, methodological literature and in-depth analyses of areas influencing biomedicine and health care.

The building itself, located at 1900 E. Monument St., was designed by Edward L. Tilton in the Renaissance style. It has an Indiana limestone exterior, and inside it features seven varieties of marble, painted ceilings, 17th-century Flemish tapestries and an ancient statue of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine.

Welch services the schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health; The Johns Hopkins Hospital; and the Kennedy Krieger Institute, which comprise an estimated customer base of 18,000. In addition to its main branch, the library has six satellites located at the various medical institutions.

Currently, the library is somewhat in a state of change. The plan is to transform the library by the year 2015 into a virtual operation where customers access materials primarily in electronic form; many of the books in the stacks today will be put in a new state-of-the-art facility to be built at APL in the coming year.

Nancy Roderer, director of the library, said that Welch's main branch eventually will become a conference and historical center housing a faculty club, meeting space and expanded facilities for the Historical Collection. The main branch also could become the new home for the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives, currently housed in an office suite at 2024 E. Monument St.

Speaking about this week's anniversary event, Roderer said it's a time to celebrate the past, present and future of the library and its 75 years of excellent service to its customers.

"We try hard, and always have, to be the library that Johns Hopkins deserves," Roderer said. "We serve preeminent schools of medicine, nursing and public health, and we do our best to keep up with them and for them."

For more on Welch Medical Library's history and the Nov. 3 anniversary event, go to


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