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Primary Sources for History of Health in the Americas

Primary Sources at Brown -- Alcoholism

The Chester H. Kirk Collection on Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous: The 15,000 items purchased initially with Chester Kirk's gift were amassed over two decades by Charles Bishop, an antiquarian bookseller and author of several research tools on Alcoholics Anonymous and related groups. Chronologically, the collection ranged from a leaf from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle depicting a drunken Noah to late 20th century studies. The formats were equally diverse: in addition to printed books, pamphlets there were periodicals, newspapers, dealers' catalogues, posters, audiovisual materials, photographs, 18th century engravings and 19th and 20th century sheet music. American in emphasis, the collection provided rich resources for the study of the temperance and prohibitions movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, hospital-based treatment of addictive behavior, and the 20th century evolution of self-help programs under the leadership of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Dr. Bob Archives - The Robert Holbrook Smith Collection of Books, Manuscripts and Memorabilia: This collection consists of over five thousand items, including two hundred books, dozens of pieces of memorabilia, and several hundred manuscripts (original and photocopied) and photographs once the property of "Dr. Bob," the legendary co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. The collection was purchased in November 1999 from Sue Smith Windows, Dr. Smith's daughter and donated by Esmond Harmsworth, James Abernathy, Christopher Ohrstrom, Mark Ohrstrom, and Richard Ohrstrom. Books, all from Smith's personal library, deal with religious and spiritual topics as well as the problems of addiction and recovery.

The Ernest Kurtz Collection on Alcoholism: Assembled by Ernest Kurtz, beginning in the 1970s. the major strengths of this collection are interviews with and testimonials by alcoholics, and talks given at various workshops. Subjects covered include personal narratives by individuals suffering and recovering from alcoholism. Materials include audio tapes and cassettes.

The Clarence Snyder A.A. Collection: This collection was acquired in 1999 from Mitchell R. Klein, CASAC.  The collection contains correspondence, audio tapes and other materials. See list of audiotapes.

Morals and venereal disease. Alcohol, Temperance & Prohibition: A Brown University Library Digital Collection. 

Primary Sources at Brown -- Medical

Rhode Island Medical Society (RIMS) Library: Two important groups of rare or unusual materials collected by the Rhode Island Medical Society in its 175 years can be found in Special Collections at the Hay Library. 

The first group comprises the contents of the Society's De Jong Rare Book Room plus titles selected from its general collection. Here are medical classics such as Pliny's Historia Naturale (Venice, 1501), Galen's works (Venice, 1525), Avicenna's Liber Canonis(Venice, 1555), Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Amsterdam, 1642) and works by Celsus, Harvey, Boerhaave, Pare, Morgagni and Osler along with other authoritative texts including the ubiquitousAnatomy, Descriptive and Surgical (London, 1858) of Henry Gray. The collection includes numerous 18th and 19th century medical tracts published in America from Nicholas Culpeper'sPharmacopoeia Londinensis (Boston, 1720) to the "ether controversy" of the 1850's and beyond. There is also a substantial selection of pamphlets dealing with homeopathy, hydropathy, naturopathy and other less orthodox medical doctrines more frequently practiced in the 19th century.

The second group consists of the Society's own records, and includes a collection of historically significant antique medical instruments, given to the Society by William James Burge, M.D. (1831-1921), a fellow of the Society since 1874, as well as by other members of the Society over the course of many decades.

Supplementing these historical medical materials are two associated literary collections compiled by physicians, the James Henry Davenport collection (comprising books on medical history, medical biography and the extra-curricular writings of physicians), and the personal library of Providence Superintendant of Health Charles Value Chapin (consisting primarily of Greek and Latin classics in English translation).

Meyer Saklad Collection on Surgical Anaesthesia: Compiled by Rhode Island anaesthesiologist Meyer Saklad, this collection consists of more than 300 books and publications which trace the development of surgical anesthesia, focusing on the period from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. The collection does include a smattering of earlier material, including a 1588 edition of Hippocrates.

Charles Reitman Pharmacopoeia Collection: Charles Reitman, a graduate of the Rhode Island College of Pharmacology, compiled this collection over the course of his long career as a Providence pharmacist and chemist. The 1,500 titles in the collection cover materia medica worldwide, including works on medicinal plants, homeopathic remedies, and formularies for the making of medicines and drugs from the 17th through the 20th centuries.

Primary Sources at Brown -- Cuban Slavery

Cuban Slavery Documents collection: This set of documents relate to the institution of slavery, the slave trade, and the use of indentured servants in Cuba during the 19th century. Cuba participated heavily in the slave trade to obtain cheap labor for the sugar plantations beginning in the 16th century. Cuba stopped officially participating in the slave trade in 1867 but the institution of slavery was not abolished on the island until 1886. The demand for cheap labor never abated of course, and plantation owners sought other ways of obtaining workers. They followed the lead of the British and the French by switching to importing contract laborers (indentured servants), called colonos. Free people, either voluntarily or through coercion, signed a work contract that stipulated the term of service and the pay they would receive. In theory, the colonos could leave the employ of their owners at the end of the term of service, but in practice the conditions for the colonos were not much different than those endured by the slave population. The majority of the colonos came from China (Chinese Coolies) but they also imported people from the Canary Islands, Mexico, and Africa. This collection contains official letters, death certificates, birth certificates, legal cases, work contracts, an autopsy report, and inventories relating to the institution of slavery, slaves, and indentured servants in Cuba. Many of the documents refer to the Chinese people brought to Cuba as indentured servants or contract laborers.

Schirmer Collection on Anti-Imperialism: This collection, assembled by Daniel Boone Schirmer, currently numbers 964 titles dealing with the Anti-Imperialist movement of 1898 and its repercussions in United States, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Filipino history. It deals with the debate within the United States during and after the Spanish-American War over the appropriate relationship between the English-speaking and Spanish speaking Americas.

Primary Sources at Brown - Digital, Women Studies

Primary Sources at Brown - Digital, Images and Books

Brown Digital Repository: The Brown Digital Repository (BDR) is a place to gather, index, store, preserve, and make available digital assets produced via the scholarly, instructional, research, and administrative activities at Brown.

Flowers for those you love. Richard Brautigan. Harris Broadsides, John Hay Library.


Latin American Travelogues:  A digital collection of Latin American travel accounts written in the 16th-19th centuries held at the John Hay Library.

Image from En Haïti; planteurs d'autrefois, nègres d'aujourd'hui. Aubin, Eugène, b. 1863. Paris : A. Colin: 1910. Latin American Travelogues.


John Carter Brown Library Archive of Early American Images: Graphic representations of the colonial Americas from 1492 to ca. 1825.

Isola spagnvola. [Navigazioni e viaggi. Volume 3] Terzo volume delle navigationi et viaggi. Giovanni Battista Ramusio. In Venetia [Venice] : Nella Stamperia de Giunti, M D LVI [1556].  JCB Archive of Early American Images.


Haiti Collection: The John Carter Brown Library holds one of the world's great collections relating to Haiti. Our rare books, maps and newspapers tell the story of the founding of the French colony of Saint Domingue (once the most lucrative colony in the Americas), its demise through the Haitian Revolution (the world's only successful slave revolution) and the founding of Haiti in its place. By providing access to this collection, the JCB hopes to stimulate interest in Haiti's remarkable history.