The June 2016 Resource of the Month is “Images from the History of Medicine (IHM)” from the National Library of Medicine (NLM). This free online database offers an astounding 70,000+ downloads of historic photographs, postcards, portraits, posters, and caricatures from the Prints and Photographs Collection of NLM’s History of Medicine Division. The images encompass medical events and practices as early as the 15th century and as recent as Doctors Without Borders! However, the overwhelming impact of this collection lies in its images from earlier times – long before each moment of our lives was digitally captured for posterity. The database and website has been recently updated and re-launched and now enables users to download higher quality images (in TIFF or .jpeg formats) than the previous version.
The IHM is easily accessed https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/ihm/index.html. Click on “Search IHM/Browse Images” in order to “Browse All.” A drop-down menu at the left of the screen lists the number of portraits, posters, postcards, and pictorial works, while thumbnails of all 71,081 images are displayed on a series of screens. With so many choices, you’ll want to use the Search box at upper right under “Search IHM Images.” For example, the term “nurses” pares the number of images to a generous 2,000; and “polio” selects a mere 40 images – among these are pictures of Jonas Salk and a colorful 1986 vaccination poster from Francophone Africa. The search function also delivers classic images of Gregor Mendel, Human Genome Project posters, and full-color scientific journal covers.
In addition to searching IHM, you can click on “Images on Flickr Commons,” opening a photo stream with pictures, architectural drawings, and posters that include medieval images of dancing skeletons, an early Red Cross bloodmobile, and a hand-written diary ca. 1700 with remedies for “bluddy flux” and deafness. Click an image to enlarge it and display its date and source. A small collection of “Albums” is also fascinating to explore.
For best use of the site, register your user name and password at no fee, and start a user account. You can save your work and preferences, choose default settings, create a Media Group to organize and share images, search external media (including Flickr), and use special effects – all is clearly explained under FAQs: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/about/faqs/ihmfaqs.html.
The quality and quantity of these medical-related images are hard to equal, especially the wealth of hard-to-find pictures from past centuries. This site is an incredible resource for term papers, PowerPoint talks, and class presentations in health, history, sociology, or international studies. Topics of special interest might be wartime medical care, the spread of immunization, public health service, women’s role in medicine, the Human Genome Project, or international access to health care. NLM’s IHM collection is a stellar example of pictures that truly are worth 1,000 words.
About the Creators:
The National Library of Medicine, in Bethesda, Maryland, is part of the National Institutes of Health. The NLM has valued information innovation since its founding in 1836. As the world’s largest biomedical library, NLM makes its collection of prints available and produces electronic resources searched by millions of people each year. Their IHM database of prints and photographs is maintained to help users find illustrations for private study, scholarship, and research. NLM does not own image copyrights or charge fees for their use, but asks that published images credit: "Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine."