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Center for the History of Medicine’s Virtual Exhibits Explore Eugenics, Birth Control, Smallpox

Virtual and physical exhibitions at Countway Library’s Center for the History of Medicine weave stories from collection.

Lithograph of the Mount Pleasant Hospitals in Washington, DC, 1862

September 3, 2013—The Center for the History of Medicine (CHM) at Countway Library recently debuted 17 online exhibits on their new platform that weave together fascinating stories illustrated by materials from the collections. 

Most of exhibits are linked to specific events—such as the Center’s largest undertaking, Battle-Scarred: Caring for the Sick and Wounded of the Civil War, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This exhibit—two years in the making—was probably the most gratifying for Jack Eckert, public services librarian, who has been the driving force behind many CHM exhibitions.

Until recently, CHM’s virtual exhibitions existed as static HTML pages—with no interactivity or option to link to the items mentioned from the collections. Andra Langoussis, a Simmons student and part-time assistant in the Center, has been migrating the HTML versions to OnView, the Center's installation of Omeka, an open-source web-publishing system for libraries, museums, archives, scholarly collections and exhibitions.

Eckert said, “The new platform makes our collections accessible and better known.” The site also allows for comments on exhibitions, which, according to Dominic Hall, curator of the Center’s Warren Anatomical Museum, has helped draw researchers to the collection—and even prompted donations: “We haven’t taken any of them,” Hall said, “but someone recently made an inquiry regarding a 19th-century set of amputation instruments.”

Seventeen exhibitions are currently available to view on the new site. “OnView is exciting because now individual items are can be discovered through Google,” said Emily Gustainis, head of collection services. The featured exhibitions rotate, so visitors can delve into different topics, and Langoussis continues to add more to the new site.

“The holdings we have here are incredibly broad and deep,” Hall said. “These exhibitions offer a way to tease out amazing narratives from the collection and provide access not only to entire collections, but also to individual items within them.”

The Center for the History of Medicine is one of the world's leading collections in the history of health care and medicine—containing rare books and journals, archives and manuscripts, photographs and prints and art and artifact collections.

View the Center for the History of Medicine's exhibitions page here.