Teaching Medical History: the Impact of Rare Medical Books Collections on Medical Education. A critical Overview in Italy


  • Silvia Iorio Department of Medical-Surgical Sciences and Biotechnologies, University of Rome, Italy
  • Fabiola Zurlini Studio Firmano for the History of Medicine and Science, Italy




Rare medical books, Medical education, Medical bibliographies, Medical objects


This article illustrates the impact of bibliographic collec- tions of medical history (what we can also call “rare medical books”) on medical education. The authors have carried out an analysis of academic experiences – largely Anglo-American – where these resources have been used on the educational level. These collections represent an underestimated and underutilised educational potential, especially in Italy, despite the considerable historical wealth and heritage of books and literature available.Furthermore, the article highlights some possible methodological strategies for a systematic enhancement of the collections in the context of the didactic curriculum of medical studies: the development of a systematic scientific alliance between professor and librarian for a pedagogical use of the collec- tions; the direct involvement in academic programs through didactic planning of the use of historical-medical library material; and the use of historical-medical bibliographies as tools for research and understanding the evolution of medical knowledge, to date little used in historical-medical teaching. With specific reference to countries such as Italy, defined by a noteworthy wealth of historical-medical book collections, there is a potential that paradoxically still awaits to be ade- quately utilised, with the exception of some pioneering and learned experiences. This situation is due to the lack of peda- gogical pathways and approaches elaborated according to a common strategy among teachers, researchers and librarians.