Historical Collections


The special collections of the Ehrman Medical Library exist to support historical research in the health sciences and to provide appropriate preservation for rare and unusual materials.

Carlisle Collection

The Carlisle Collection is a collection of 3,319 volumes on the history of medicine. It was started by Robert James Carlisle but relevant books from the library’s other collections have since been integrated. The collection encompasses historical works, biographical works, and runs of the major medical directories. Carlisle owned a complete run of The Golden Bough as well as other volumes devoted to religious studies.

The Golden Bough, visible in the picture below on the top row, is a major study in comparative folklore, magic, and religion. It highlights parallels between the superstitions and religious beliefs of early cultures and those of Christianity. It had a great impact on the fields of psychology and literature, and influenced psychoanalytic thinkers like Carl Jung and Eric Ericsson. It is considered an early classic anthropological resource.

Carlisle graduated from Bellevue Hospital Medical College and was a member of the faculty there for 48 years. By some accounts he served as the unofficial historian of both the hospital and the college. In 1893 he wrote “An Account of Bellevue Hospital With a Catalogue of the Staff, 1736–1894."

Carlisle died in 1935, but his collection does not seem to have been acquired by the university until the mid-1950s. It is not known whether the original collection comprised of Carlisle’s own books was bequeathed to NYU by Carlisle himself, or by another family member later on.

Carlisle is an open collection of 3,319 volumes located on the mezzanine. Additional volumes known as the Carlisle reference collection are housed in the library conference room. There are about 330 total volumes there. These include medical directories, catalogues of medical book collections, bibliographies, and histories of medical libraries.

Carlisle books are classed and are easily identifiable by a red dot on the spine just above the call number. The books circulate (except for directories) and can be borrowed for a period of four weeks.

Heaton Collection

The Heaton collection came to NYU in the early 1960s under the stewardship of Gil Claussman, who was then director of Ehrman Medical Library. While Heaton was still living, Claussman arranged for the purchase of the collection, securing a financial donation from a radiologist friend of Heaton’s who was on the School of Medicine staff.

The collection consists of 548 volumes on all aspects of medicine. These books are in excellent condition and include several exceptional items. Pictured here are copies of The Varieties of Religious Experience and other works by William James in their original wrappers.

Heaton was a professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the School of Medicine. He authored a book chronicling the first 125 years of history of the School of Medicine, as well as a work on the early history of the New York Obstetrical Society. He also published on the subject of maternity care.

The Heaton collection, originally consisting of 1,474 volumes, is a closed collection comprised of Claude Heaton’s personal library. It contains some of the best preserved items all our special collections; here one will find books published as early as the 16th century in excellent condition. The collection is mixed, and features both American and European medical writers. There are significant holdings on obstetrics, Heaton’s specialty, as well as books on the history of NYU and Bellevue.

Unlike Ehrman’s other special collections, Heaton books do not have call numbers. Currently they are housed in the locked bookcases in the library administrative office, and do not circulate.

James Collection

The James collection consists of approximately 352 volumes.

The collection seems to have been named after Dorothea Draper James, who was president of the Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing. Little is known about how the collection came here, but there is a plaque on the wall of one library administrative office naming the room “The James Room,” in gratitude to Dorothea Draper James. NYU medical librarians recently discovered that Dorothea Draper James was the granddaughter of Charles Dana, the editor and publisher of the New York Sun. She was also the older sister of the monologist Ruth Draper.

Dorothea Draper James married twice, the second time into the James family (as the wife of William James’ son Harry). She was elected president of the board at the Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing and survived her husband by twenty years. Although her life seems to have been very interesting, librarians have been unable to learn more about her connection to Ehrman Medical Library beyond the fact that the room—and the collection—seems to have been named for her.

The collection originally consisted mostly of volumes published before 1914, but some slightly later material may have been incorporated. It has been growing gradually since its acquisition. In 2002, the collection had approximately 1,495 volumes. In the last five years a total of thirty additional volumes were incorporated into the collection. In 2007, the library integrated an additional 357 volumes that were given to Ehrman by the Waldmann Dental Library. The James collection consisted of 1,882 volumes until 2012, when the collection was condensed to 352 volumes.

The books are housed in the James room within the library’s administrative offices. Titles are classed, but the collection does not circulate and may not be photocopied.

Conservation Issues

One major issue with all special collections is the preservation and maintenance of the books themselves. Materials need to be treated and stored in a way that ensures their usability for generations of researchers to come.

In the case of the Ehrman Special Collections, the older materials in the Heaton and the Carlisle collections are generally in acceptable condition, as they were cared for by former owners over a long period of years. However, volumes in the James collection, although of high quality in terms of content, are often not in the best physical condition. Additionally, many of the James volumes are of very large size and can be difficult to store properly.

The book shown here is a surgical anatomy of the head and neck written by Granville Sharp Pattison, the chair of anatomy here at the School of Medicine. This volume is an especially important work in regard to the history of the NYU School of Medicine and definitely requires attention. To this end, Ehrman Library is meeting with conservators and will continue work to preserve these materials into the future.