Tag Archives: National Library of Medicine

Around the Table: Digital Resources

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Since the COVID-19 pandemic restricted physical access to resources for teaching and research this spring, educational, research, and cultural institutions have been busy digitizing their collections and creating digital content to assist their patrons. This is a roundup of some recently digitized recipes-related materials and newly created digital content (like videos, exhibitions, and source guides), compiled with the assistance of the Recipes Project community on social media. Thank you to all who contributed! This list is incomplete, as hearty as it is. Also, some digital items have been around for several years, but have recently received an update or reorganization due to increased web traffic during the pandemic.

Crowdsourced Digital Resources

The Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) is hosting its annual Transcribathon in coordination with the Wellcome Library and the Royal College of Physicians on 4 March. This is a great opportunity to delve into some digitized early modern English recipe books and transcribe the text to benefit researchers and students alike! For details and updates, visit the EMROC website.

The Sifter, an online database of culinary writing, especially cookbooks and recipes, is now publicly available after years of development. Free for all users, it is a tool in finding, identifying, and comparing historical culinary texts. It currently includes over 5,000 works in multiple languages. Registered users can also populate The Sifter with texts and information, in addition to using the database for research.


The William Andrews Clark Jr. Memorial Library launched a web series titled “Bad Taste, where we explore what it truly means to be disgusted.” Each episode documents the process of recreating and tasting a historical recipe which seems “disgusting” to modern palates. Episode 1 is about an eighteenth-century recipe for toast water.

The Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library launched a series of brief collection presentation videos in coordination with the recent conference Food and the Book: 1300 to 1800. Each of the five videos highlights a food-related early modern resource in the Newberry’s collections.

English Heritage’s History at Home presents an array of digital content, especially videos, related to English Heritage sites and programming. The site contains videos on Georgian makeup application, Victorian cooking, and grand historic feasts. The site is also family-friendly, with content like coloring pages for children, and tours of historic sites.

Refashioning the Renaissance’s website contains an engaging archive of the project’s activities and experiments involving historic textiles, dyes, fabric cleaning, and fragrances. Many of the documented experiments include brief video summaries, which can be very helpful in digital classroom settings. The project also has blog posts and a podcast to introduce new audiences to these topics.

Digital Collections and Exhibitions

Transcriptions of over eighty manuscript recipe books at the Folger Shakespeare Library are available for full text search in the Folger Manuscript Transcriptions collection. The collection is added to on a regular basis.

The Library of Congress has long hosted a collection of digitized Community Cookbooks; it has been consistently updated since its originally posting in 2009. Here you can find links to nineteenth- and twentieth-century community cookbooks from the United States. In addition to searching for specific items, you can also sort the collection by place or date.

The National Library of Medicine has gathered links to their digital projects, exhibitions, and collections onto a single page. Here you can find links to their digital collections (which include many digitized manuscript recipe books) and exhibitions ranging from the consumption of intoxicants as medical prescriptions and Food and Enslavement in Early America.

Lifting the Lid: 400 Years of Food and Drink in Scotland is an online exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in 2015. It explored 400 years of Scottish food history, telling the story of Scotland’s relationship with food and drink. Here you can find digitized recipes for turtle soup and curry powder, as well as the library’s Burnfoot family recipe books, which include the same recipes by different people over four generations.

An Image from the Newberry Library’s Digital Collection for the Classroom on Foods of the Columbian Exchange. Thomas Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (1590). Used with permission through a Creative Commons Public Domain license.

The Newberry Library’s Digital Collections for the Classroom contains a wide range of digitized primary source collections for teaching based on collection items at the Newberry. While many collections only mention recipes-related materials in passing, some collections are more explicitly connected, like those on the Discovery of Chocolate, Foods of the Columbian Exchange, and the Medieval Spice Trade.

The New York Academy of Medicine has just posted a new digital collection, Recipes and Remedies: Manuscript Cookbooks. This digital collection boasts eleven fully digitized manuscript recipe books of the NYAM’s physical collection of approximately forty.

The Mexican Cookbook Collection at UTSA Libraries includes a breathtaking array of texts, many available online. Now the collection is even more accessible to public audiences through their recent outreach effort, Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus. Visit the link to find booklets of updated recipes, published in Spanish and English, picked from the collection’s many options.

Digitized Materials

First introduced to the Recipes Project in this 2019 blog post by Rachel Rich and Lisa Smith, the English royal household’s menus for each day when they were in residence at Kew Palace between 1788 and 1801 is now digitized and available on Adam Crymble’s website.

Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has been busily digitizing since the pandemic began and have kept readers updated about their progress through blog posts. Their most recent includes mention of several items of interest to the Recipes Project community, including fragments of medical encyclopedias, alchemical texts, and instruction on the “treatment of eye sores.”

Digital Collection Guides and Compilations of Resources

McMaster University History of Medicine has compiled a list of digital exhibits based at institutions in North America and Europe. This list is organized into an array of medical history topics, ranging from Canadian cookbooks, significant works of the Renaissance, and Ancient and Classical medicine.

The British Library has just published a collection guide for Food History: Archives and Manuscripts. The guide highlights several physical and digital items at the British Library related to food history; however, the guide is limited to the library’s holdings from the seventeenth through twentieth centuries.

Several institutional libraries have created and updated online resources lists for teaching food history. Examples include lists at the Culinary Institute of American, Marshall University, and Virginia Tech.

Thank you to everyone who contributed a digital resource to include in this post! If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

First Monday Library Chat: National Library of Medicine

Founded in 1836 and located in Bethesda, MD, the US National Library of Medicine is the world’s largest medical library, with nearly 22 million items in its collection. Within this is the NLM’s History of Medicine Division, which features over 600,000 printed works (including more than 580 incunabula), manuscripts dating back to the 11th century, and a rapidly growing digital collection of texts, images and audio files. Today I’m chatting with Michael North, Head of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts, and Beth Mullen, Manager of Web Development and Social Media.

Readers of this blog use recipes as a source for talking about larger trends in cultural history, history of science and medicine, and culinary history, among other topics. Can you recommend any relevant subject guides, calendars of manuscripts, or digital resources that could help them start exploring the NLM’s vast collection?

Thank you for this opportunity to tell people about our extensive collection of recipes, cooking and nutrition at the National Library of Medicine.

The best approach to finding our recipes is to delve into our online catalog, http://LocatorPlus.gov, which covers our entire collection. Our earliest printed books about food and cooking include five 15th-century editions of Bartolomeo Platina’s De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine, considered the first printed cookbook, which focuses on medieval and Renaissance dishes. The Library also has three 16th-century editions of the Roman cookbook De Re Coquinaria by the fourth or fifth century gourmand Apicius.

We have digitized over 11,000 books from our collection, primarily 19th-century printed material from the United States and Latin America, but some of it dates back to the thirteenth century. I would recommend that people go to our Digital Collections page and type in “recipes” or “cooking” into the search box at the top- you’ll instantly see hundreds of books with recipes. Because of our bent towards health and medicine, and because we were founded as a military medical library back in the 1830s, you will see an emphasis on cookery for the sick, at home or in the hospital, and on cooking for soldiers. But the variety is vast.

Last month, the NLM hosted the symposium The National Library of Medicine, 1984-2014: Voyaging to the Future, reflecting on the successes and setbacks of the last 30 years and considering opportunities for the future. What changes and opportunities do you see for the History of Medicine Division?

There has been—and there will be for many years to come—an ever-rising expectation of our collections being available in digital form and our related databases being easily searchable and cross-searchable to enable the best possible discovery of materials for research, education, and learning. As HMD voyages into the future as part of the NLM as a whole, we are committed to preserving our collections for future generations, curating them through our exhibitions and our blog, Circulating Now, and generally providing excellent access to them, whether for scholars seeking material for their next book or article, health professionals wishing to explore the history of their field, educators seeking resources for their classroom, or members of the public interested in the history of medicine generally.

Could you tell us about your bound and unbound early manuscript recipe collections?

Early manuscripts in the collection extend back quite far, including the Library’s oldest European manuscript called Recepta Varia, created in England in the late 12th century, containing hundreds of recipes for keeping the body’s humors in balance. You can see a detailed catalogue of our early manuscripts and incunabula in Dorothy Schullian’s A Catalogue of Incunabula and Manuscripts in the Army Medical Library, published in 1950.

Manuscript circa 1150
Recepta Varia (England, ca. 1150). Therapeutic recipes from Byzantine physician Alexander of Tralles’s Collection of Remedies.

Your collection also includes an impressive number of print recipe collections and related items, including formularies, herbals, and domestic guidebooks. Could you give us a couple of highlights? Do any of these items ever feature in your public programming events or digital exhibitions?

Several items in the Digital Collections stand out, including Annie Wittenmyer’s A Collection of Recipes for the Use of Special Diet Kitchens in Military Hospitals, published in St. Louis at the height of the Civil War in 1864, and produced by the U.S. Christian Commission, which took over the kitchens of many of the Union Army’s hospitals. Another interesting book is Mary Anne Boode Cust’s The Invalid’s Own Book: A Collection of Recipes from Various Books and Various Countries, published in New York in 1853; it is the result of having gathered recipes while caring for an invalid family member while living in “The Spanish Main, many of the Dutch, French, Spanish, English West Indian Islands and North America.” The oldest Latin American item containing recipes is the anonymous Novisimo Arte de Cocina, published in Mexico City in 1831 and dedicated to “las Señoritas Mexicanas.”

Novisimo arte de cocina, ó, Escelente colección de las mejores recetas (Mexico City, 1831).
Novisimo arte de cocina, ó, Escelente colección de las mejores recetas (Mexico City, 1831).

We have used our digitization program to supply content for a number of online exhibitions, including our latest one, From DNA to Beer: Harnessing Nature in Medicine and Industry, which focuses on how life forms such as bacteria, yeasts, and molds can cause sickness or restore health, and help produce foods and beverages. Featured in this exhibition website is The Golden Treasure, or, A Choice Selection of Well Tried Domestic, Experimental, and Medical Receipts, published in New York in 1835. Also on view, with a look at food from a different angle,  is James Cutbush’s Lectures on the adulteration of food and culinary poisons, published in Newburg, New York in 1823.

Mary Anne Boode Custs, The Invalid’s Own Book: A Collection of Recipes (1853).
Mary Anne Boode Custs, The Invalid’s Own Book: A Collection of Recipes from Various Books and Various Countries (New-York, 1853).

The NLM recently launched the blog Circulating Now. What was the impulse behind this? Are there any posts that might appeal to our readers?

The National Library of Medicine is a federal institution—its collections belong to the nation—and the Library’s mission includes a strong element of public access.  In the History of Medicine Division we develop and maintain a range of reference and interpretive resources to support the use of the collection by the public, Images from the History of Medicine, IndexCat™, Profiles in Science, and an award winning Exhibition Program to name a few.  Our new blog, Circulating Now, blog is both part of that effort and a portal to these and other resources. It provides opportunities to share timely and relevant information with the public, highlight collection materials, enhance collaborations, and reach new audiences. Your readers might find our posts about chocolate, childhood obesity, beer, smoking, or horse care to be of interest and I hope many others to come in the future.

Thanks, Michael and Beth! More information about how to visit the NLM is available on their website. Next month we’ll be back in England with the Royal College of Physicians.