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History of Medicine, Healthcare, and Disease

Guide to locating research on historical health topics and diseases.


Searching Databases for Articles by Topic

Use databases to search for journal articles about a topic.  For the history of health and disease, start with the following databases:

  • America: History and Life (1964-present)
    Citations, with abstracts in English, to social science and humanities literature on all aspects of U.S. and Canadian history, culture, and current affairs from prehistoric times to the present.
  • CINAHL Plus  (the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health) Covers the literature of nursing and allied health for 3,802 journals with indexing back to 1937 for some journals; includes History of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Dental Hygiene.  Use the subheading /history with a topic for the historical aspects of any topic, such as:  tuberculosis/history
  • ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global (1861-present)
    Indexes doctoral dissertations in all disciplines which were completed at accredited North American colleges and universities, and some foreign universities. Searchable by author, discipline, subject keywords, and institution.
  • Embase (1980-present)
    Major biomedical and pharmaceutical database with international coverage, indexing over 7,500 active peer-reviewed journals from more than 90 countries in the following fields: drug research, pharmacology, pharmaceutics, toxicology, clinical and experimental human medicine, health policy and management, public health, occupational health, environmental health, drug dependence and abuse, psychiatry, forensic medicine, and biomedical engineering/instrumentation. There is selective coverage for nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, psychology, and alternative medicine. TIP: when searching historical topics, try a search using this command:  exp history/  AND <your topic>
    (e.g.: exp history/ AND tuberculosis/  )
  • Global Health (1910-present) Indexes publications from more than 130 countries from around the world. Provides coverage of the following aspects of human health and disease: communicable diseases, tropical diseases, parasitic diseases, human nutrition, community and public health, medicinal and poisonous plants. Language of publication listed in brackets after the title.
  • Gale Health and Medicine 
    This multi-source database provides access to the full text of nursing and allied health journals, plus a wide variety of personal health information sources
  • Historical Abstracts  (1954-present)
    Abstracts and citations indexing over 2,000 journals, books, and dissertations. Covers world history (except the U.S. and Canada) since 1450.
  • History of Science, Technology and Medicine (1975-present)
    The definitive international bibliography for the history of science, technology, and medicine and its influence on culture from pre-history to the present.
  • Medline/PubMed (1966-present)
    The premier biomedical database indexing over 3600 journals, produced by the National Library of Medicine. For the history of disease, do a search for articles by MeSH term, then limit the search to the historical aspects: e.g., <MeSH term>/history,  
    • Example:
      [for articles on tuberculosis, limited to history]
    • OR, search by keyword or MeSH term, then use the LIMIT feature to limit your search to the Article type "historical article."
  • New York Times 1851-2007 (Proquest Historical Newspapers)
    Offers full page and article images with searchable full text back to the first issue. The collection includes digital reproductions providing access to every page from every available issue and an index that spans from 1851 to 1993. (See Proquest Central for 1986-present)
  • OmniFile FT (Wilson)
    Multi-disciplinary database providing the complete content - indexing, abstracts, and full text - from six of Wilson's full-text databases: Education Full Text, General Science Full Text, Humanities Full Text, Readers' Guide Full Text, Social Sciences Full Text, and Wilson Business Full Text. Dates of coverage: 1982 to present.
  • Proquest Central (1986-present)
    A multi-disciplinary resource, especially useful for research on contemporary topics or for the beginning stages of a research project. Offers citations from a wide range of English language academic journals, news magazines, and newspapers.

Articles via Print Indexes

Access journal articles for years not covered by bibliographic databases by using print indexes:


  • Nursing Studies Index (1900-1959) /"Prepared by Yale University School of Nursing index staff under the direction of Virginia Henderson." International, national, regional, and local nursing journal index, with selected journals in related fields, such as public health. Unpublished masters' theses not covered. Alphabetical subject arrangement of entries. Many cross references. Author index.
    Call Number: Ref 5 Z 6675 .N7 Y3 1963    
  • IndexCat, the online version of the Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office, U.S. Army (61 volumes in 5 series, 1880-1961), is a comprehensive subject catalog of books, pamphlets, dissertations, reports, and journal articles published from the 17th-20th century and held by NLM. Researchers will find material in IndexCat that is not in the Library catalog (LocatorPlus).
  • Bibliography of the History of Medicine /National Library of Medicine. Cumulated in 6 v.: no. 4 (1964-1969), no. 10(1970-1974); no. 15 (1975-1979), no. 20 (1980-1984), no. 25 (1985-1989), and no. 28 (1990-1994). Beginning 1975 prepared from citations in the National Library of Medicine’s computerized data base HISTLINE. Includes some citations from publications not held by the National Library of Medicine and not appearing in HISTLINE. Request from offsite.