Digitisation of Leeds’ Cookery and Health Sciences Historical Collections

As part of the UK Medical Heritage Library (UK-MHL) digitisation project, jointly funded by Jisc and the Wellcome Library, the University of Leeds library is contributing content from its Health Sciences Historical Collection and Cookery collection.

Cookery collection, Leeds University Library
Cookery collection, Leeds University Library

This is the third in a series of blog posts, following the Royal College of Physicians’ (RCP) and Glasgow University’s posts, describing the collections that will soon be digitised.

Leeds University Library is one of the major academic research libraries of the UK, attracting students and scholars from around the world to its rich and extensive print, online and manuscript collections. With over 3 million print and 2 million manuscript and archival documents, the collections at Leeds underpin a wide range of research in the medical humanities, including work on the history of science and medicine, medical ethics and social history.

Leeds will contribute extensively to the UK-MHL project, drawing in particular on material from our Health Sciences Historical Collection and our Cookery Collection.

The Health Sciences Historical Collection has its origins in the library of the Leeds Medical School, founded in 1831. In the 1860s the library of the Leeds General Infirmary was also transferred to the Medical School, enriching the collection with volumes dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, mostly in English but also key French, German and Latin texts. The Medical School collection was then added to that of the fore-runner of the University, the Yorkshire College of Science when the two bodies merged in 1874. Both institutions sprang from the urbanisation of Leeds and its environs but also further contributed to that ongoing process.

The Health Sciences Historical Collection includes a number of manuscripts, including personal papers associated with prominent Leeds medical practitioners from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. The works of local authors with national reputations such as the surgeons, William Hey (1736-1819) and later Thomas Pridgen Teale (1801-1867) are represented as well as works by leaders of the profession such as the surgeon Astley Cooper (1768-1841). The material associated with Yorkshire is rare if not unique and such material is important in building a national picture of developments in areas such as public health.

A unique contribution from Leeds for this project is the inclusion of books from our large Cookery Collection since there is a close relationship with the theme of medicine and health. This is one of 5 collections at Leeds ‘designated’ by Arts Council England, and consists of thousands of books and manuscripts on food and cookery, dating from the 15th century to the present. These works frequently include material on informal treatments and medication as well as incorporating other content relating to medicine and health.

The depth and breadth of the collection means that the material has far reaching impact beyond the subject of cookery. It includes many works on food production, on food’s medicinal uses, on gardening and other food-related topics. A consistent feature of the Cookery Collection is its inclusion of long sequences of editions of outstandingly popular works through which it is possible to trace the evolution of the text over time and thus to observe innovation and changes in taste and fashion, as well as developments in the book trade.

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