X Ray photograph showing the exact location of the heart in the chest.

NLM Collections Tour: Matters of the Heart

Welcome to a virtual tour of the historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Today we are featuring collections related to the heart.

These collections document the history of social and scientific efforts to understand human anatomy and the health of the human heart. They preserve the stories of those whose lives were shaped by diseases affecting the heart and efforts to improve heart health.

NLM staff have selected these highlights for you to explore. We welcome questions! Use the comment feature below to share your thoughts.

Selections from NLM Digital Collections

NLM Digital Collections is the National Library of Medicine’s free online repository of biomedical resources including books, manuscripts, and still and moving images.


Images from the History of Medicine (IHM), within NLM Digital Collections, features multiple topics on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart disease.

Explore many more related images in NLM Digital Collections under these search terms:

Heart SurgeryHeart Disease Prevention | Valentines | Anatomy

You can also explore public domain images from the NLM prints and photographs collection on Flickr.

Books and Journals

The National Library of Medicine has digitized tens of thousands of books containing a wide variety of historical information about the anatomy, health, and disease of the heart.

  • Isagogae Breves by Jacopo Berengario da Carpi. Second edition. Bologna, 1523.

Jacopo Berengario da Carpi was born about 1460, the son of a surgeon. While young, he was a student of the noted printer and editor, Aldus Manutius. He devoted a great deal of his time to anatomy and prided himself on having dissected several hundred bodies. He died in Ferrara in about 1530 having amassed a considerable fortune, which he bequeathed to the Duca Alphonso I of Ferrara, husband of Lucrezia Borgia.

Berengario was an eager and tireless observer, and he is considered to be the author of the first anatomical illustrations made from nature. This second edition of Isagogae breves, has an extra four illustrations of the heart and two of the brain, with some variations in the woodcuts showing the muscles. Learn more in Historical Anatomies.

As may be seen by the Table of Contents, many practical questions continually arising in the practitioner’s and student’s daily routine are considered in this work, and an effort is made to meet many of his perplexing problems in cardiology. Therapeusis, diagnosis with and without instruments, graphic methods, arrhythmias, physiology, cardiac disease (including syphilis), cardiac neurosis, the heart in various extra-cardiac conditions, diet, exercise, etc., are fully dealt with. Embryology, physiology, pathology and the conduction system are given proper emphasis. The newer viewpoints of cardiac function in terms of respiration, blood oxygenation and blood chemistry have also been incorporated.

Cover of a booklet with an illustration of the heart and circulatory system.This booklet was issued in conjunction with an exhibit on “American Contributions to Cardiovascular Medicine and Surgery” at the National Library of Medicine. September-December 1986. The exhibit was prepared by the Library’s history of Medicine Division with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute as a companion activity to the X World Congress on Cardiology, held in Washington, DC, in September 1986. The assistance of W Bruce Fye, M.D., and of the American College of Cardiology in preparing the exhibit is gratefully acknowledged.

Historical Films

“The energy expended by the heart in the course of a whole day could, if he were not in a hurry, lift a person weighing 150 pounds to the very top of the Empire State Building.”

This we learn from Wonder Engine of the Body (the Human Heart), a 1951 film presenting both animated and live action sequences of heart activity. With the help of mechanical analogies, this title, produced by Bray Studios in concert with the American Heart Association, gives a vivid conception of the magnitude—and magnificence—of the human heart’s work.

The work of National Heart Institute researchers Dr. Nina Starr Braunwald and her mentor, Dr. Glenn Morrow, was captured live on film in the 1950s and ‘60s by NIH filmmakers. A set of nearly 80 reels documenting their work on prosthetic heart valves, heart pumps, and other devices is held at NLM. They are as yet undigitized, but were studied and described by NLM/HMD contractor Rachel James in the blog post What is That? Heart Surgery on Film.

Web Archive

Of the news and information that is created and shared digitally over the web, what will remain to be examined one, ten, or even fifty years from now? This content is in a constant state of change and at high risk for loss.

The NLM web archive collections include information related to concerns about the long term impact of disease and disaster on heart health. Explore heart related web collections in:

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) | September 11: Health Effects and Policy | More . . .

NLM Exhibitions and Events

The National Library of Medicine curates stories about the social and cultural history of science and medicine that enhance awareness of and appreciation for the collections and health information resources of the National Library of Medicine. This work encourages enthusiasm for history and nurtures young professionals in the fields of history, the health professions, and biomedical sciences.

Explore scholarship at NLM around the history of medical explorations of the heart.

Profiles in Science

A black and white photographic portrait of DeBakey smiling, at his desk in surgeon's cap and white coat.The Michael E. DeBakey Papers—Michael E. DeBakey (1908–2008) was a legendary American surgeon, educator, and medical statesman. His work transformed cardiovascular surgery, raised medical education standards, and informed national health care policy. He pioneered dozens of operative procedures such as aneurysm repair, coronary bypass, and endarterectomy, which routinely save thousands of lives each year, and performed some of the first heart transplants. His inventions included the roller pump (a key component of heart-lung machines) as well as artificial hearts and ventricular assist pumps. He was a driving force in building Houston’s Baylor University College of Medicine into a premier medical center, where he trained several generations of top surgeons from all over the world.

Surgeons working closely in an operating room.The Adrian Kantrowitz Papers—Adrian Kantrowitz (1918–2008) is best known for performing the first human heart transplant in the United States, three days after South Africa’s Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first such operation in December 1967. For most of his career however, Kantrowitz was one of America’s most prolific surgeon-inventors, whose innovations included cardiac pacemakers, mechanical left heart devices, and the intraaortic balloon pump, which is still used in thousands of cardiac patients each year. His pioneering research consistently explored and elucidated the potentials as well as the limitations of bioelectronic technology.

A white man in a white coat speaks to a room of men in white coats.Clarence Dennis Papers—American surgeon Clarence Dennis (1909–2005) invented one of the first heart-lung bypass machines, and in 1951 was the first to use it to perform open-heart surgery. Heart-lung bypass technology—perfected by Dennis, John Gibbon, and others—eliminated the major barriers to surgical treatment of cardiovascular conditions. During his 60-year career, Dennis’s surgical research produced a wide range of surgical techniques and tools, and important contributions to vascular physiology. He was also an outstanding medical educator, first at the University of Minnesota, then at SUNY Downstate Medical Center (where he chaired the department of surgery for 20 years), and finally at SUNY Stony Brook.

A top down view of a surgery in progress.Henry Swan Papers—American surgeon Henry Swan II (1913–1996) pioneered the use of hypothermia—cooling patients to a very low body temperature—to make possible the first open-heart surgeries. Between 1953 and 1963, while heart-lung bypass technology was still being perfected, Swan performed hundreds of successful cardiac repairs using hypothermia to temporarily stop the heart. His clinical work built on his extensive surgical lab research, which made major contributions to medical understanding of the physiological and metabolic processes of hypothermia, shock, and hemorrhage. These studies ultimately led him to explore the mechanisms of hibernation and other dormant states during his later career.

NLM History Talks

On a three person panel, two men watch a woman speak.

Other Resources on the History of the Heart

Rare Books

Illustration of four arms showing the locations of veins and arteries.
In De Motu Cordis, chap. 13, using a ligature on the arm, Harvey demonstrates how the valves and arteries are interconnected, and how the valves in the veins allow blood
to flow back toward the heart.

De Motu Cordis by William Harvey (1578-1657). Frankfurt, 1628

A study in contrasts, De motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus represented the triumph of the “new science” of the seventeenth century, a science in which observation and experiment took precedence over classical textual authority, no matter how ancient. However, as explained in the crucial eighth chapter of De motu cordis, Harvey’s own Aristotelian view of the primacy of the heart and of the importance of circular motion rested, in the end, on a metaphorical view of the world, in which Nature (“who does nothing in vain”) endlessly replicates herself.


Dr. Helen Taussig Biography, Changing the Face of Medicine

Helen Brooke Taussig is known as the founder of pediatric cardiology for her innovative work on “blue baby” syndrome. In 1944, Taussig, surgeon Alfred Blalock, and surgical technician Vivien Thomas developed an operation to correct the congenital heart defect that causes the syndrome. Since then, their operation has prolonged thousands of lives, and is considered a key step in the development of adult open heart surgery the following decade.

Lesson Plan

Your Beating Heart, lesson plan for grades 3-4, Changing the Face of Medicine

There are three lessons in this group. The first two provide students with the opportunity to learn about the circulatory system and conduct an experiment where they take their pulses after different types of activity. During the third lesson, a pediatrician explains how she checks a patient’s heart and the ways that a healthy lifestyle (food and exercise) can keep students’ hearts healthy.

Finding Aids to Archive and Manuscript Collections

Finding aids are the main access point and research support tool provided for the Archives and Modern Manuscripts, Prints and Photographs, and Films and Videos collections. These aids offer detailed descriptions of large aggregations of materials. Many of the collections contain content related to surgery, education, research, policy, and advocacy around matters of the heart including:

  • Howard Bartner Papers, 1958–2002—Illustrations, photographs, negatives, slides, and correspondence document the artistic career of Howard Bartner, a NIH medical illustrator. The bulk of the collection includes pen and ink sketches, paintings, line drawings, and chalk illustrations and includes 66 artworks on the anatomical, surgical, physiological, pathological views of the heart and related medical devices.
  • Bernadine Healy Papers, 1958–2010—Bernadine Healy (1944–2011) was a cardiologist who served as the first female director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1991 and 1993. In addition to her work at Johns Hopkins University and the Cleveland Clinic, she also served as CEO of the American Red Cross and President of the American Heart Association. She is well-known for her work helping to establish equality for women in health policy and research, notably establishing the Women’s Health Initiative at NIH.
  • John H. Gibbon Papers, 1930–1981—Dr. John H. Gibbon invented the first artificial heart-lung machine and performed the first human open-heart operation. The collection includes material on this subject as well as some biographical and genealogical data.
  • American College of Cardiology archives, 1929–2008—Correspondence, memoranda, minutes, reports, printed materials, publications, photographs, audio tapes and recordings, electronic records, and memorabilia document the many corporate activities of the American College of Cardiology. Produced by the American College of Cardiology’s executive offices.
  • Edward D. Freis Papers, 1926–2004—A pioneer in the study of hypertension, Edward D. Freis, M.D., is best known for leading the 5-year Veterans Administration Cooperative Study on Antihypertensive Agents which proved the value of antihypertensive drugs in decreasing morbidity and mortality; this study was the first multi-clinic, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of its kind. Freis’s collection of articles, photographs, scrapbooks, and subject files chronicle his sixty-year career in the study of hypertension and hemodynamics.
  • “The artificial heart: a case study of social and ethical issues posed by advanced medical technology” Collection, 1982–1987—Interviews, interview summaries, testimonies, audiocassettes, field notes, and background articles created and collected by Judith Swazey and Renee Fox as part of their study of the Jarvik-7 artificial heart’s development and clinical use.

Current Health Information


For current, trusted information to help you manage your own heart health please visit NLM’s online health information resource MedlinePlus.

NIH Lectures

The NLM Collection Tours series provides highlights from the diverse historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) on a variety of contemporary topics in health and medicine. Some library services, such as our scan on demand service are temporarily suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but staff are available to answer questions.

One comment

  1. Hello, my name is Eric Bailey and I want to make you aware of that I was the SPEAKER at NLM in 2002 during African American History Month. The title of my presentation was, “Tracing the Roots of Black Folk Medicine.” I have posted the lecture on YouTube because I am CELEBRATING its 20th Anniversary. Please let me know if you would like more information about my time with NLM.

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