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NLM Collections Tour: Climate and Health

Welcome to a virtual tour of the historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Today we are featuring materials which speak to a key issue of our time, and of previous times: the relationship between climate and health.   

NLM holds a vast collection of material which testifies to the history of federal investment in climate research, and the relationship between climate and health, which can contextualize current research in addition to federal and related engagements on this issue. The history reflected by these collections demonstrates how 200 years of accurate, deliberate research and reporting preceded today’s modern, data-driven research to enable climate scientists to study climate data and speak authoritatively about climate change in connection to its human and environmental impacts.  Today NIH supports this effort through its Climate Change and Health Initiative.

Thanks to Kristina Dunne, one of our Pathways Interns, for her curation of this tour! We welcome you to add your own favorites or ask us 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, illustrate the physiological impacts climate can cause on health.

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

Climate| Weather | Environment | Atmosphere

Rare Books and Journals

The National Library of Medicine has digitized thousands of books containing a wide variety of historical information about climate and its effects on environmental and human health. For example, the following items focus on the direct relationship climate has on causing and curing diseases.  

Medicine in the Americas, 1610–1920 Collection

This group of materials consists of selected digitized English language monographs which demonstrate the evolution of American medicine from colonial frontier outposts of the 17th century to research hospitals of the 20th century. Here are a few items relating to climate and health:

Historical Films

Sources of Air Pollution (USPHS, 1962) is one of many films produced or supported by the US government in the 1960s depicting air and water pollution and the growing environmental and human ruin they cause. The 1960s marked a turning point in the expansion of popular awareness about environmental problems. Sources is one of six titles, all made between 1960 and 1972, discussed in “Darkening Day: Air Pollution Films and Environmental Awareness, 1960–1972” an essay in Medicine on Screen. The films show the emergence of modern environmentalist discourse, framing pollution as a problem caused by human industry that can be partially addressed by better regulation and citizen involvement. By the early 1970s, we see the emergence of a broader critique of post-World War II consumerism and waste. The other five titles are: Beware the Wind, Countdown to Collision, Don’t Leave it all to the Experts, Public Enemy, and The Run Around. 

 Tropic Disease Motion Pictures Collection

The following films deal with diseases that occur in tropical climates and require the control of pests and parasites—as well as treatments and vaccinations for affected residents—to mitigate deleterious health impacts. The films were made between the 1940s and 1960s.

Web Archive

Environmental Health Web Archive

The NLM web archive collection on Environmental Health is a collection of websites that represent a sample of available web resources related to environmental health topics, including lead in the Flint, Michigan water system, which was declared a federal emergency in early 2016. Sites include perspectives from government, policy makers, and health care workers.

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 climate and health. 


Exhibition Logo for Fifty Years AgoFifty Years Ago: The Darkening Day highlights examples of the research, programs and policies, public messaging, and action taken by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and federal scientists from the Public Health Service (PHS) in the years leading up to The Darkening Day. 

Exhibition Logo for Making a World of DifferenceMaking a World of Difference shares stories highlighting how communities and healthcare workers came together to prevent disease, conduct cutting-edge research, end conflict and recover after natural disasters to improve the overall health of the world.

Profiles in Science

Four pamphlet covers about pollution and environmental health topics.Visual Culture and Public Health examines the role of public health posters in addressing threats created by voluntary and involuntary exposure to toxic substances.  These posters offer a variety of strategies for protecting citizens, including a combination of science and technology, litigation, governmental regulation, and environmental education. 

Medicine on Screen

Darkening Day: Air Pollution Films and Environmental Awareness, 1960–1972, by Jennifer Lynn Peterson, PhD, focuses on air pollution and general environmental concerns while framing air pollution to be a problem caused by human industry. The contents diverge into argument that pollution can be controlled by federal and state regulation along with personal action. The six featured films reflect an era in which the government took a leading role in educating the public about environmental health threats and how such measures resulted in the implementation of action plans to combat the issues at hand. 

Air Pollution Is a Human Problem: Mary Catterall’s Campaign for Clean Air in Leeds, England, by Angela Saward addresses how the Industrial Revolution was the starting point for the following centuries of negatively impactful air pollution. The essay contributes to the growing interest and discourse around environmental activism in the 1960s across both sides of the Atlantic. Air pollution has taken a significant toll on health and mortality and significantly shaped the way civilization has proceeded

NLM History Talks

Peril in the Air: Pollution Activism on Film” by Sarah Eilers, NLM, NIH and Angela Saward, Wellcome Collection, London, September 9, 2021. 

Other Resources on the History of Climate and Health

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 the effects of climate on health and different health conditions including:

Archives and Modern Manuscripts

Film and Video Collections

  • Guide to Tropical Disease Motion Pictures and AudiovisualsThe Tropical Disease Motion Picture and Audiovisual Collection is comprised of films, video recordings, and digital videocasts produced from the 1920s through 2009, with the majority shot prior to the 1960s. All are devoted to health concerns and include material on medicine and public health. 

PubMed Central

Medical Journal Backfiles

A wealth of medical history awaits your exploration in the National Library of Medicine’s free and full-text digital archive of journals PubMed Central (PMC)! Known to most of its users as a free, full-text archive of recent biomedical journals, PMC also reaches back in time over two centuries.

Access the full text of a wide range of early journal articles on climate and health. For example:

Current Health Information and Research on Climate and Health


Medline plus is a health information portal from NLM, that provides access to current, accurate health information and references from trusted sources about a wide array of health topics, including climate and health, for example here are some reliable sites to learn more:

NIH Lectures

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is expanding and accelerating its contributions to scientific knowledge of human health and the environment, and to the health and well-being of people everywhere. 

NIH News Releases

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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 are temporarily suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but our reading room is open by appointment and staff are available to answer questions.

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