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.
Explore many more related images in NLM Digital Collections under these search terms:
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.
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 Account of the Climates and Diseases of the United States of America (1792) by William Currie. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1792
- A Dissertation on the Influence of a Change of Climate in Curing Diseases by James Gregory. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1815.
- Report on the Climate of Colorado and Its Relation To Pulmonary Diseases by Charles Denison. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1876.
- Climate and Bright’s Disease by James C Wilson. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1888.
- Tropical Diseases: A Manual of the Diseases of Warm Climates by Patrick Manson. New York, New York, 1898.
- The Climate of Southern California in Relation to Disease by William A Edwards. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1891.
- A Contribution to the Study of Meteorologic States Etiologically Related to Influenza Epidemics by John Zahorsky. St. Louis, Missouri, 1899.
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.
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.
- Aedes Aegypti Control (1946)
- Hand Ditching for Malaria Control (1949)
- African Trypanosomiasis (1951)
- Laboratorio Commemorativo Gorgas, Edificio de Investigaciones del Instituto Commemorativo Gorgas de Medicina Tropical y Preventiva (1963)
- Calista E. Causey, Sc.D (1979)
- Wilbur G. Downs, M.D (1981)
- J. Austin Kerr (1981)
- NMRI: meeting fleet needs through research (1987)
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.
Fifty 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.
Making 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.
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
“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:
- American Clinical and Climatological Association Records—Includes correspondence, photographs, and articles documenting the activities of the American Clinical and Climatological Association and its members.
- The American Clinical and Climatological Association: 1884-1984—A collection of ten chapters documenting the activities of how the American Clinical and Climatological Association led to a surge of interest in the prevention of illness and improvement in practice of medicine.
- Lectures of Tuberculosis, Fort Bayard—Fort Bayard became a U.S. Army General Hospital specializing in the treatment of military tuberculosis patients. Its location was considered particularly suitable to tuberculosis treatment for its altitude and temperate climate. The collection includes material on this subject and details the climactic benefits in conducting such treatment.
- National Coordination Office for High Performance Computing and Communications Archives—The collection represents materials about the need for what became the HPCC Program; the passage of the HPC Act of 1991 and subsequent bills, hearings, reports, and laws; and the Program itself.
- Guide to Tropical Disease Motion Pictures and Audiovisuals—The 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.
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:
- “Assessing Health Vulnerabilities and Adaption to Climate Change: A Review of International Progress,” by Peter Berry, Paddy M. Enright, Joy Shumake-Guillemot, Elena Villalobos Prats, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, December 2018.
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:
- MedlinePlus Health Topic: Climate Change
- MedlinePlus Health Topic: Environmental Health
- MedlinePlus Health Topics:
- Through MedlinePlus you can also find additional trusted information on climate and health from:
- NICHD Global Health Conference: Socio-ecological Factors and the Double Burden of Malnutrition Among Children and Adolescents in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (Day 2), October 20, 2022
- Gender and Health Workshop Concurrent Session: Modifiable Factors & Social Determinants of Health, October 26, 2022
- NIH Rural Health Seminar: Structural-Level Determinants of Rural Health Disparities, November 18, 2021
- Climate Change and Health Presentation, August 6, 2014
- Climate Change and Health, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General, World Health Organization, December 10, 2007
- Global Climate, Environmental Pathogens and Human Health: a New Paradigm, Dr. Rita Colwell, Director of National Science Foundation, November 15, 2005
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.
- Global Environmental Health Events September 8, 2022.
- NIH study links specific outdoor air pollutants to asthma attacks in urban children | National Institutes of Health, January 4, 2023
- NIH study sheds light on role of climate in influenza transmission | National Institutes of Health, March 8, 2013
- NIH’s Climate and Health Initiative tackles global health effects associated with a changing climate, November 4, 2022
- Air pollution exposure in early pregnancy linked to miscarriage, NIH study suggests | National Institutes of Health, November 16, 2017
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.