The medical books in the Rare Books collection form an important resource, providing information on disease in pre-antibiotic times and on less medically advanced societies.

They are of interest to medical students taking special study modules outside the core curriculum, and to those in the fields of medical anthropology and archaeology.

York Minster Library has some of the earliest printings of ancient medical texts.

The Borthwick Institute for Archives houses medical archives from a range of NHS hospitals in York:

Milnes Walker Collection

This collection consists of around 200 early medical books, most of which were associated with Wakefield in Yorkshire.

Bookplates represent Wakefield medical circulating library and the Wakefield medical library which belonged to the Clayton Hospital and was probably housed in the Wakefield dispensatory.

A catalogue for the Wakefield medical library exists. They were the gift of Robert Milnes Walker, Professor Emeritus of Surgery in the University of Bristol and cover a period of almost 450 years.

A few items date from the 16th-century being mainly commentaries on Hippocrates, Galen and Dioscorides; the greatest number are by 17th- and 18th-century writers such as

  • Thomas Sydenham, one of the most innovative physicians of the 17th century
  • John Huxham, notable for his studies of fevers
  • Richard Morton who studied tuberculosis
  • John Floyer, best known for introducing the practice of pulse rate measurement
  • Richard Mead, who helped towards a better understanding of transmissible diseases

Many of the books are illustrated.

York Medical Society Collection

The library of the York Medical Society, which was formed in 1832 with the object of promoting and diffusing medical knowledge, was deposited at the University in 2004.

3000 volumes including books from the York dispensatory and York county hospital medical library. Highlights include

  • William Hunter's Anatomia uteri humani gravida tabulis illustrate (1774)
  • an almost complete run of the British medical journal from 1855 to 1950

The Borthwick Institute for Archives holds the York Medical Society archive.

As well as medical historians, this and the Milnes Walker Collection would be of interest to anyone studying provincial book societies and the provincial book trade. 

York Retreat Collection

An intact working specialist library on insanity comprising around 300 works. Books date from the 18th- to early 20th-century, and cover a wide range of material particularly relating to psychiatry and mental illness. In addition there are works on theories of insanity, institutions, care of the insane, the brain, criminal lunacy and legal issues.

Of interest to medical historians in the way that it reflects the contemporary ideas and practices which formed the treatment of mental illness.

The Borthwick Institute for Archives holds the Retreat archive.