Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

A Student of History: Perspectives on the Contributions of Estelle Brodman

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

A Student of History: Perspectives on the Contributions of Estelle Brodman

Article excerpt

Purpose: This paper is a reflection on the contributions of Estelle Brodman, PhD, as a historian through her publications and activities in the areas of medical history and history of medical librarianship.

Methods: The publication record of Dr. Brodman was reviewed to identify the resources most relevant to the history of medicine and history of medical librarianship.

Brief Description: As a historian, Dr. Brodman used manuscript collections to carry out original research. Publications resulting from her research and historical activities influenced her library colleagues to embrace history and brought new information to historians, scholars, and students. Dr. Brodman was the driving force behind the development of the Medical Library Association's oral history program.


There are many facets to EsteUe Brodman, PhD. She is distinguished in each venue: librarian, scholar, teacher, historian, editor, author, friend, and mentor. The purpose of this article is to define her as a historian through her writings and activities centered in history, both in medical and in library areas. Dr. Brodman's historical papers cover a wide range of topics. Her writing flows, her words chosen with care. She can paint a picture that aUows the reader to visualize exactly what she is describing. Her knowledge of history and of literature adds richness to all her work.

Dr. Brodman's undergraduate work in histology and embryology at Cornell University was preparation for medical school. When she was not admitted to any medical school, her mother suggested she become a social worker, but she responded she would rather be a librarian [1]. Dr. Brodman received a bachelor's in library science in 1936 from Columbia University, a master's degree in 1943. She served as a medical librarian at Columbia University from 1937 to 1943, including a stint as acting librarian. In this position, she was told that the administration would never make a woman the head librarian. That spurred her to study for a graduate degree [2].

Dr. Brodman was awarded a doctorate in the history of medicine from Columbia University in 1953 with her dissertation, The Development of Medical Bibliography, subsequently published under the same title as the first of the pubUcation series of the Medical Library Association (MLA) [3]. The work continues to be a standard in medical reference and was her first major contribution to the history of medicine.

In addition to The Development of Medical Bibliography, Dr. Brodman made significant contributions to medical history and the history of medical librarianship. This paper is not intended to be a comprehensive review of her works but describes selected resources to illustrate her contributions to the history of medicine and the ways she used her interest in and knowledge of medical history to spur her colleagues to read and write on historical topics.


In the preface to her book based on her doctoral dissertation, Dr. Brodman stated that it "is the first such attempt" to develop a large-scale history of medical bibliography [4]. Undertaking to provide this history was no small task. Dr. Brodman examined all the medical bibliographies avaUable, drawing conclusions about the place of each and providing a description of the economics and politics of the time, and noted advances in medical experimentation, the rise of clinical teaching, and the estabUshment of the medical periodical. The five chapters are devoted to the pioneers in the field for a particular era from 1472 through the 19th century, and each chapter includes biographical sketches of the bibliographers and a description that emphasizes the advances and importance of their works.

The eighteenth century was described by Dr. Brodman as the "Golden Age of Individual Bibliographers." The problem that has plagued bibliographers ever since was initially identified in this era: the endless flood of the literature [5]. …

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