Wellcome Library's Medical Collection Goes Digital In Egypt

By Tara Booth | 15 September 2008
A black and white photograph of a soldier dressed in khaki clothing standing in the desert in front of an ancient crumbling statue of a sphynx and two pyramids.

(Above) Lieutenant Colonel Arthur C. Devereux in front of pyramids. The RAMC Muniment Collection is in the care of the Wellcome Library

A pioneering new partnership between the Wellcome Library in London and Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) will help reveal the story of early medicine in the Eastern world and enable rare materials to be universally accessible for the first time.

The Wellcome Library will be making items available from its collection of rare materials relating to both Ancient and Modern Egypt in digital form to BA for the first time. These items will eventually become part of BA’s own online library and will also feature in the World Digital Library, a portal to cultural content worldwide.

The material from the Wellcome Library consists of visual, documentary, manuscript and printed material in several languages and will enhance BA’s current resources.

Frances Norton, Head of the Wellcome Library, said: “Our unique partnership will demonstrate how non-English language digital resources can engage local audiences and experts, deepening our understanding of the materials available here in the UK and making them globally searchable in languages other than English.”

A frayed piece of ancient papyrus paper, browned with age and very delicate, with an image of a blue and green plant with lines of text underneath.

Johnson Papyrus, fragment of an illustrated herbal. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London

Internet users will have easy access to a diverse collection of rare materials relating to Ancient and Modern Egypt, from papyri to Arabic medical manuscripts and even relics of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1789.

Ismail Serageldin, Director of Bibliotheca Alexandrina, said: “Without question, the Wellcome Library is one of the most important repositories of treasures relating to the history of medicine in the world.”

“For us, this partnership is a major step forward in our vision to make all knowledge available to all. The project will enable manuscripts that are spread in different parts of the world to be virtually re-assembled into a complete manuscript.”

“We have the possibility to make this material available to a new generation of scholars, who have been brought up with the Internet, on Facebook and YouTube, who will be able to find the treasures of the past, in the forms of the present and the future.”

A black and white drawing of ruins which has three arches. Below the arches there are mounds of rubble where a man sits looking over the ruins.

(above) Remains of the ruined Roman public baths at Alexandria, Egypt. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London

Inaugurated in 2003, the BA is the leading institution for the documentation of Egyptian, Arabic and Islamic cultural heritage and a commemoration of the Library of Alexandria, which was established in the 3rd century BC.

The Wellcome Library is one of the world’s leading resources for the history of medicine and is part of the Wellcome Trust, the largest charity in the UK, which spends around £600 million a year funding biomedical research.

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