This page has information and links to information related to history. See Biographical Research for history of individual people. For specific time periods, places/areas, and/or topics see left-hand side for topics.

Life & Death of Early North America Introduction

This page provides lists of resources or links to resources that explore life and death, disease and medical history in early North America. See also Gender and Sexuality in the North American Borderlands, 1492-1850 (there is modest duplication).

Reference                     Identifying Books                Journals             Databases and Indexes (identify journal articles)        Web


Reference materials are quite useful for finding background information and can be a great starting point for learning names, dates, terms, etc. For this topic on life and death, a certain amount of creativity on the part of the researcher will be necessary. The researcher may need to look up individual states, names, events, or specific locations. The online encyclopedias are available to CSU affiliates only. At least one of these titles circulates.

  • American Eras. 6 vols. E 169.1 .A471979 1997 Reference (Vols. 1-4 cover 1600-1850)
  • American Revolution Reference Library. 5 vols.
  • The Cambridge Historical Dictionary of Disease. RC41 .C365 2003 Reference
  • Colonial America Reference Library. 6 vols.
  • Dictionary of American History. 10 vols. E174 .D52 2003eb E-Reference
  • Dictionary of American History: From 1763 to the Present. E174 .T47 2000 Reference
  • Dictionary of American Biography. 22 vols. E 176 .D56 Reference
  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography. 14 vols. F 1005 .D49 Reference
  • A Dictionary of the History of Medicine. R121 .S398 1999 Reference
  • Encyclopedia of American History. E 174 .E58 2003 Reference Vols. 1-4 cover through 1855
  • Encyclopedia of American Studies. E 169.1 .E625 2001 Reference
  • Encyclopedia of Death. HQ1073 .E54 1989 Morgan
  • Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. Facts on File HQ1073 .C374 2005 Morgan
  • Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. Routledge HQ1073 .E543 2001 Morgan
  • Gale Library of Daily Life: Slavery in America. eReference
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library.
  • Harper's Encyclopaedia of United States History from 458 A.D. to 1905: Based Upon the Plan of Benson John Lossing. [1905] L 7210 v. [1-10] Storage
  • History Reference Online. (ABC-CLIO.)
  • Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. HQ1073 .M33 2003eb E-Reference
  • Milestones in Health and Medicine. R133 .H36 2000 Reference
  • Oxford Companion to Canadian History. F 1026 .O93 2004 Reference
  • Shaping of America, 1783-1815 Reference Library. 5 vols.
  • Who Was Who in America. E 663 .W54 Reference Vol. 1 is 1607-1896

Identifying Books

Books are an important source for information. The subject headings listed in this section can be used to find books related to life and death in early North American in any library catalog which uses Library of Congress Subject Headings, including CSU's library catalog. Do a subject search using the terms below to identify books in SAGE and the Regional Catalog Prospector (the Colorado Union Catalog). Books may be requested from Prospector by CSU affiliates. Be sure to look at related subjects (often linked to just above the searched term) and subdivisions. "Sources" at the end of a subject term means primary source.

  • Abortion United States History
  • American Prose Literature Colonial Period Ca 1600 1775 History and Criticism
  • Birth Control United States History
  • Canada History
  • Childbirth United States History
  • Contraception United States History 19th Century
  • Death Social Aspects
  • Death Social Aspect United States
  • Death Social Aspect United States History 19th Century
  • Family United States History 17th Century
  • Family United States History 18th Century
  • Funeral Rites and Ceremonies
  • Hygiene United States [3] [s.a. subdivisions]
  • Indians of North America History Colonial Period Ca 1600 1775
  • Medical Care United States History
  • Medicine United States History
  • Medicine United States History 18th Century
  • Medicine United States History 19th Century
  • Mexico History
  • New England History Colonial Period Ca 1600 1775
  • New England History Colonial Period Ca 1600 1775 Sources
  • Public Health United States History
  • Southern States Antiquities
  • Southern States History Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
  • [Colonial State] History Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
  • United States History Civil War 1861 1865 Social Aspects
  • United States History Colonial Period Ca 1600 1775
  • United States History Colonial Period Ca 1600 1775 Biography
  • United States History Colonial Period Ca 1600 1775 Sources
  • United States History Sources
  • United States Intellectual Life 1783 1865
  • United States Intellectual Life 17th Century
  • United States Intellectual Life 18th Century
  • United States Public Health Service History
  • United States Social Conditions 19th Century
  • United States Social Life and Customs to 1775
  • Women United States Social Conditions 18th Century

Example book titles:

  • Beecher, Catharine Esther. The American Woman's Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science: Being a Guide to the Formation and Maintenance of Economical, Healthful, Beautiful, and Christian Homes. Hartford, CT: Stowe-Day Foundation, 1975. Reprint of 1869 book. B 5694 Storage (Request). Example of a primary source.
  • Garrett, Elisabeth Donaghy. At Home: The American Family, 1750-1870. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1990. TX23 .G37 1990 Closed stacks Morgan (Request)
  • Gray, Edward G. Colonial America: A History in Documents. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2003. E 187 .G73 2003 Curriculum. Documents are primary sources.
  • Hoy, Suellen M. Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. RA780 .H69 1995 Close Stacks Morgan (Request)
  • Melosi, Martin V. The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008. TD225 .M45 2008 Closed Stacks Morgan (Request)
  • Melosi, Martin V. The Sanitary City: Urban Infrastructure in America from Colonial Times to the Present. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. TD223 .M45 2000 Closed Stacks Morgan (Request)
  • Moynihan, Ruth Barnes,et al. eds. Second to None: A Documentary History of American Women. 2 vols. Lincoln [Neb.]: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. HQ 1410 .S43 1993 Morgan (Vol. 1. from the sixteenth century to 1865.)
  • National Library of Medicine. 200 Years of American Medicine (1776-1996). HE 20.3602:M 46/2/776-976 Documents
  • Reiss, Oscar. Medicine in Colonial America. Lanham: University Press of America, 2000. R151 .R44 2000 Closed stacks Morgan (request)
  • Rosenberg, Charles E. Explaining Epidemics and Other Studies in the History of Medicine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. R149 .R67 1992 Closed stacks Morgan (Request)
  • Snowden and Brother. Illustrated Wholesale Catalogue of Surgical and Dental Instruments, Elastic Trusses, Medical Saddle Bags, Abdominal Supporters, Shoulder Braces, and Druggists Sundries (Surgical and Dental Instrument Catalogues from the Civil War Era: Snowden and Brother (1860) and John Weiss and Son (1863)). RD76 .S68 1997 Closed stacks Morgan (request). Example of a primary source.
  • Washington, Harriet A. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medial Experiment on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Doubleday, 2006. R853 .H8 W37 2006 Closed stacks Morgan (Request)

Search by author (and by subject for secondary sources) for individuals. For example:

  • Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826
  • Mather, Cotton, 1663-1728
  • Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813


These journals are owned by CSU. Years of ownership vary. Some are available electronically, some in print, and some both. This is just a selection.

  • American Heritage.
  • The American Historical Review
  • American History
  • American Jewish History
  • Estudios fronterizos
  • Gilcrease Journal
  • The Journal of American History
  • Journal of American Studies
  • Journal of Borderlands Studies
  • The William and Mary Quarterly

Identify additional titles of interest (most titles listed above will be included) by doing a subject search in the library catalog for:

United States History Periodicals

Databases & Indexes

These indexes may also be accessed remotely by CSU affiliates (also via the "Research Databases" page).

Start with these                      More Specific                           Newspaper Articles                   Historical Sources

For a historical perspective start with these

JSTOR. Full text articles at least 3-5 years old (varies by journal).  Scholarly journals. Full text.

Contemporary vocabulary is vital for success.

America: History & Life. 1964- . 

U.S. and Canadian history from prehistory to the present. Indexing for 1,700 journals.

Historical Abstracts. 1954- . 

Worldwide history. Includes Mexico, Canada, and USA, but Canada and U.S. have better coverage in America: History & Life. Historical Abstracts "covers the history of the world (excluding the United States and Canada) from 1450 to the present, including world history, military history, women's history, history of education, and more. . . . [has] indexing of more than 1,700 academic historical journals in over 40 languages back to 1955."

Medline. 1950- . Non-CSU affiliates may search PubMed.  

Search: United States [AND]; Health Status; Healthcare Disparities history; Delivery of Health Care history; Physician's Role history; Medical history; Health Services Accessibility history; History of Nursing; Colonialism history: Wilderness Medicine history; Disease Outbreaks prevention & control; Communicable Diseases history; Pediatrics history; Public Health history; Vaccination history; Family Characteristics history; Military Medicine history; Diet history; African Americans history; European Continental Ancestry Group history; Health Policy history; Socioeconomic Factors history; Nursing history: Medical history; Health history.

Nineteenth Century Masterfile.  Over 60 subject indexes in one location.

Covers the 19th century and early 20th century.

Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers. 1800-1899. 

Material found is full text.

Project MUSE. Varies. 

Search by discipline, if desired. Check library catalog for book ownership.

WorldCat. All years of materials. 

Books, serials, archival collections, microforms, images, and more.

C.R.I.S.: The Combined Retrospective Index Set to Journals in History, 1838-1974. Vols. 6-8. Z 6205 .C18 Movable Shelves  Print index--note location in Movable Shelves. V. 6. United States: Biography and genealogy index.--v. 7. United States black history - Election.--v. 8. United States foreign policy - religion and social history.

Poole's Index to Periodical Literature. AI 3 .P6 Reference South 1802-1901  Print index. Find contemporary sources from the 19th century.

For more specific information

Digital Dissertations & Theses. 1861- . Many full text 1997- . 

Abstracts and citations to dissertations from around the world.

History Reference Online

Provides access to encyclopedias, dictionaries and other monographs on United States history, world history, politics, law, government, etc.

Academic Search Premier. Years vary. 

Catch-all database. Look here last, if needed, or to find mainstream articles aimed at a lay audience.

Newspaper Articles

New York Times Historical 1851- .

Most recent years not available (use New York Times ProQuest Digitral Microfilm and own Web site for current years)  Find images of articles from the newspaper. Terminology for earlier years will need to be flexible and possibly quite imaginative in order to find relevant materials. The newspaper started just after the time period of this Web page, but looks back and anniversaries of major events might be described and participants interviewed.

Historical (primary sources) available

An eID is required for remote access.

American State Papers. Readex.  U.S. Governmental sources 1789-1838. Primary sources.

Archives Unbound. Gale. 

Browse collections to see collections of interest: American Indian Correspondence: Presbyterian HIstorical Society Collection of Missionaries' Letters, 1833-1893; Overland Journeys: Travels in the West, 1800-1880; The Civil War in Words and Deeds; and The Southern Literary Messenger: Literature of the Old South.

Congressional Publications. 1789- . ProQuest.  Committee Prints & Misc. Publications 1817- ; Hearings 1824- ; House & Senate Documents 1789- ; and House & Senate Reports 1789- cover the time period of interest.

Early American Imprints: Series I: Evans, 1639-1800. Readex. 

See also the Early American Imprints Supplement, 1670-1800. Readex.  These are all primary sources. Browse by other genres and by subject (subdivided): Economics and Trade; Government; Health; History; Labor; Languages; Law and Crime; Literature; Military; Peoples; Philosophy; Politics; Religion; Science; Society, Manners and Customs; and Theology. Health has multiple items topics ranging from Alcoholism to Yellow fever, including Dropsy, Goiter, Hygiene, Midwives, Physicians, Teeth, and Typhus.

Early Encounters in North America: People, Cultures, and the Environment. 1601- . Alexander Street Press. 

"1,482 authors and over 100,000 pages of letters, diaries, memoirs and accounts of early encounters." Browse by author, source, year, encounters, peoples, images, places, fauna, flora, environment, cultural event, and personal event. Search by keyword, author, journal, original language subject, document type, and more.

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories. 1784- . 

"2,162 authors and approximately 100,000 pages of information . . . personal view of what it meant to immigrate to America and Canada between 1800 and 1950. Composed of contemporaneous letters and diaries, oral histories, interviews, and other personal narratives."

North American Women's Letters and Diaries. Colonial to 1950. Alexander Street Press. 

"North American Women's Letters and Diaries includes the immediate experiences of 1,325 women and 150,000 pages of diaries and letters." Browse by authors, sources, years, places, historical events, personal events, and showcase. Search by a number of options: age when writing, marital status when writing, age at marriage, year written, and much more.

Summaries, Artifacts, & Documents. CSU History Research Guide section. 

Section of "United States of America (History)" Web page. Links to Web sites and CSU databases (only available to CSU affiliates) that have primary source materials to do with U.S. history. A few of these are duplicated on this page.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set. Readex.  U.S. Governmental sources 1817- .

Primary sources.


Web sources on early North America: Emphasis on medical, medicine, & Health

Most of these sites include primary sources (or links to them). However, there are few secondary source pages. See also Web Sources on Gender/Borderlands page. Digging around the sites listed below after the initial links might be fruitful as well. Some of the PDF files on the sites take a while to load, so extra patience will be helpful when researching this topic.

Medical, Medicine, Health Topics

Anatomia 1522-1867. Anatomical Plats from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. University of Toronto. 

"This collection features approximately 4500 full page plates and other significant illustrations of human anatomy." 95 individual titles: 1522-1867. Search or browse. Searching offers multiple choices: Search in; for; gender; view; technique; colour; and then order by (title, artist, technique, date). Browse by artists, title or subject (Medical Subject Headings; MeSH).

Animated Anatomies. Valeria Finucci and Maurizio Rippa-Bonati. Duke University Libraries. 

Exhibit of anatomical flap books. 16th century onwards.

Books from the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library. University of Texas Heath Science Center. 

The entire collection is "a treasure-trove of antiquarian texts, dating from the 15th to the early 20th century." Available online is a selection of six books.

Colonial Diseases & Cures. Ancestry.com. 

A-Z listing of terms with time period definitions. Scroll down to see "cures." Scroll further down to see other "curative terms of the day."

Colonial Germ Warfare. Harold B. Gill Jr. Colonial Williamsburg. 

Article describing a possible use of germ warfare in early times. See other topics such as Eighteenth-Century Medical Myths. Colonial Williamsburg is a re-creation of the late 18th Century Williamsburg. Their Web site has multiple articles of potential interest. You might also want to visit (your librarian had her portrait "painted" with Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry in March 1774!).

Colonial Medicine. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. July 1992. 

Aimed at a young audience, but has interesting information. Background, vocabulary lists, activities for pre and post visits. Bibliography on p. 30 of the document, p. 32 of the PDF, is well worth a look. Given its age, it might be interesting to see what new information has been garnered about the Colonial period in the past twenty years.

Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics. Harvard University Library Open Collections Program. 

The online collection includes "digitized copies of books, serials, pamphlets, incunabula, and manuscripts—a total of more than 500,000 pages—many of which contain visual materials, such as plates, engravings, maps, charts, broadsides, and other illustrations." Multiple internal links to primary source materials. Example topics: Cholera Epidemics in the 19th Century; The Boston Smallpox Epidemic, 1721, and The Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia.

Digital Clendening. © 2000, 2001. University of Kansas Medical Center. 

While not all of these have an American history attached to them, there are some interesting items here. Rare Text Images from before 1800 (arranged by theme); Florence Nightingale Letters (see also letters from the UAB Mervyn H. Sterne Library Collection in Birmingham, Alabama); Ralph Major Photographs, and more.

Digital Collections. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 

Featured Collections as of 2/13 are: Medicine in the Americas: 1610-1920: A Digital Library; The Public Health Film Goes to War!; Tropic Disease Motion Pictures; and Cholera Online. For example, Charge to the graduates of Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia: delivered March 25, 1847  "Although this day, with most of you, terminates the period which you have been able to assign to instruction in the schools, guard against the fallacy of esteeming it as the conclusion of your studies. It is, in reality, but the commencement of independent observation and reflection. Your diploma shows to a discerning public, that your minds have been well imbued with the great principles of medical science; and that you are prepared, at the outset, to profit by every opportunity for observation . . .. (p. 5)

Digital Collections--Health Sciences. Kellogg Library. Dalhousie University. Canada. 

Digitized special collections; by collection. HTML, audio (often from radio presentations), and PDF collections online covering various topics. For example, "The Cholera beacon, being a treatise on the epidemic cholera: as it appeared in Upper Canada in 1824...by Elam Stimsom, M.D." and "Guide Book to the Medicine Chest for Merchant Vessels. Halifax, 1879. 32 p."

Digital Resources. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Historical Library and Wood Institute. 

Resources include online books "digitized editions of 18th-century Pennsylvania medical manuscripts" and other manuscripts. Browse by author and find, for example: Carey, Mathew. A Short Account of the Malignant Fever Lately Prevalent in Philadelphia. (Philadelphia: The Author, 14 Nov. 1793).

Digitized Collections. Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library. Yale University. 

Example online collections include Civil War Photographs (some showing injuries); Medical Instruments and Artifacts; and Medical Heritage Library Collection.

Dream Anatomy. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 

Online exhibit of images of internal anatomy from the 1500 onwards.

Electronic Texts in the History of Medicine. Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library. Yale University. 

Fourteen (as of February 2013) "medical texts from the 15th through 18th centuries." Arranged alphabetically by author/corporate author/title.

Exhibits. Claude Moore Health Sciences Library. University of Virginia Health System. 

Multiple online exhibits featuring items from the Library's collection. For example, "Taking the Waters: 19th C. Medicinal Springs of Virginia" and the "Letters to Doct. James Carmichael & Son" (linked from "Patients Voices in Early 19th Century Virginia").

History. Commissioned Corps Timeline. U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Short timeline covering 1798 to the present. "For more than 200 years, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps has been our Nation's frontline protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports, maintaining the health of immigrants entering the country and supporting communities affected by natural and manmade disasters." See also Historical Highlights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

History of Medicine--Digital Collections. Christopher Lyons. Osler Library of the History of Medicine. McGill University, Canada. 

Extensive annotated and linked list of online and digital collections. Canadian emphasis. There might be overlap with items on this page, but there are also numerous items not listed here.

The History of Private Life. S. Mintz and S. McNeil. Digital History.

  Overviews of various topics (two have more than one essay): Childbirth; Courtship; Death and Dying; Family Life; Food; and Housework.

The History of Vaccines. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

Timeline, articles, videos.

Images from the History of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 

Nearly 70,000 images: "portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century." Search or browse. Narrow your search by What, Where, and Who.

John Martin Rare Book Room Images. © The University of Iowa Libraries. 

Select browse all to see the collection or search by author or time period (1500s, 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s). Detailed descriptions are available--select individual items. For example, Anatomiae by Johann Dryander from 1537 "was the first significant book on the anatomy of the head." The topic subject (LCSH) Human anatomy Early works to 1800 brings up 28 results including Anatomiae.

Medical Heritage Library. Internet Archive. 

This is "a digital curation collaborative among some of the world’s leading medical libraries, promotes free and open access to quality historical resources in medicine." Search or browse the collections. Browse by subject/keywords or date (date sequence accuracy is iffy; first listed item not the oldest in the collection), but starting with the third entry it seems to start at the earliest time frame of the 7th century. Print items are available in various formats such as PDF, EPUB, Kindle, and others.

New York Public Library Digital Gallery. NYPL. 

Over 800,000 digitized images. Advanced search options has a Limit by date feature that includes 1800-1899, 1700-1799, 1600-1699, 1500-1599, 1400-1499, etc.

School of Medicine Library Digital Collections. School of Medicine Library. University of South Carolina. 

40 medical texts of interest available online as of February 2013. Topics "reflect the education and training of doctors during the 18th and 19th centuries."

Special Feature: Medical Technology: Introduction and Timeline. National Center for Biotechnology Information. NCBI. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 

Overview of medical breakthroughs with references (many with links to the source) and timeline with selected milestones, 1816-2008 (1816 stethoscope invented). Page has link to PDF version of contents.

State Digital Resources: Memory Projects, Online Encyclopedias, Historical & Cultural Materials Collections. Web Guides. Library of Congress. 

Alphabetical listing of state by state archives. May or may not include medical history, but just might be a useful source for contextualizing illness within a historical context.

In French

Bibliothèque numérique Medica. Université de Paris Descartes. 

Divided by reference books, various formats, ancient medicine, ancient naturalists, medicine in the middle ages, doctors, pharmacists and other wise men, epidemics, specialties, and pharmacy. In French. View page by page.


Colonial North America. Internet Modern History Sourcebook.  Links to primary sources.

Early Canadiana Online (ECO) . Canadiana.org. 

"Early Canadiana Online (ECO) is a digital library providing access to 2,838,778 pages of Canada's printed heritage. It features works published from the time of the first European settlers up to the early 20th Century. [new paragraph] ECO is produced by Canadiana.org, a nonprofit organization for preserving and providing access to early Canadian publications, first on microfiche and now online." Scanned in books and documents. Search: "Indian captivities -- North America" and other terms. Use drop down menu to jump to specific pages.

See also Web Sources on Gender/Borderlands page.



Check CSU's library catalog (and Prospector) for local holdings of books and journals. If something a interest is not available, request it from Interlibrary Loan.

Bibliography of Secondary Works in the History of American Medicine & Related Health Fields. NE 2001, CM 2010. Ruth Lilly Medical Library. Indiana University School of Medicine. PDF.

Four Hundred Years of American Life and Culture: A List of Titles at the Library of Congress. PDF. 147 pages with suggestions for how to find additional materials.

Primary Sources Medicine. History: Medicine & Science. Theresa Mudrock. University Libraries. University of Washington

Science and Technology in 18th Century America. Science Tracer Bullets Online. Tracer Bullet 99-1. Science Reference Services. Library of Congress. Focus on technology, but health topics can be found amidst the other listings.

Early Books on the Web

Project Gutenberg.  For the most part pre-1923 titles. Most available for ereaders. A search for "medicine" narrowed by subject shows 36 subject headings (some for fiction). "Hygiene" and "health" are other good search terms. Depending upon your topic, search for more specific terms.


See also Gender and Sexuality in the North American Borderlands, 1492-1850 (there is some duplication).

It is essential that you carefully evaluate whatever you might find, no matter the format. See: How to Evaluate Journal Articles, How to Evaluate Books, How to Evaluate a Web Page, and How to Evaluate a Movie, Video, or Film Clip.

Author Information

Content: Naomi Lederer


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