McGill University

McGill University is home to world-class collections relating to the history of science, technology, and medicine: the Blacker Wood natural history collection within Rare Books and Special Collections, the Osler Library for the History of Medicine, the Redpath Museum, the Maude Abbott Medical Museum, and the Rutherford Museum, which specializes in the history of physics.


Research university; library system with holdings in many areas.


The Osler Library of the History of Medicine is a branch library within the McGill University Libraries. It opened in 1929 with nearly 8,000 titles collected for McGill by Sir William Osler. The original library was curated to include works fundamental to the history of Western medicine. Today, the library has over 100,000 titles, extensive archives, a print collection, and over 700 medical artifacts. In addition to its medical historical works, the library preserves books by key figures in the Scientific Revolution: Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Huygens, Newton. Notable collections within the library include >20,000 medical theses from Paris, ca. 1802-1920; recently-digitized collections of Middle Eastern and East Asian languages materials; and numerous works representing the history of anatomy. Among the archives the papers of Wilder Penfield, founder of the Montreal Neurological Institute, are the most extensive (>44metres). The library is also home to numerous materials – including grey literature and historical journals – reflecting the history of medicine in Canada.

McGill Library’s Rare Books & Special Collections department is home to the Blacker Wood Natural History Collection, the MacDonald College Rare Book Collection, and to general collections relating to the history of science.

The Blacker Wood Natural History Collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of natural history works in North America. The collection consists of rare books, manuscripts, archival material, and original artwork relating to vertebrate zoology, in particular ornithology, with significant materials in mammalogy, ichthyology, and comparative anatomy. In addition, the collection holds important works in the history and philosophy of natural history, evolution, botany, zoogeography, and the records of scientific expeditions.

The MacDonald College Rare Book Collection was created by the separation of rare, historical and fragile materials from the main circulating collection of the MacDonald Campus Library and covers topics such as agriculture, food and animal science, nutrition, the environment, ecology, plant science, and agricultural engineering.

The Rare Books & Special Collections department’s general collection also includes significant holdings relating to the history of science, from astronomy and physics to engineering, mathematics, and chemistry.

The Redpath Museum is an independent unit of the Faculty of Science at McGill University. Its mission is to foster an understanding and appreciation of the diversity of our biological, geological and cultural heritage through scientific research, collections study and education. Scientific research at the Museum is based on a total collection of over half a million objects, including fossil, animal and mineral specimens, as well as artifacts from various cultures. This material is used daily in a multitude of university courses and research projects, and many specimens are loaned to other institutions to contribute to research.

The Maude Abbott Medical Museum originated around the time of the founding of the Montreal General Hospital (c1822) and the Montreal Medical Institute (1823/24) (the forerunner of the McGill University Medical Faculty). In fact, the most famous artifact in the collection is the Holmes heart, a specimen procured at autopsy in 1822 by Dr. Andrew Holmes, first Dean of Medicine at McGill. A significant proportion of the specimens in the Museum was gathered in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including several hundred by William Osler during the eight years he spent as pathologist at the Montreal General Hospital. Many illustrate diseases or disease processes, such as syphilis, extrapulmonary tuberculosis, rickets and congenital cardiac anomalies, encountered uncommonly today in an untreated state in Canada.

The Rutherford Museum is under the custodianship of the Department of Physics and contains a collection of the actual apparatus used by Ernest Rutherford when he was Professor of Experimental Physics at McGill, 1898-1907. This apparatus enabled Rutherford to investigate the newly-discovered phenomenon of radioactivity, to establish the nature of the α-rays emitted by radium and thorium, and to formulate the revolutionary theory of radioactive transformation for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1908. The Museum also includes some photographs, letters, documents, and other materials relating to Rutherford's work.

At present, the Osler Library of the History of Medicine and the Rare Books & Special Collections department of McGill Library are accepting applications to host CHSTM fellowships. Access to other science-related collections at McGill can be arranged, if necessary, for successful applicants.

Please be advised that the building in which the Rare Books & Special Collections department is housed will be undergoing a renovation project. The physical library collection will be inaccessible, while it is being moved, for a period of a few months in 2025.

For Osler, email:

For Rare Books and Special Collections, email:

Fellowship Opportunities

Rare Books & Special Collections:

There are three research travel awards at the Osler Library, whose application deadline is in January each year:

  • Dr. Edward H. Bensley Osler Library Research Travel Grant - Awarded to those whose project requires travel to Montreal to consult material in the Osler Library, such as rare books, archives, and artifacts. Each year up to $5,000 (CDN) in awards will be made available to one or more individuals who require a minimum of 2 weeks to carry out their research.
  • Mary Louise Nickerson Travel Grant - This award is open to scholars who need to travel to Montreal to carry out research using Osler Library collections (e.g., rare books, archives, and artifacts). Awards totalling approximately $13,000 (CDN) are typically divided among a small number of scholars, whose individual awards depend upon need and duration of visit.
  • Dr. Dimitrije Pivnicki Award in Neuro and Psychiatric History - Awarded to one or more students and/or scholars wishing to carry out research utilizing the rich archival and monographic holdings at McGill University, such as the Osler Library (including the Penfield Archive), the Montreal Neurological Institute, and the McGill University Archives. Awards totalling approximately $13,000 (CDN) are usually divided among a small number of scholars, whose individual awards depend upon need and duration of visit.

Holding Highlights

The Osler Library of the History of Medicine:
Rare Books & Special Collections:
The Blacker Wood Natural History Collection:

Fellowship URL

Link to Calendar of Events