Chief Curator, Dittrick Medical History Center and Adjunct Associate Professor of History, James Edmonson

At the Dittrick I value the opportunity to work with a remarkably rich collection of rare medical books, archives, and medical objects. The artifacts, my personal favorite, comprise the most extensive collection of medical and surgical technology in North America. Students and their teachers at CWRU enjoy free access to these wonderful resources and it is both a challenge and a pleasure to help them utilize it in their studies. We also interact extensively with the museum going public in greater Cleveland and I have a special regard for collectors who share a passion for  medical antiques. On the publishing front, I have written about surgical instruments and their makers in American Surgical Instruments: An Illustrated History of Their Manufacture and a Directory of Makers to 1900 (1997), medicine and technology in A Companion to American Technology (2005), and co-authored with John Harley Warner the award winning Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, 1880-1930 (2009).

Past and ongoing research projects include a study of American patents for medical and surgical devices, the history of endoscopy, change of instruments in response to antisepsis, and the impact of diagnostic technology upon the physician-patient relationship. Recent major acquisitions at the Dittrick that have been the driving the focus of our energies include the Percy Skuy Collection on the History of Contraception, acquired in 2004 and installed in dedicated permanent gallery in 2009, and the M. Donald Blaufox Collection of Historic Diagnostic Instruments, received in 2008 and the subject of its own gallery in 2013, and most recently the Steve Degenaro collection of images and ephemera relating to the iron lung and respiratory care. I have served on the Council of the American Association for the History of Medicine (2006-10), UMAC (University Museums and Collections) of ICOM (International Council of Museums), and am the American liaison and secretary general of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences. I have been consultant to medical museums and collections including the Warren Anatomical Museum of Harvard University and the New York Academy of Medicine, served on grant review panels of the National Library of Medicine, the Institute of Museums and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Most recently, the Dittrick has launched into the digital age with an NEH grant-funded touch-screen exhibit called How Medicine Became Modern. This touch screen interactive exhibition welcomes visitors to the Dittrick, and presents American medicine through a selection of museum artifacts and their stories, with main themes being “spread of ideas,” “women’s health and reproduction,” and “communities in crisis.”


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Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, 1880-1930

American Surgical Instruments: The History of Their Manufacture and a Directory of Instrument Makers to 1900

From Mecanicien to Ingenieur: Technical Education and the Machine Building Industry in Nineteenth-Century France














ADDITIONAL WORKS (Chapters, Editorials, or Commentaries)

Medical Museums Past, Present, Future

A Companion to American Technology

Instruments of Science

The Mechanics of Surgery