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An Oxford Centenary – 100 Years of Medical Publishing


Below is a fascinating article about the long history of Oxford’s medical publishing program. To celebrate the centenary OUP-UK is also offering 100 medical titles to a deserving institution. Learn more about the contest here. We will be sure to let you know who wins!

By Alison Bowker Head of Marketing Medicine and Law, UK

The Oxford University Press Medicine Department is proud to celebrate its centenary in 2007. Medical books have been published in Oxford since the fourteenth century, but the official medical publishing program began in 1907, under the guidance of Sir William Osler.

From some of the earliest medical texts ever published, through essential guides to battlefield medicine in the First World War, OUP claims some of the best known copyrights in medical publishing. The current list serves the needs of doctors worldwide, at all stages of training and practice.

Herewith, we offer a brief history of Oxford Medical Publishing dating back nearly 700 years.

John of Gaddesdon Rosa Anglica Medicine
The Rosa is a distillation of the works of more than 46 medical authorities, ancient and recent. In it, John claims to have saved the king’s son (presumed to be either Thomas or Edmund, sons of Edward I) from smallpox by wrapping him in scarlet cloth in a bed with red hangings. John was known to Chaucer and is thought to have been his model for the unsavory Doctor of Physick in The Canterbury Tales.


Robert Burton Anatomy of Melancholy: What it Is; with All the Kindes, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes and Several Cures of it
An exhaustive study of what was then termed “morbid psychology,” covering everything from mild depression to religious mania. Although it was felt to be somewhat fashionable (especially for artists and students) to be “melancholic,” Burton anticipated the development of modern psychiatry when he emphasized the cruel nature of melancholia, “which crucifies the Soule in this life and everlastingly torments in the world to come.”

Based on printed material rather than clinical research, Anatomy of Melancholy is nonetheless an extraordinary survey. Burton worked on six editions, and it was last published in Oxford in 1651. It remains in print today.

William Cowper The Anatomy of Humane Bodies: Illustrated with large explications, containing many new anatomical discoveries and chirurgical observations: to which is added an introduction explaining the animal oeconomy
One of the standard works on anatomy of the period, although the author’s reputation was sullied by a controversy over the re-use of the plates from a book published in Amsterdam three years earlier. Despite the notoriety of the case, it was not an example of true plagiarism and seemingly did no harm to Cowper’s reputation among his contemporaries.

1750 (Latin; English trans. 1753)

Richard Russell A Dissertation Concerning the Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands &c
The original Latin work of 1750 was so influential that it was pirated by the proprietor of a London mineral water warehouse, who was no doubt hopeful that its conclusions would benefit his business. Russell’s regime of sea water drinking and bathing was developed in Brighton, and helped to popularize such treatments. His work is considered to be responsible for the institution of the English seaside vacation.

Oxford War Primers
In the First World War, OUP was well-placed to supply desperately-needed medical information to the armed forces, in the form of Oxford War Primers. These books covered topics such as Wounds of War, Surgery of the Head, Abdominal Injuries, Gunshot Injuries, as well as a guide for the stretcher-bearer. The Oxford War Primers were small, practical guidebooks for medics in the field. In many ways they performed the same role as our current Oxford Handbooks.

Oxford Loose-Leaf Medicine and Oxford Loose-Leaf Surgery
Published by OUP-US in New York, these works were early experiments in loose-leaf publishing. Regular supplements kept the work up to date, in a form of publishing still familiar almost 100 years later. Oxford Loose-Leaf Surgery was reviewed in Annals of Surgery as follows:The publishers present to the profession a novelty in book-making, a book in which the cover is fastened to the main body of the volume by a mechanism which makes it possible to remove the covers and insert additional leaves. … It will be of interest to see whether actual experience shall prove that practically it presents any marked advantage.Parts of Oxford Loose-Leaf Medicine were reprinted as late as 1950, so the format proved its worth as source material for monograph publishing, if nothing else.

1922 – 1978
Frederick William Price Textbook of the Practice of Medicine
One of the classic medical copyrights, the Textbook ran to eight editions between 1922 and 1950, and as Price’s Textbook of the Practice of Medicine continued in four further editions until 1978. Used by many generations of British medical students and trainees well into the 1980s, Price was an institution.

Oxford Textbook of Medicine
In the early 1980s three giants of Oxford medicine were recruited to “reincarnate” Price for a more modern and international age. David Weatherall, John Ledingham and David Warrell gathered together a “who’s who” of the world’s greatest clinicians and scientists to prove wrong those who felt that large textbooks of medicine had had their day. The Oxford Textbook of Medicine’s continued success is proof that this holds true today. The fifth edition is currently in development, and the OTM remains a standard reference work, known and respected worldwide.

1985 – present
Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine
OHCM was born as hand-written notes taken during the ward rounds of two Oxford doctors, Tony Hope and Murray Longmore. Since 1985 over a million copies have been sold, and a recent survey by the British Medical Association voted it one of the four most influential medical books ever written. OHCM began a series which will soon reach 50 Oxford Handbooks, and is well established as essential reading for medical students and junior doctors throughout the world.

We continue to publish exceptional reference works in the Oxford Textbooks list, and to develop specialty-based publishing in our strongest areas. With ongoing investment in resources, a fantastic team, and exciting plans for the future, medical publishing at OUP is in good shape for another 100 years.

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