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Bert Hansen Collection

The Bert Hansen Collection of Medicine and Public Health in Popular Graphic Art includes over 1200 images and items produced between 1850 and 2010 with additional reference materials. The collection is a gift of historian Bert Hansen, Ph.D., whose goal was to document the visual record of medical practice and research and public health in America. Over a period of thirty years, Hansen selected materials produced for the general public (not medical or public health professionals) that use medical imagery as an accompaniment to news items, for advertisements, for political satire, or for decorative items that celebrate medical history. Items in the collection include magazines, prints, posters, film publicity materials, product brochures, and promotional materials.  Hansen also donated photocopied reference materials, such as newspapers, as part of this gift.

The collection includes over 600 prints, including chromolithographs and wood engravings from 19th-century magazines like Harper’s Weekly, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Puck, Judge, and Scientific American on topics including Pasteur’s treatments for rabies, cholera, diphtheria, polio, tuberculosis, vaccinations, hospitals, mental asylums, unsafe foodstuffs, and public sanitation. There are numerous illustrations using medical imagery in political satire.

The collection also contains 20th-century popular magazines such as Life, which often included multiple page photographic essays featuring cutting-edge photographic techniques, Look, Saturday Evening Post, Newsweek, and Time. These magazines regularly reported on medical and scientific advancements and noted medical and public health practitioners. Topics covered in this series include polio, cancer, organ transplants, development of artificial organs, medicine in wartime, midwifery, contraception, fertility, mental health, gender, sexuality, and medical ethics.

Finally, the collection includes ephemeral material such as medical history themed frameable prints, publicity materials for Hollywood films about physicians, brochures for medical devices, health department signs, calendars, and event posters. 

Hansen has been teaching history at Baruch College of CUNY since 1994. He holds degrees in chemistry (Columbia) and history of science (Princeton).  Prof. Hansen has written on obstetrics teaching in the 1860s, the new medical categorization of homosexuals in the 1890s, the advocacy for public health and sanitation in political cartoons from 1860 to 1900, and the popularity of medical history heroes in children’s comic books.  His book, Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America (Rutgers University Press, 2009), was honored with an award from the Popular Culture Association and named to the “2010 Best of the Best” for Public and Secondary School Libraries by the American Library Association.

The digitized collection holds materials in public domain or out of copyright, but the physical archive contains more materials that we can’t make available online. The effort to digitize over 500 early images and make them freely available worldwide was generously funded by the Arcadia Fund.