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Mossman Collection on the History of Science and of Ideas

Liaison librarian

  • Louis [dot] Houle [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Email) 514-398-4763

History of the Collection

The Mossman Collection on the History of Science and of Ideas is the gift of Drs. Donald and Dorothea Mossman. Avid readers, the Mossmans collected a large personal library with emphasis on the history of science and of ideas. This collection was donated to McGill University in 1974, and it became available to scholars with the opening of the Physical Sciences & Engineering Library in 1982.

For many years, the Mossmans regularly contributed generous funds towards the development of the Mossman Collection. In 1982, an additional gift established an endowment not only to purchase library materials but also to inaugurate a lecture series on the History of Science and of Ideas given by recognized scholars.

Current Collection Development

In this statement, "history of science" is extended to include the history of engineering and of technology. There is little overlap between the subject areas of history or philosophy collected at McLennan Library. The Mossman collection focuses more on events in 17th century onwards and on inventions, the nature of science in general or on the physical sciences in particular, covering topics like sociology of science, and engineering, as well as women in science and engineering. The purview of the Philosophy bibliographer is to acquire for the McLennan Library works on the influence and effect which scientific investigation and thought have exerted on society and culture throughout the ages.

Academic programmes and liaison

While the University has no formal programmes in the history of the physical sciences and engineering, there is a steady use of its history of science collections.

McGill resources

The Humanities and Social Sciences Library collects history, sociology, anthropology, and so forth. It is a good source for publications relating to the impact of scientific thought on history, and the evolution and development of very broad scientific movements and of their effect on society. At present it houses about 50,000 volumes of scientific and technical publications, including substantial backfiles of early serials, some of which are not held elsewhere in Canada.

In Rare Books and Special Collections, there are the early years of the Royal Society of London and the Paris Académie journals as well as a scattering of early editions of scientific works. The Colgate Collection on the History of Printing is strong in printing technology throughout the ages. The Redpath tracts collection includes the Siemens engineering collection, which consists largely of 19th century off-prints and pamphlets. Two small special collections may be of interest, the Einstein and C.P. Snow collections, and the Sir William Dawson pamphlet collection contains some 1,800 scientific pamphlets of the 19th century.

Osler Library of the History of Medicine: due to the breadth of Sir William Osler's intellectual interests and collecting habits, this world-famous collection once had a wider scope. Nowadays its collection policy focuses on the history of medicine. One important donation housed there is the collection of early geology books given to Osler Library by Professor Frank Dawson Adams.

Islamic Studies Library collects on history of science in the Islamic world.

Macdonald Campus Library has substantial holdings on agricultural history.

Regional resources

Université de Montréal, Bibliothèque des lettres et sciences humaines, Livres rares et collections spéciales, has three collections relating to the History of Science and Ideas. The Pariseau Collection, which has a special emphasis on the history of electricity, is the largest and includes the most retrospective material. Two other special collections on the history of science, the Chagnon and the Lortie collections, consist of 20th century publications in the field.

Consortia and document delivery

A contract with the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) provides efficient fixed cost document delivery services.

The Center for Research Libraries, a consortium to which McGill belongs, holds considerable material of interest to the History of Science and Ideas including records of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 1812 - 1924, Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. 1723 - 1956, Great Britain's Astronomers Royal, 1675 - 1764, the Railroad Collection, other 20th century technological and environmental documents and reports, and historical weather maps.

Research Libraries Group and OCLC memberships provide access to vast bibliographic databases and to efficient document delivery systems based on the holdings of North America's most eminent research collections.

Electronic resources

Full-text of many journals relating to the history of science are available to McGill users via our catalogue. In addition, many excellent archives are freely available to all on the Internet. The primary bibliographic database for this area is History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, available to McGill users only.

General collection guidelines

Languages: English is the primary language of the collection, but works published in other western European languages, primarily French, German, and Italian are purchased very selectively.

Chronological coverage: The emphasis is on post 1700 coverage although historical treatments of earlier eras are selected if they concentrate on linking science today with the past.

Geographical coverage: The field is dominated by North American and European research. Strong efforts are made to acquire world coverage.

Treatment of the subject: Scholarly treatment is emphasized with some popular works included for the benefit of future historians. As well, it was the donor's intent that this be an eclectic collection that would include some material which had not received scientific approval but was of interest to patrons studying the very broadest interpretation of the history of ideas.

Date of publication: Emphasis is on current publications. Landmarks of Science I on microcards, and Landmarks of Science II, segment 12-15 on microfiche are in the collection.

Subjects and Levels of Collecting

Definitions of collection levels are derived from the American Library Association's Guide for Written Collection Policy Statements, 1989. The subject arrangement is based on that of ISIS: Current Bibliography of the History of Science and its Cultural Influences.

Collection Levels - definition of the collection levels employed by McGill University Library

SubjectsCollection Intensity
History of Science: General References and Tools
History of Science, General Works 3
Bibliographies and Bibliographical Tools 3
Historiography and Historical Method (refer to McLennan) 3
Biographical Collections 3
Encyclopedias and Compendia of General Scientific Knowledge 3
Science and its History from Special Points of View
Philosophy of Science and Methods of Science 3
Scientific Institutions 2
Scientific Instruments and Special Techniques 1
Scientific Education and History of Education (with Education Library) 3
Social Relations of Science 3
Humanistic Relations of Science 3
Histories of the Special Sciences3
Philosophy (collected by McLennan) 3
Mathematics 3
Physical Sciences 3
Astronomy 3
Physics 3
Chemistry 3
Earth Sciences 3
Geology and geophysics 3
Geography, cartography, and geodesy 3
Oceanography 3
Travel, exploration, and navigation
(also collected by McLennan and Blacker-Wood)
Mineralogy and crystallography 3
Meteorology 3
Paleontology 3
Technology 3
Pseudo-science (natural magic; divination; alchemy; astrology; parapsychology; witchcraft) 3

Co-ordination and co-operation
Plans for further development

  • Contribute to a McGill wide review of History of Science, Technology and Medicine collecting in the McGill libraries.
  • Establish parameters for the collection of related subjects: Sociology of science and of engineering, Women in science and engineering with McLennan Library.

Descriptions of the Collection

Catalogue of the Mossman Collection on the History of Science and of Ideas: A special collection housed in the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering, Macdonald Stewart Library Building. Montreal: McGill University, 1986. 245p.

McGill University Libraries Collection Policy, September 1994. Revised February 2001.

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