Museums were considered to be an important adjunct to medical education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a sense, they could be considered to represent a conduit or intermediate step between the autopsy room, in which the answers to specific clinical questions were often forthcoming, and the hospital ward or classroom in which medical students were lectured. The key part of the museum in this respect was the specimen, which—if properly selected, preserved, displayed and described—was meant to illustrate in a concrete and readily accessible visual fashion a particular facet of disease. The fact that observation of such specimens could be easily fitted to the students’ timetable and was available to multiple individuals in many school years greatly enhanced the museum’s usefulness.
The McGill Medical Museum is a repository of materials that documents the study and practice of Medicine at McGill University and its associated teaching hospitals. The Museum possesses numerous anatomical specimen and educational models including:
- the Osler collection, comprising 59 wet specimens described and catalogued by Maude Abbott, most from the time when Osler was a pathologist at the Montreal General Hospital (1876-1884).
- the Abbott collection, comprising 80 wet specimens, most being examples of congenital cardiac disease; many were illustrated in Abbott’s Atlas on Congenital Heart Disease, published in 1936.
- a collection of 75 specimens (including 30 examples of battlefield injuries sustained in the American Civil War) donated by the Army Medical Museum, Washington, DC in 1907 following the fire that partially destroyed the McGill Medical building.
- miscellaneous fluid-preserved pathological specimens (approximately 2,000), the majority acquired from McGill teaching hospitals between 1910 and 1950.
- the Thurlbeck collection, comprising paper mounted whole lung slices from the 1960s (approximately 600).
- instruments and artifacts related to the practice of pathology, physical and occupational therapy, and medicine.
The Osler Collection
The Osler collection consists of specimens accumulated by William Osler during his time at the Montreal General Hospital (1876 to 1884). Many of these had been catalogued by Abbott in her early years as Curator of the McGill Museum; she also reviewed a number with Osler during his visit to McGill in 1904. Abbott had sequestered approximately 180 of these specimens by 1899; remarkably, many survived the fire of 1907. Despite this, specimens were lost over the years and by 1935 only about 130 remained. These were “refurbished” in 1963, at which time their preservative fluid was replaced and accompanying cards bearing descriptions were retyped. The 55 remaining specimens formed the basis for a book titled “Oslerian Pathology” published by Alvin Rodin in 1981. Four additional Osler specimens were discovered in the Pathological Institute during cataloguing of the museum specimens and artifacts between 2002 and 2005.
The Abbott Collection
Over the years, Maude Abbott collected many specimens from various animals and humans illustrating cardiovascular anomalies for the Medical Museum. She kept these in her "Central" Museum in the Strathcona Building and they were transferred to the Pathological Institute after her death in 1940. A number of them were used for illustrative purposes in her Atlas of Congenital Cardiac Disease published in 1936.
Rodin AE. Oslerian pathology : an assessment and annotated atlas of museum specimens. Lawrence, Kansas: Coronado Press; 1981.
Abbott ME. Atlas of congenital cardiac disease. New York, N.Y., The American Heart Association; 1936.