Part of the Wangensteen Historical Library’s mission as a research library is to increase access to its materials. Awareness of both digital humanities as an increasingly important field, and the difficulty of geographic distance from resources for researchers, has made digitization projects a focus of the library’s activities.

Current digitized collections include the History and Development of Caesarean Section, Dr. Robert Patterson Harris (1822-1899) and several Medical Receipt Books. We are also in the process of digitizing a large group of materials related to patent medicine in the 20th century United States.

Use of Digitized Collections: Medical Receipt Books

Whenever possible, the Wangensteen Historical Library’s digitization efforts are closely associated with specific scholarly activity. The growing collection of manuscript medical recipe books - collections of handwritten recipes for treatments of all kinds of illnesses, from plague to the common cold - are of increasing academic interest in a wide range of fields, from the history of medicine to literature to gender studies.

With the University Libraries’ Strategic Digitization Program, thirty of the Wangensteen Historical Library’s recipe books were digitized and will be made available for researchers to use. Several of these volumes are available in the UMedia Archive, and the remaining volumes will continue to be added.

The Wangensteen Library has received attention for its recipe books, and was featured in a 2014 interview with The Recipes Project, a blog dedicated to connecting recipe scholars around the world.

Because of the digitization of these manuscripts, the Wangensteen Historical Library has become a center for conversation about recipe books in the Twin Cities. With funding from the Center for the Study of the Premodern World through a University of Minnesota Mellon grant, the Wangensteen Historical Library was able to support a recipe book workshop in Spring 2015 and will host a 1-day conference on manuscript recipe books in Spring 2016.

The 2015-16 exhibit in the Wangensteen Historical Library, Bodies and Spirits: Health and the History of Fermentation and Distillation will further connect the library’s audience with recipe books by including some of these manuscripts in discussions about distilling and fermenting in early modern homes.

Image from Digitized Recipes and Prescription Manuscripts
From Recipies and Prescriptions, 1824-1855.