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Thursday
Mar052009

The Cooper Collection

 

 Last weekend, my father and I drove out from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio so that I could take a look at The Donald B. Cooper Collection in the Ohio State University's rare books. The picture above is from a detailed finder's guide that is available here. This guide has 57 pages of detailed notes on each of the 602 folders and microfilm rolls that are held in 24 "bank boxes." I don't need to repeat what the guide says, but I would like to emphasize how remarkable this collection is. I now have no doubt that this is the finest collection in the world dealing with disease, medicine, medical schools, and public health for Brazil in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nearly all of these materials can be found in Brazil, but one would have to go to numerous archives in several states to find them. Furthermore, there are few private or public collections of material relating to health and medicine that hold more material than the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.

What made this collection so exceptional? Donald Cooper was a professor at Ohio State University from 1969 until retirement in 2002.  Early in his career, he published a scholarly book on disease and health in Colonial Mexico.  He then turned his attention to Brazil, working on a broad history of disease and public health efforts from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. He traveled throughout the United States and Brazil, collecting material, occasionally even coming across books sold by street vendors and book dealers that he discovered later to be the only copies known to exist. As a result of his research, Don put out several excellent articles, but due to family health problems he never finished his book. When he retired in the late 1990s, he turned down an offer from a book dealer for $18,000 for his collection and instead donated it all, notes and chapter manuscripts included, to Ohio State University. The OSU libraries have done a wonderful job organizing and cataloguing it. Thankfully, they recognized its value. I had the great fortune this week of getting to know Don, who is a very kind and generous man. He is delighted to see the collection being put to use, and I know it is his hope that more scholars make use of it.

 

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