Database of Scientific Illustrators (1450-1950)

The Database of Scientific Illustrators (1450-1950) is a project created by Section for History of Science and Technology at the History Department at the University of Stuttgart. Professor Klaus Hentschel noticed a dearth of information about those who specialized as science illustrators, and so this database, meant to function as a sort of dictionary of scientific illustrators was created. The collection is an effort to fill the gaps of information about prominent scientific illustrators, notably draughtsmen and women, photographers, and others who specialize in the visual representation of scientific objects and processes.

Sample of DSI database entry for German illustrator Fritz Adolphy.
Sample of DSI database entry for German illustrator Fritz Adolphy.

The database is designed as an interactive website, allowing users to update and add useful information about scientific illustrators as the information arises. It currently focuses on the years spanning (1450-1950). This time frame allows people to access information on more relatively-unknown medieval illustrators, and excludes contemporary illustrators.

By Sir Richard Owen, lithograph by E.C. Woodward, 1884. Wellcome Library, London.

By browsing the archive, one does indeed find dictionary-like entries of illustrators, with pertinent information provided such as their patronage, collaborators, and main methods of working. The site also features links to samples of their work, and archival sources.  To obtain the image above, for example, I had to copy and paste the link provided in E.C. Woodward’s entry, otherwise, no visual of this work is provided. With this in mind, be aware–this is not an image based archive. It seems that this site is best navigated with an illustrator, time period, region, or medium in mind, as it’s hard to differentiate between the long list of names that comprises this archive.

The advanced search, however, is incredibly well designed, allowing you to search by every category of information available on the site. For example, if you’re searching for primarily engravers working in Germany in the 1800s, the database will return roughly 66 illustrators.

The archive was created in 2011, and covers over 10,100 illustrators active in natural history, medicine, technology, and various other sciences. The archive also collects illustrators from over 80 countries, creating an archive that has a global and temporal span. This is obviously a growing archive, so I would highly encourage contributing to this compendium if your research allows it!

The Wellcome Collection: A Pharmaceutical Archive That Takes Us Far From Modern Medicine

To put it bluntly, the Wellcome Collection is the archive you never knew you needed. Advertised as, “The destination for the incurably curious,” the Wellcome Collection is an archive located in London, but also completely digitally accessible. The Wellcome Collection is vast, but generally they claim to focus on connections between “medicine, life, and art, in the past, present, and future.” Some, like myself, might say that’s hardly a focus, but in this case, the wide range of material archived here is what really makes it a stunning collection.

A mesmerist using animal magnetism on a woman who responds with convulsions. Wood engraving, 1845.

A mesmerist using animal magnetism on a woman who responds with convulsions. Wood engraving, 1845.


The Wellcome Collection is the personal collection of Sir Henry Wellcome, a gentleman with an interest in both marketing and medicine. In 1880, he and his friend Silas Burroughs set up a pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome & Co. Collecting over a million objects, Wellcome’s goal was to open a space to both house his collections for professionals to learn about the development of medicine and medicinal science.

The online collection features several archives including, Archives and Manuscripts, the History of Medicine Collection, and a Medical Collection. These larger groupings are organized by guides such as Alcohol and Drugs, Anatomy and physiology, and Animals, to name a few. There are also collections on development of birth control, eugenics, heredity and genetics, and treatment and therapy. While it appears that all of the information is meticulously sorted with excellent metadata, be aware that not all the content is yet digitized. To get straight to the digitized content, click here.

The website also features two curated ‘digital stories‘ that function as online exhibitions. The first one, “Mindcraft, a century of madness, murder, and mental healing,” takes you through a darkly fascinating history of alternative healing. The second, “The Collectors,” looks at the history of collecting the names of those who died in the 17th century. They’re visually engaging, darkly fascinating, and provide excellent history lessons to undergraduate students.

This is truly an interdisciplinary archive, perfect for anyone studying the history of medicine, pseudosciences, gender and women studies, art history, or, if you have a genuine penchant for the weird, the Wellcome Collection will be your new favorite archive for primary sources (and mine too!).