James Edmonson, PhD

Chief Curator
Dittrick Medical History Center
Adjunct Associate Professor
Department of History
College of Arts and Sciences

James M. Edmonson (BA College of Wooster, PhD U Delaware) is chief curator of Case Western Reserve’s Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum; an adjunct associate professor of history; and an international leader in medical museology. He has authored American Surgical Instruments and co-authored Dissection: Photographs of a rite of passage in American medicine. The Dittrick is home to the Skuy Gallery of historic contraceptives, the Blaufox Hall of diagnostic instruments and the most comprehensive collection of medical instruments in America.

Research Information

Research Interests

Being Curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum takes up most of my time, although I do occasional supervise directed studies in the history of medicine and technology. At the Dittrick I value the opportunity to work with a remarkably rich collection of rare medical books, archives, and medical objects. The artifacts, my personal favorite, range in period and scope from ancient surgical instruments to contemporary medical technologies. Students and their teachers at CWRU enjoy free access to this wonderful resource and it is both a challenge and a pleasure to help them utilize it in their studies. On the publishing front, I have written about surgical instruments and their makers inAmerican Surgical Instruments: An Illustrated History of Their Manufacture and a Directory of Makers to 1900 (1997), medicine and technology in A Companion to American Technology (2005), and my most recent work is Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, 1880-1930 (2009), co-authored with John Harley Warner (Yale).

Research Projects

Past and ongoing research projects include a cultural analysis of nineteenth century medical furniture, a study of American patents for medical and surgical devices, and continuing work on the history of endoscopy. Recent major acquisitions at the Dittrick that will be driving the focus of our time and energies include the Percy Skuy Collection on the History of Contraception, acquired in 2004 and installed in dedicated permanent gallery in 2009, and the M. Donald Blaufox Collection of Historic Diagnostic Instruments, received in 2009 and the subject of its own gallery in 2010. I have served on the Council of the American Association for the History of Medicine (2006-10), UMAC (University Museums and Collections) of ICOM (International Council of Museums), and am the American liaison and secretary general of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences. I have been consultant to medical museums and collections including the Warren Anatomical Museum of Harvard University and the New York Academy of Medicine, served on grant review panels of the National Library of Medicine and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lastly and most recently, I am a Fellow of the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case, which is a collaborative team of faculty members and researchers from diverse scientific disciplines seeking to understand how complex systems emerge and evolve, from the universe to the mind, from microbes to humanity.