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Michigan State University

Science and Religion from Antiquity to the Present: Primary Sources

This is a guide to researching science and religion from antiquity to the present. Last updated 06-27-2023

Primary Sources

Primary sources provide first-hand evidence about an event, place, historical period, discovery, invention, or person’s life. They may be found in online resources, in printed volumes in the stacks of the library, or on microform.  Diaries, letters, journals, some government documents, some newspaper articles, some periodical articles, early printed books, manuscripts, archival collections, pamphlets, ephemera, facsimiles or reprints of early works, photographs, artifacts, maps, field notes, oral histories, or records of organizations/companies may all be primary sources.  

Use Books and Media.  Do a Browse Alphabetically Browse by Subject search following the advice about subject searching in the Online Catalog section of this guide.  Look for results that have the sub-heading “early works to 1800.”  These will be primary sources. 

In Books and Media also watch for sub-headings such as personal narratives, correspondence, sources, archives, or documents, as these also indicate primary sources.

Visit M.S.U. Libraries’ Murray and Hong Special Collections which contains our old and rare books, popular culture, comic art, radicalism, textbooks, and other primary source materials.  Because of M.S.U.’s land-grant heritage our collection of primary sources in the sciences is good.  Make an appointment to come into their special reading room and request your materials online. 

To have microfilm with accession numbers brought out from Remote Storage to the Circulation Desk in the Main Library to use, search Books and Media by call number, like this: 6318 Microfilm. There should be a "Get This" link in the catalog entry. Or e-mail

Here is a list of databases and microform sets of, or containing, primary sources.

Beaumont, William, 1785-1853 6319 2 reels Remote Storage

His papers cover 1807-1853.  He was the physician who treated voyageur Alexis St. Martin, who, after being shot in the stomach, lived, although the wound did not heal over. Beaumont observed the actions of his stomach.  See also Books and Media entries for works by Beaumont. 

British Isles Online Primary Resources

This is a guide to the major electronic resources M.S.U. Libraries has bought or is subscribing to about/from the British Isles.

Corpus Christi College. University of Cambridge. Mediaeval Manuscript Collections, Section VI, ‘Medica' and Natural Sciences. film 27896 11 reels Remote Storage

Z 6621 .C174 C67 Remote Storage is a guide to this. For additional assistance with both of these sets see A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Z 6621 .C18 C8 Remote Storage.

Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1796. Papers Main E 302 .F82 L3 v. 1-39

American statesman, scientist, and philosopher.

French Books Before 1601 film set 4265 530 reels film Remote Storage. 

Short-title list/guide in Consulting Reference Z 2162 .F7 1965.  Significant books published in France before 1601 on film. 

German Books Before 1601  film set 4336 Remote Storage.  

Guide to use with the set in Remote Storage Z 2222 .G3 1965.  Significant books published in “Germany” before 1601.

Great Britain. General Board Health. The Local Reports to the General Board of Health, 1848-1857. JS 3068 .L6 - 214 fiche Hollander Make Central 2 West

Information on urban and rural social conditions in industrial Britain. Covers all topics which inspectors believed had an impact on the moral and physical welfare of the people and their government in 296 localities and 48 countries. "Complete alphabetical listing on sheet one."

Great Britain. Local Government Board. Reports, 1869-1908. HN 382 - 233 fiche  Hollander Make Central 2 West

Presents results of exhaustive social investigations throughout Britain about housing, occupations, rents, hospital accomodations, food supplies, sanitation, and public health. Part of a series called Urban and Rural Social Conditions in Industrial Britain. The guide is Reports to the Local Government Board, 1869-1908, A Complete Listing and Guide to the Harvester Microfiche Collection. Z 7165 .G8 R46 Microcopy Guides section.

Italian Books Before 1601 4879 Remote Storage.  

"Based upon, but not restricted to, titles in the Short-title catalogue of books printed in Italy and of Italian books printed in other countries from 1465 to 1600 now in the British Museum." –

Landmarks of Science

150 boxes of microcards in Hollander Make Central 2 West. call number Q 111 .L35, containing the first edition of every significant scientific work to 1800.  Essential writings in the history of science.  Works are cataloged individually in the online catalog.  There is a guide to this collection in Microcopy Guides Section, 2nd floor west at Q 111 .L35 1985 guide.

Profiles in Science

Biographical information about 20th-century biomedical scientists through digitized selections from their archives.  Scientists are grouped into three categories: biomedical research, health and medicine, and fostering science and health.  For each person there is an online "exhibit" which introduces their life/work, a biographical essay, and summaries of aspects of his/her scientific contributions.  Links to sections titled All Documents and All Visuals follow.  These sections may include text, photographs, and audio/video clips, with selected annotations.  Their archives are at NLM, National Library of Medicine, or other institutions.

Royal College of Physicians Oral History Collection Extracts from Interviews

links to extracts from several oral history interviews, about challenges of being a medical student from overseas, the first clinical use of penicillin, air encephalograms, the Nightingale ward,  introduction of medical bleepers, early renal dialysis, and about hiding pregnancy fearing dismissal.

Royal Society Philosophical Transactions

Full text online.  This link is set to open in the record in Hathi Trust's full text digital edition from the beginning of publication in 1665 to 1775.  It continues later, yes.  To find later volumes online, in print, on microform, search the MSU Libraries' online catalog for author "Royal Society" and modify your search to include title "Transactions."  OR use the Hathi Trust Digital Library itself: and search in their catalog for later volumes.  This is the earliest peer reviewed scientific journal in the English language, even though the word "philosophical" is in the title. Published in London.

Murray and Hong Special Collections

Murray and Hong Special Collections of the M.S.U. Libraries contains thousands of good old books in the sciences (because of M.S.U.’s land grant history) and humanities/social sciences.  There is a collection of Veterinary Medicine books.  There are old textbooks.  There are Sunday School Books.  There are cookery books.  There are books on bees and bee-keeping and books on natural history and gardening.  Overall the 18th century is well-represented. To use these materials, do an Advanced Search in Books and Media, confining your search results, in the Location area, lower right side of screen, to Special Collections to see what we have on your topic there.  Click on the "Get It" button to request items.  Doing this will lead you through the process of establishing yourself as a user of the Aeon system, used to request their materials.  The Murray and Hong Special Collections reading room is on the first floor of the Main Library in the center lobby.  Help to get started is available on their home page.  You will also need to make an appointment to come in and use the materials.

New York Times Historical Newspapers (ProQuest), 1857-1922

New York Times Historical Newspapers (ProQuest), 1923-

New York Times, current

The last link goes to a screen in our online catalog with many links to our current access.

Vincent Voice Library Collection

The G. Robert Vincent Voice Library is a collection of over 40,000 hours of spoken word recordings, dating back to 1888. The collection includes the voices of over 100,000 persons from all walks of life.