Handbook of Texas Medicine

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Texans lay claim to a dynamic medical history. The state has borne witness to deadly disease outbreaks, the establishment of world-renowned medical institutions, and the discovery of new therapeutics and cures. From the first documented surgery on Texas soil by Cabeza de Vaca in the sixteenth century to the innovative research spearheaded by university laboratories to develop vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19, the medical story of Texas is reflective of the many ways Texans have engaged to protect and promote their health and well-being. Today, the healthcare industry represents a significant share of the Texas economy, contributing more than $108 billion to the state’s GDP, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Yet, despite the fundamental role medicine has played in shaping the growth and development of the state, a comprehensive and authoritative medical history of Texas remains unfulfilled. With the development of the Handbook of Texas Medicine, TSHA proudly presents a unique opportunity to address this disparity.

On December 10, 2020, Drs. Heather G. Wooten and Brett J. Derbes presented "The Handbook of Texas Medicine: Exploring History and Context Through a Unique Lens," for an online webinar for the faculty at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. They were joined by Corisa L. Rakestraw and Margarita M. Ortiz, who discussed their experience authoring Handbook of Texas Medicine entries.

The genesis of this initiative began in the early 1990s with an initial effort by TSHA to increase the number of entries pertaining to the history of medicine in the larger Handbook of Texas. Dr. Chester Burns, James Wade Rockwell Professor of Medical History in the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) chaired a special History of Medicine committee created to engage in that effort. Of the more than 27,000 entries currently included in the larger Handbook of Texas, approximately 652 focus on topics related to the history of medicine in the state. Existing Handbook entries include notable biographies, overviews of prominent healthcare facilities, and details of epidemics within Texas communities. As a TSHA special project, the Handbook of Texas Medicine project will add 400 new entries featuring a broad array of topics, as well as revise several hundred existing entries. New Handbook entries will promote a greater understanding of the past while providing valuable context for present-day issues and crises. Upon completion, the Handbook of Texas Medicine will become the first state-based online medical encyclopedia in the United States.

TSHA is honored to collaborate in this endeavor with two venerable institutions: the Texas Medical Association (TMA) and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB). With almost 300 years of service between them, these two institutions continue to provide care, comfort, and security to millions of Texans in sickness and in health. In September 2019, TSHA Board Member Dr. Carlos Hamilton approached the TMA History of Medicine Committee and Dr. J. Marvin Smith III, who strongly supported the goals of the project. On January 24, 2020, the TMA Board of Trustees voted unanimously to support the Handbook of Texas Medicine project. By merging research from the hard sciences and humanities, this project will help educate and inspire students to pursue careers in the medical field. 

The Handbook of Texas Medicine project is led by TSHA Chief Historian Dr. Walter L. Buenger of the University of Texas at Austin and Texas medical historian Dr. Heather Wooten, a member of the faculty at  the University of Texas Medical Branch. They are joined by an Executive Advisory Committee of doctors, professors, scholars, librarians, archivists, and authors, who assist with various aspects of the project. 

TSHA believes that a thorough understanding of the past provides a proper context for present-day questions and issues. The Handbook of Texas Medicine seeks to aid students and educators of all levels as they conduct research, build lesson plans and, in some cases, utilize the resource as an online textbook.  By informing the public on an increasingly important aspect of Texas history, TSHA hopes to inspire Texans to do their part in improving healthcare for current and future generations.

Dr. Heather Green Wooten

Project Director – Handbook of Texas Medicine

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